Today is the 56th Anniversary of the Capture of the First Prisoner of War in Viet Nam

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by Tara Ross, Guest Author

On this day in 1964, a U.S. Navy pilot arrives at the soon-to-be-infamous “Hanoi Hilton.” LTJG Everett Alvarez, Jr. would spend a stunning 3,113 days in captivity, making him one of America’s longest-held POWs.

Alvarez’s troubles began on August 5. His plane took a hit during a bombing run, and he was forced to bail out. Mere minutes later, he was captured by Vietnamese fishermen.

Alvarez found himself in a rather tricky situation. Was he a prisoner-of-war with all the protections of that status? The North Vietnamese claimed that he was only a common criminal. (War had not been declared.) Similarly, how should he answer questions? At first, Alvarez gave only his name, rank, and serial number. But he soon realized that Vietnamese authorities had information obtained from the American media. How did that change what he could or couldn’t say?

For months, Alvarez had nothing to rely upon except his own wits. There wasn’t even another American POW around. He was barely surviving in a small cell on a starvation diet.

“Sometimes I lifted the cover off a plate and found a chicken head floating in grease,” he wrote, “or in a slimy stew or soup smelling of drainwater. At other times an animal hoof . . . . More than once a blackbird lay feet up on the plate, its head and feathers intact and the eyes open.”

Alvarez implemented strategies to sustain himself. He scratched a cross into a wall and hosted his own Catholic Mass. He etched the passage of time on walls. He did complex math problems and played chess against himself, just to keep his brain working. He had daily cleaning rituals, which (sort of) warded off the cat-sized rats that roamed around.

Other POWs began to arrive in 1965.

Their arrival made Alvarez’s life better—and worse. On one hand, he had companionship. The men developed a tap code that worked through walls. Their communications system, Alvarez would say, “became our lifeline . . . . It fueled our morale and stiffened our backbone. Above all, it kept us informed . . . . To be forewarned was to be forearmed.”

On the other hand, interrogations got a lot worse.

The North Vietnamese wanted letters and recordings for propaganda purposes. Americans were tortured if they refused to cooperate. On one occasion, Alvarez was told to write an apology. His arms were contorted and painfully bound until he finally complied. “For the first time in my life,” he later wrote, “I felt sheer hatred . . . . It took a few hours before I could hold the pencil and when I did, my writing looked like a drunkard’s scrawl. . . . I took pains to misspell words to make the confession as phony as possible.”

The arm torture left the skin on Alvarez’s hands deadened and black. Natural color didn’t return for two years.

On another occasion, Americans were marched through a frenzied crowd. They’d been tethered to each other, defenseless, as the mob madly beat and kicked them. “Our emaciated bodies, lacking nutrition, sunlight and exercise for so long, were ill-equipped to withstand this kind of ordeal,” Alvarez concluded.

The treatment of prisoners improved, but not until after Ho Chi Minh died in 1969. Finally, in 1973, the POWs were released.

Alvarez had been a captive since the very beginning—but he’d also been a pillar of strength for everyone else. “[A]ll the POWs, looked up to Ev,” one said. “He was one of those optimists who always thought we would get out the next day.”

Unfortunately, homecomings weren’t always so rosy. For Alvarez, the difficult news concerned his wife. During his absence, she obtained a divorce—and a baby with a new husband.

Fortunately, this hero’s story has a happy ending: Alvarez remarried, earned graduate degrees, and founded a wildly successful company.


Author’s Note: If you enjoy these history posts, please see my note below.

Gentle reminder: History posts are copyright © 2013-2020 by Tara Ross. I appreciate it when you use the share feature instead of cutting/pasting.

#TDIH#OTD#History#USHistory#liberty#freedom#ShareTheHistory

Guest author, Tara Ross, is a mother, wife, writer, and retired lawyer. She is the author of The Indispensable Electoral College: How the Founders’ Plan Saves Our Country from Mob Rule,Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College, co-author of Under God: George Washington and the Question of Church and State (with Joseph C. Smith, Jr.), & We Elect A President: The Story of our Electoral College. She is a constitutionalist, but with a definite libertarian streak! Stay tuned here for updates on pretty much anything to do with the Electoral College, George Washington, & our wonderfully rich American heritage.


 

John S. McCain III: US Senator, US Naval Aviator, and Vietnam Prisoner of War dies at 81

 

 

John S. McCain III, senior Republican Senator from Arizona, passed away today from brain cancer. He was 81 years old.

Just yesterday, his family and he announced he had decided to cease taking his medications for the cancer. He must have known then that the end was near.

Senator McCain came from a line of distinguished naval officers. His father and his grandfather were both Admirals in the US Navy. Senator McCain also served in the Navy, flying A-1 Skyraiders on the aircraft carriers USS INTREPID (CV 11) and USS ENTERPRISE (CV 6). Later, he requested a combat assignment and flew A-4 Skyhawks aboard the USS FORRESTAL (CV 59) and USS ORISKANY (CV 34). It was while serving in FORRESTAL that his aircraft was involved in a shipboard fire that resulted in 134 Sailors dying in the fire. He was transferred to ORISKANY soon afterward. It was on October 26, 1967, while flying combat missions as a Lieutenant Commander from ORISKANY that he was shot down over Vietnam, captured, and held as a Prisoner of War. He was ultimately released from imprisonment in North Vietnam after five and a half years on March 14, 1973. He retired from the United States Navy on April 1, 1981, at the rank of Captain after 22 years of service.

Senator McCain was elected to Congress as a Republican US Representative from Arizona in 1983. Senator McCain advanced to serving in the US Senate in January, 1987, after his election in November, 1986. He frequently referred to himself as a “maverick Republican” during his time in the Senate.

He published his memoir, Faith of My Fathers, in August, 1999. He ran against Texas Governor George W. Bush in the Republican primaries, losing to Governor Bush who would go on to win the presidency in 2000. Senator McCain ran again in 2008, as the Republican standard bearer, but lost the presidency to President Barack Obama.

Senator McCain served six terms as the Republican Senator from Arizona. He last cast a vote in the US Senate in December, 2017, after which, he returned to Arizona to continue treatment for brain cancer.

He and his family announced yesterday that he would no longer undergo cancer treatment. He died today, August 25, 2018, at 4:28 p.m. local time, surrounded by his wife, Cindy (Hensley) McCain, and his family.

Rest In Peace, Shipmate. We have the Watch.

 

 

 

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