C-141 Heaven: Homecoming (page 2)
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POW RELEASE INFO
Here's a few news articles about the POW release and their experiences during and
after their captivity in Vietnam.
TIME-Monday, Nov. 06, 1972 - Operation Egress Recap
There are 537 of them according to the official lists-the American prisoners of
war, confined in an unknown number of detention camps somewhere in Indochina.
More than half of them are airmen, downed during the long bombing campaign; over
50 are civilians, trapped while out on patrol. One of them, LT (JG) Everett
Alvarez, now 34, was shot down fully eight years ago; others, still unidentified,
may have been seized during the past few weeks. In the 60 days after the
impending truce settlement, they will all begin their voyage home.
Their families are jubilant, but the jubilation is not unmixed with concern.
"It's actually a little frightening," says Carol North, of Wellfleet, Mass.,
whose husband LT Colonel Kenneth North was shot down more than six years ago.
"When he left, our eldest daughter was 10. Now she's getting ready to apply for
college. The transition is bound to be difficult. There will be a lot of
adjustment for everyone."
"These men will be suffering from future shock as well as culture shock," says
Eileen Cormier, 36, who became a school librarian on Long Island to support her
four children in the seven years since her husband Arthur was captured. During
the long captivity, the commonplaces of life have changed-there are easier
abortion laws, widespread color television, the success of Hair, and Spiro Agnew
has become a household word. "It will almost be like a Martian dropping in," says
Mrs. Cormier. "I don't know how he's going to feel. Who helps me if he starts
crying or screaming?"
To deal with such problems, and to avoid the recriminations that surrounded the
prisoner exchanges at the end of the Korean War, the Pentagon has devised a
program with the elaborate and somewhat mysterious name of Operation Egress
Recap. (Possibly a combination of the prisoners' "egress" from North Viet Nam and
their "recapture" by the U.S., though Washington spokesmen profess uncertainty as
to what the terms actually mean.) U.S. officials hope to bring out the prisoners
by sending Air Force C-141 Medevac planes directly to Hanoi; more likely the
Communists will fly the men to Laos or some other neutral point. There, Operation
Egress Recap will begin.
For each known prisoner a tailored uniform has been provided, complete with
medals and insignia of rank, to which in some cases the men were promoted while
in prison. The reason for this, says the Pentagon, is that prisoners often tend
to feel guilty and ashamed after they are freed, and a familiar uniform helps to
reassure them. The uniforms have already been flown to the returnees' primary
processing center in the hospital at Clark A.F.B. near Manila. There, too, a
personnel brochure will be waiting for each man, listing such welcome information
as pay records and savings accounts, plus personal messages from relatives and
their recent photographs.
Decision Makers. Each prisoner will get a medical checkup to find out whether he
is suffering from disease or serious malnutrition. Then there will be a quick
debriefing for information about other captives. (One previously released
prisoner brought out with him the names of 350 P.O.W.s he had memorized; he
wanted to tick them off before he reached the confusing jangle of life in the
U.S.) After that debriefing, released prisoners who are able to travel will spend
longer periods in military hospitals closer to home. Each returnee will be
accompanied by a military escort whose job it will be to help him make necessary
decisions (studies have shown that men conditioned to the authoritarian life of a
P.O.W. camp have difficulty starting to think for themselves again).
Hospital stays will vary, but the Pentagon generally expects the men to be in
good condition, since North Vietnamese prison life improved after the U.S. began
complaining loudly of mistreatment in 1969. Part of the hospitalization will be
taken up by psychological interviewing. "We have found," says Dr. Roger E.
Shields, the Pentagon's expert on war prisoners, "that every man who returns from
captivity urgently needs to tell his story, not publicly but privately, to
someone who will listen to him with empathy and understanding."
Even with such physical and mental crutches, the transition will not be easy,
either for released prisoners or for their families. Not only have P.O.W. wives
had to run families and homes, but the life-style of women in general has shifted
since many of the prisoners were captured. "These men were male chauvinists when
they went in," says Mrs. Cormier. "So many things have changed. Can you imagine
me going back to the local officers' club and doing knitting? No way!" Several
P.O.W.s, including LT Alvarez, have already been divorced in absentia by their
No matter how great the problems of readjustment, however, the return of the
P.O.W.s highlights the crueler question of the 1,256 Americans listed as missing
in action. Some wives and families have heard nothing definite since their men
disappeared, and since the Viet Cong and other guerrilla forces have never issued
complete prisoner lists, there is always the possibility that some of the lost
have survived. Mrs. James White, 29, of St. Petersburg, Fla., wife of an Air
Force lieutenant shot down over Laos in 1969, heard the news of a settlement last
week and rushed out to buy new nightgowns and evening dresses for herself and a
new dress for her daughter Katherine, 3½. But Sharon White is still trying
not to let her hopes get out of control. "I can't get myself too high and then
sink to a low," she says. Mrs. White has cleaned out half her bedroom closet for
her husband. But she refuses to put any of his old clothes in it until she learns
for certain that he is alive.
TIME-Monday, Jan. 01, 1973 - Christmas in Hanoi
Captain Robert G. Certain, 25, a B-52 navigator, was due to fly home from Guam
for Christmas on Dec. 20. The day before, an officer from Andrews Air Force Base
drove to the Washington, D.C., office of Certain's father, a labor-relations
director for the Southern Railway System, identified himself and said: "I regret
to inform you that your son is missing in action in North Viet Nam."
All across the U.S. last week, dozens of Air Force officers performed one of the
saddest duties in the military: serving as couriers for the casualty division at
Randolph A.F.B., near San Antonio. It had been the worst week for the Air Force
since Tet 1968. Though only one flyer was known to have been killed, 38 Air Force
crewmen were reported missing. Randolph passed along the news of each casualty to
the Air Force unit nearest the home town of the next of kin. The officer assigned
to the duty called for a blue staff car and drove off to deliver the news in
"They just about know what you are there for," explains Captain Edward Lindquist,
32, who has delivered such notices himself. "They guess it when they see the car
and see you standing at the door. There isn't any good way to do it. No easy way.
You get a cross section of reactions. Sometimes there is a blank stare. You're
not sure if they've heard you. Sometimes there are tears. Sometimes there are
tears before you say a word."
In each case, the officer carries with him the original confirming message, typed
on plain bond paper, which he hands to the next of kin. Regulations stipulate
that the notification be "error free"-double-checked for accuracy, with no
erasures, no smudges. The standard text sent last week to all B-52 next of kin,
with minor variations, reads as follows: "It is with deep personal concern that I
officially inform you that your son is missing in action in North Viet Nam on
Dec. 19. He was a navigator on board a B-52 aircraft that crashed after
apparently being struck by hostile fire. Other details are unknown at this time.
However, they will be furnished to you as soon as they are known. Pending further
information he will be listed officially as missing in action. If you have any
questions, you may contact my personal representative, toll-free, by [telephoning
Randolph]. Please accept my sincere sympathy during this period of anxiety. Major
General K.L. Tallman, Commander, Air Force Military Personnel Center."
The rules also require haste. An overseas Air Force commander is required to
forward to the casualty division at Randolph knowledge of any crewman killed or
missing in action within four hours. Randolph passes the news on to the local
base almost immediately.
Last week such speed was fortuitous. Two days after several of the families were
notified, photographs of their sons or husbands were distributed by Hanoi, and
then published widely in the U.S. Certain's brother Alan, an accountant in
Atlanta, got the news from his wife, who had heard it on a radio news broadcast.
Alan immediately called his father, who had been visited just half an hour
earlier by the notification officer.
For the next of kin who received such messages last week, there were particularly
bitter ironies. Most of the missing flyers were B-52 crewmen, and B-52 missions
throughout the war had been the safest combat duty in the Air Force. As far as is
known, only one of the eight-engine Stratofortresses had been lost to enemy fire.
That was on Nov. 22, and the crew was able to parachute to safety in Thailand.
The air war had been confined below the 20th parallel during the peace talks, and
a ceasefire, seemingly imminent, promised to put an end to the bombing missions
altogether. Now, in the space of a few days, the men had become among the most
vulnerable in the military.
No Split. For the Certains, as for the others, the timing seemed the cruelest
blow of all. Robert was shot down on his last mission before flying home. "The
family was gathering home for Christmas," said Mrs. George Vann, Certain's
sister, from her parents' home in Silver Spring, Md. "My brother and his wife
Robbie were coming from Arkansas. He was due home on R. and R. for Christmas."
Another brother. Captain John Certain, is a tanker pilot based in Thailand.
The remaining son, Philip, is a professor of chemistry at the University of
Wisconsin. Says Alan: "We are a middle-class family. We all live on our salaries.
We work for a living." He said the family is "all very close. When things of this
sort happen, when a crisis period occurs, we rally around each other." Alan took
umbrage at a press report that the family was split on the war. "I was not aware
we had a split of any kind," he commented. "We are split by distance. But I know
of no other split."
If the new bombing continues, it seems a grim certainty that the P.O.W.-M.I.A.
count will climb still higher. More notification officers will be fanning out
across the U.S. in weeks to come, clutching their "error-free" confirming
messages, just as regulations prescribe.
TIME-Monday, Feb. 05, 1973 - Some of the Bravest People
SOME of the bravest people I have ever met," President Nixon called the families
of the captured and the missing. "When others called on us to settle on any
terms, you had the courage to stand for the right kind of peace. Nothing means
more to me at this moment than the fact that your long vigil is coming to an
In Azusa, Calif., Patty Hardy said quietly, "Saturday is my day of reckoning."
The wife and daughters of Air Force Captain John Hardy waited, like the families
of 1,925 other men held prisoner or missing in the Viet Nam War, for word about
her missing husband. The families knew that the North Vietnamese were to hand
over a complete list in Paris last Saturday, and so in confusion and fear they
pinned their nervous hopes to that day.
All the families have a casualty assistance officer assigned to them. Patty Hardy
has told hers: "If Jack's name is not on the list, please don't send someone out
to tell me. Just call. Every military wife dreads that moment when the official
car pulls up outside the house.
For me it was a blue car which arrived with the news he was shot down [Oct. 12,
1967]. I don't want to go through that again!"
There is no fixed timetable for the return of the prisoners yet. It is possible
they might begin arriving this week in groups of perhaps 100 to 150 at a time,
and then again at intervals of about two weeks. Hanoi will be the main evacuation
station for the 476 men known to be prisoners in North Viet Nam. From there, huge
C-141 transport planes will fly the P.O.W.s to Clark Air Force Base in the
Philippines. According to the procedures of "Operation Homecoming," the men will
be treated at Clark if immediate attention is required. Medics, psychiatrists and
even tailors (who will outfit the men in new uniforms) are all standing by. From
Clark, the men will be brought directly to Travis Air Force Base in California
and then flown to the military hospital nearest their families.
Until the moment they hear the phone ring, the families must wait. "It isn't like
waiting for Christmas, when you know it will come on Dec. 25," says Joan Abbott
of Alloway, N.J. "We have no deadline."
But Mrs. Abbott, who has raised her seven children alone for six years, considers
herself an optimist. When Joe Abbott was shot down in April of 1967, there was a
period of 2½ years of not knowing whether or not he had made it. In
November 1969 she first got word that he was a prisoner.
But even before that she believed he was safe. "To tell you how sure I was, I
bought a bottle of champagne in October of 1968, I was so sure he would come home
again. The bottle is still in the refrigerator."
Andrea Rander, who lives in a suburb of Baltimore with her two children, Lysa,
13, and Page, six, listened with disbelief to the President's message. "Im numb,"
she said, "just numb. I'm still trying to believe it." Lysa, hearing the
President say it had been a long vigil, turned and said to her mother: "It has
been a long vigil." Last Saturday, the family got word that Sgt. First Class
Donald Rander was alive. They had not heard from him since he was captured on
Feb. 1, 1968. His name was on one of the first lists to be released.
Share. For three years Carol North had no information on her husband. Air Force
LT Colonel Ken North was shot down Aug. 1, 1966, and the family did not learn he
was a prisoner until early 1970. His four daughters, ranging in age from eleven
to 17, have completely changed in 6½ years. On Carol North's mind is the
realization that the long separation has changed her life, too. "Ken's going to
have to do a great deal of adjusting. So are we. I know I'm going to have to
learn again to share. I've been the boss here, and I've gotten used to that."
Margaret Lengyel of Boston is one P.O.W. wife who has no interest in being in
charge. "I'm ready to turn it over. The boss is coming home. I don't like having
to make all the decisions." Even when Captain Lauren Robert Lengyel was shot down
in August 1967, Margaret didn't expect to spend the next 5½ years raising
four children by herself. "It is hard to be both Mom and Dad, especially with
three boys." She expects Captain Lengyel to be one of the first to arrive home,
but she says: "Even if he doesn't come till the last flight, after waiting as
long as we have, 60 days is nothing."
TIME-Monday, Feb. 05, 1973 -- Paris Peace in Nine Chapters
AS the war finally came to an end last week with two coldly formal signing
sessions in the silk-walled, gilt-mirrored conference room of the former Majestic
Hotel in Paris, the South Vietnamese government and its Viet Cong enemies still
refused even to sign the same piece of paper.
In the oddly muted ceremonies, there were only a few sedate waves at the clicking
cameras, no speeches, no spoken exchanges of any kind between the dignitaries.
None of the key figures of the settlement-neither President Nixon nor Henry
Kissinger, neither Hanoi's Premier Pham Van Dong nor Saigon's President Nguyen
Van Thieu-was even present. The three Vietnamese parties were represented by
their little-known Foreign Ministers, and the U.S. by its almost forgotten
Secretary of State, William Rogers, who ended up signing his name on various
sheets of paper 72 times with a battery of 20 pens. As an ingenious solution to
the various sensitivities, Washington and Saigon representatives signed a
four-party agreement in the morning on one page, Hanoi and the Viet Cong signed
on another page, and finally just Washington and Hanoi signed a two-party accord
in the afternoon. Figuring out that process, sighed Kissinger, "has aged us all
by several years."
The high-pressure last-minute drive to finish the accord was carried out on two
levels. Working furiously through the weekend in Paris, a technical team headed
by U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State William Sullivan held marathon
sessions with a similar Hanoi group. Still at issue as Kissinger flew back to
Paris for a final top-level meeting with Hanoi's Le Due Tho were a few technical
questions, such as turning P.O.W.s over to the U.S. officials.
When Kissinger and Tho met on Tuesday (their 24th round of talks in 3½
years), the atmosphere was surprisingly amiable, and instead of the anticipated
two days of hard bargaining, final agreement came in just four hours.
Photographers were called in to record the initialing of a completed pact by Tho
and Kissinger, although this fact was not disclosed. The historic announcement
was left to simultaneous broadcasts in Washington, Saigon and Hanoi.
With unmistakable pride, President Nixon appeared on TV to claim that he had
finally won all the terms needed to achieve what he had sought for four years:
"Peace with honor." A major result: "The people of South Viet Nam have been
guaranteed the right to determine their own future without outside interference."
The agreement, he said, had "the full support" of Thieu, and he pledged that the
U.S. still recognized Thieu's regime as "the sole legitimate government of South
Viet Nam." He praised the 2,500,000 Americans who had fought in the war for
taking part "in one of the most selfless enterprises in the history of nations."
The treaty is divided into nine "chapters" covering the same topics as the
nine-point proposals upon which both sides had originally agreed in October. They
1. All parties respect the independence, sovereignty and unity of Viet Nam as
recognized by the 1954 Geneva agreements.
2. A cease-fire throughout Viet Nam, but not simultaneously in Cambodia or Laos,
will begin Jan. 27, with all military units remaining in place. Any disputes over
control of territory are to be resolved by the two-party joint military
commission from the South Viet Nam and Viet Cong combatants. All U.S. troops are
to be withdrawn within 60 days, and all U.S. military bases in South Viet Nam are
to be dismantled. There can be no re-entry of military forces into South Viet
Nam, and no increase in military equipment.
3. All military prisoners must be released within 60 days. There must be a full
accounting of all such prisoners at the time of the signing, and both sides must
help determine the fate of soldiers missing in action, including the locating of
graves. The release of civilian prisoners held in South Viet Nam must be
negotiated by the two powers there.
4. The right of the people of South Viet Nam to determine their own political
future is specifically affirmed. A National Council for National Reconciliation
and Concord is to be created by the two South Vietnamese parties to organize
internationally supervised elections. It will consist of "three equal segments,"
indicating that neutralists will have a role. All of its decisions must be
5. The Demilitarized Zone is recognized as a provisional military demarcation
line between two parts of Viet Nam that are expected to become reunited through
peaceful negotiations between their governments. Thus the current separate entity
of South Viet Nam is recognized. The DMZ is to be respected by North and South
Viet Nam, but civilian movement through it will be negotiated.
6. Various joint bodies are created to help supervise the truce. These include at
first a four-party joint military commission from among the recent combatants, a
two-party joint military commission, the ICC (see box, page 17), and within 30
days, an international conference of 13 members.
7. The right to self-determination and neutrality of Laos and Cambodia is
reaffirmed, and no foreign country is allowed to maintain military bases in
8. The U.S. pledges to aid in reconstruction efforts, specifically in North Viet
Nam, and also throughout Indochina, to repair war damage.
9. All parties agree to implement the agreements.
It remained for the remarkable Kissinger to spell out all the complex provisions
of the agreement and its detailed protocols in a masterly 100-minute televised
briefing. He readily conceded that "the hatred will not rapidly disappear" in
Viet Nam, but he expressed the hope that "people who have suffered for 25 years
may at last come to know that they can achieve their real satisfaction by other
and less brutal means."
Kissinger thus portrayed the settlement as a compromise establishing a peace
whose "stability depended on the relative satisfaction and therefore on the
relative dissatisfaction of all the parties concerned." Asked how the U.S. got
Thieu to accept it, since it does not require that North Vietnamese troops leave
South Viet Nam, Kissinger observed: "It is not easy to achieve through
negotiations what has not been achieved on the battlefield." Yet he also showed
compassion for Saigon's earlier objections. "We are 12,000 miles away," he
explained. "If we made a mistake in our assessment of the situation, it will be
painful. If they made a mistake in the assessment, it can be fatal."
The agreement leaves the entire political future of South Viet Nam up to
negotiations between the Saigon government and its Communist rivals, Kissinger
emphasized. Then, in a rare admission by a high U.S. official, after the years of
talk about Communist aggression, Kissinger said: "That is what the civil war has
been all about."
On point after point, the treaty relies on vagueness to get past unsolved
problems. Yet Kissinger argued that the agreement provides a basic mechanism for
a resolution of Viet Nam's longstanding conflicts, depending upon "the spirit in
which it is implemented." The mechanism is infinitely complex-international
commissions, conferences, elections, more commissions. Only time will tell
whether any of this will work. In the end, international pressure. rather than
any effective on-scene deterrent, may have to be employed to police the
Part of that pressure will be the continued presence of large U.S. air and naval
forces in the region. There is no requirement that the U.S. remove nearly 100,000
military personnel, mainly Air Force, from Thailand, Guam or its carriers off the
Viet Nam coast. Whether Nixon could readily resume aerial attacks on Viet Nam in
the event of a large-scale Communist truce violation is doubtful, since the
political outcry at home against a renewed involvement might be fierce. The U.S.
can continue to aid the Saigon government economically but not militarily (except
on a piece-for-piece replacement basis).
As for the political future of South Viet Nam, this will depend heavily upon just
how effectively the National Council of Reconciliation functions. Since this
council operates under a unanimity rule, the possibility of deadlock is enormous.
Even the offices for which elections are to be held are undefined. The Communists
are given little chance to elect a President, but they are expected to demand
local elections in which they could win positions that would undermine a central
The ultimate vagueness of the settlement is that it enables the contesting
parties to read it as they see fit. Hanoi Negotiator Tho, far more ebullient than
Kissinger, called it "a very great victory for the Vietnamese people," a triumph
over "American imperialism." He said that it recognized the reality of "two
administrations, two armies, two controlled zones" in South Viet Nam and
represented another step toward "the reunification of the country." "This," he
added, "is the necessary advance of history. No force can prevent this advance."
Saigon's President Thieu, by contrast, saw the agreement as confirming that "our
people have truly destroyed the Communist troops that have come from the North,"
and he said that North Viet Nam now must respect "the sovereignty and
independence of South Viet Nam."
The release of the final terms will not wholly end the debate over whether the
U.S. gained enough in January to justify its refusal to sign the settlement
proposed in October. For one thing, the full October pact has never been
published, and thus the two accords cannot be precisely compared.
Le Due Tho insisted that the final treaty remained "basically the same" as the
October version. Kissinger claimed that "substantial changes" had been made. Yet,
when he listed the ones he thought most important, they seemed only of limited
significance. They included these points:
CEASE-FIRE TIMING. U.S. military intelligence reported that it had intercepted
Communist plans for a last-minute offensive between the announcement of a
cease-fire and the installation of truce-supervision forces. The October plan
apparently would have permitted an interval before the various policing
commissions were to be in place. The closing of this gap may have helped prevent
any significant shift in the territory controlled by the combatants.
THE ICE. The October agreement provided no details on how many foreign observers
would supervise the truce, and when the bargaining began, the Communists demanded
a mere token group of 250. The U.S., which originally proposed a four-nation
force of 8,000, finally was satisfied with 1,160.
LAOS AND CAMBODIA. The U.S. hopes to achieve a cease-fire in Laos and Cambodia
soon after the truce in Viet Nam. Although there is no provision in any version
of the treaty that requires a cease-fire throughout Indochina, Kissinger contends
that the required withdrawal of foreign troops from Laos and Cambodia and the
prohibition of base areas there will bring about an end to military action in
those countries faster than had been expected.
LINGUISTIC PROBLEMS. Kissinger argues that there were ambiguities in the
bilingual texts of the October papers that have since been cleared up. He cited
only one example: whether the National Council of Reconciliation would be an
"administrative structure" without governing powers, as interpreted by the U.S.
and Thieu, or whether it could be viewed by Hanoi as a coalition government. The
final language makes it clear that this council will primarily organize new
THE DMZ. This apparently was never seriously dealt with in the October draft. But
when the talks broke down, Kissinger suggested that the North Vietnamese in
effect wanted to ignore the DMZ as a boundary line, thereby reaffirming their
contention that South Viet Nam is not a separate country, and that they were
preparing to move troops through at will. The present agreement -defining the DMZ
as a clearly marked if temporary dividing line and also affirming both the
separate identity of South Viet Nam and the ultimate unity of the entire
country-is ambiguous enough so that both the North and South Vietnamese seem
reassured about their respective rights.
Whether such changes justify the U.S. bombing raids that Nixon launched as part
of his demand for "serious" negotiation remains doubtful. And whether the aerial
assault was actually what motivated Hanoi to return to serious bargaining is
still being argued heatedly -without, so far, any answer in sight. Kissinger
would only say, "There was a deadlock which was described in the middle of
December, and there was rapid movement when negotiations resumed. These facts
have to be analyzed by each person for himself." Tho, on the other hand, insisted
that the bombings "failed completely," actually delayed a settlement and were
halted because of the international outcry against them.
That bombing was indeed widely criticized as either an intrinsically "immoral"
act or a use of power that was far more destructive than its probable results
could justify. On that issue, the debate has barely begun.
TIME-Monday, Feb. 12, 1973 -- Tidings Good and Bad
The anguish of waiting and hoping finally brought a burst of phone calls from the
Pentagon last week. For 562 families, the years of uncertainty were over, and in
a euphoric flush, they rushed to prepare for the homecoming.
For two families, the return of their men will mean a double celebration. On Jan.
30 in Wayne County, N.C., Sharon Alpers gave birth to a son shortly after
learning that her husband, Captain John H. Alpers Jr., missing since Oct. 5, had
been listed as a known prisoner. The child was named John III. That same morning,
near Goldsboro, N.C., the wife of Air Force Captain Brian M. Ratzlaff, also
listed as missing in action until last week, bore a daughter, Christine.
But bad news came too. Some 1,300 families were told that their men's names were
not on any of the lists released after the cease-fire was signed. Although there
were some bizarre and happy surprises-Ronald Ridgeway, a Marine whose mother had
"buried" him in 1968, was found to be alive-the hopes of many families of missing
men went unrewarded.
Mrs. Evelyn Grubb, widow of Air Force Colonel Wilmer N. Grubb, sat in a
restaurant in Arlington, Va., and said quietly and bitterly: "Now the next
phase-The remains have been found and are being shipped home.' " Her husband was
one of 55 men Hanoi listed as having died in captivity. In Georgia, the parents
of Captain Larron Murphy, missing since 1970, settled down for another siege.
"I'm still expecting my son's name to come up," said his mother. "I don't think
this is a complete list. I'm not going to give up hope."
Meanwhile, at Clark Air Base in the Philippines, evacuation planes and flight
crews are on alert for the first airlift out of Hanoi, expected to come some time
this week. A fully staffed hospital, complete with 50 doctors, 800 nurses and
turquoise sheets, stands ready to receive as many as 150 men at once. The
personal escorts assigned to each prisoner have begun to arrive. According to
Major Joel S. Hetland, one of the officers on escort duty, they are being briefed
with advice from former prisoners like "Don't ask your man how it was up there in
Hanoi." In order to ensure that returnees do not get asked precisely that sort of
question by the press, the military announced that the prisoners would not be
available for interviews. Undaunted, close to 100 accredited newsmen turned up at
the base, threatening still another Asian skirmish. Officials at Clark relented
somewhat at the end of the week, hinting that a few token prisoners would be
permitted to meet with the press.
For the families waiting across the country, there will be immediate notification
by the military and then the first phone call from the men themselves. Myrna
Borling has not seen her husband since 1966, and she is concerned that the
changes they have both gone through will make the reunion difficult. "I don't
remember the same 'old John,' but this is going to work. I haven't sat around
this long for nothing. It's got to work."
Martha Kasler, whose husband. Air Force Colonel James Kasler, was one of Viet
Nam's hot fighter pilots before being shot down, is more confident about his
return. "It's going to be pretty exciting to start all over again," she said.
"It's supposed to be even better the second time around."
TIME-Monday, Feb. 12, 1973 -- Farewell to the Follies
The cease-fire has been bullet-riddled, and the U.S. withdrawal was far from
complete last week. But there was one sure sign of vanishing American
involvement: the daily military press briefing, an eight-year-old Saigon
spectacle known as the 5 O'Clock Follies, had its final performance with an
American cast. Army Major Jere Forbus, the last Follies star, sighed, "Well, we
may not have been perfect, but we outlasted Fiddler on the Roof." The Associated
Press Saigon bureau chief, Richard Pyle, was less benign but more accurate when
he called the briefings "the longest-playing tragicomedy in Southeast Asia's
theater of the absurd."
The briefings were originally designed to give reporters clear, concise summaries
of widely scattered action. They grew out of casual sessions started by Barry
Zorthian, a former Voice of America official, after he became head of press
relations in the U.S. mission in Viet Nam. Now a Time Inc. vice president,
Zorthian recalls that until he arrived on the scene, there had been no regular
briefings. Gradually the 5 O'Clock Follies evolved into a strange show that
satisfied no one. "The military instinct," says Zorthian, "was always to provide
less rather than more. Many times the information we gave out was incomplete. Or
else it was too early for us to be sure of its accuracy."
Partly as a result of reporters' demands for precision, briefers began to deal in
body counts and other statistics that eventually proved to be of dubious value.
As time passed, most enterprising newsmen boycotted the Follies. Explains Keyes
Beech of the Chicago Daily News: "They seldom bore any resemblance whatever to
the facts in the field." On March 16, 1968, a mimeographed release included this
passage: "In an action today, Americal Division forces killed 128 enemy near
Quang Ngai City. Helicopter gunships and artillery missions supported the ground
elements throughout the day." Thus did the Follies announce the infamous action
at My Lai.
Fortunately for the newsmen-and for their audiences back home-the Follies
represented only one aspect of official press policy. Veteran Viet Nam reporters
agree that almost everything distorted or left unsaid at the Follies was readily
obtainable in the field. More important, the U.S. military was usually willing to
transport reporters to the action. Says Don Wise of the London Daily Mirror: "You
were taken wherever you wanted to go, to see whatever you wanted to see." Horst
Faas, who won two Pulitzer Prizes as an A.P. photographer, agrees that it was
easier to cover the war than to cover less violent stories in parts of Europe.
"Because the Americans made it so easy to get around," he explains, "it was easy
to get killed. That's why so many died-freedom of the press." A total of 55
newsmen are missing or dead in Indochina, and many others have been wounded.
Faas, who says that he is determined not "to step on that last land mine," points
out that it is still easy to get killed. Last week two television newsmen were
wounded. With the South Vietnamese now in full control of press regulations,
conditions are becoming more difficult. Credentials are being issued for only
limited periods and are lifted at the slightest provocation. After an argument
with a Vietnamese province chief last week, Craig Whitney of the New York Times
and Peter Osnos of the Washington Post had to watch as their tires were shot out
and their film was exposed.
Covering "peace," in other words, can be as difficult as following the fighting.
At Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, where some members of the Saigon
press corps and other newsmen gathered to wait for the P.O.W. flights from Hanoi,
a cadre of 55 military press officers descended on the base with orders to keep
P.O.W.s and reporters apart. Afternoon briefings-quickly dubbed the 2 O'Clock
Follies-were begun, as one officer explained, "to provide the press with a time
to air their complaints." Finding this outlet insufficient, A.P. Reporter Peter
Arnett filed a story outlining the perfumed and powdered care that base nurses
planned to lavish on the P.O.W.s. Fearing howls of outrage from P.O.W. wives, the
Pentagon hastily dispatched two high-level press officers to negotiate a
cease-fire with the press.
TIME-Monday, Feb. 19, 1973
First there were years of anxiety and uncertainty for the families of American
war prisoners. Then, for the lucky ones whose men had survived, the final long
days of anticipation. In gathering material for this week's cover story on the
returning P.O.W.s, TIME correspondents waited out the difficult hours with a
number of the families, while staffers on the other side of the world watched the
preparations to care for the first freed servicemen.
In some cases, we had become acquainted with the wives and children months ago.
Boston Correspondent Philip Taubman began visiting Carol North and her four
daughters in November. He has returned to their Cape Cod home four times since
then and sometimes found himself joining hands with the girls while Amy, 1 1,
said grace at dinner, or helping Jody, 15, with her homework.
New York Correspondent Christopher Byron visited Joan Abbott and her seven
children in Alloway, N.J. She is studying nursing, and he accompanied her through
a hectic day of classes, preparing dinner, chauffeuring children to St.
Valentine's Day parties and studying for her courses. We chose the Abbotts to
represent the many families who at long last knew that the husband and father was
coming home soon. The cover story on the mood and meaning of the long-delayed,
long-hoped-for event is the work of Associate Editor Lance Morrow, who has
written much about the travail of America during the war.
Correspondents in Asia who sought to cover the actual release and reception of
the first group of freed prisoners found themselves grappling with secretive
American and Vietnamese officials for hard information. At Clark Air Base in the
Philippines, Correspondent Roy Rowan and 167 other newsmen found a cadre of
military information officers standing between them and the facts. Rowan spent
some of the long wait as a guest lecturer in politics and journalism at the local
high school. Photographer Carl Mydans, on assignment for TIME, conducted a quick
course in news photography. Eddie Adams, another TIME photographer on the scene,
meanwhile set up SWAPS (Stymied Writers and Photographers), which is really a
branch of his Saigon creation TWAPS (Terrified Writers and Photographers). Adams
issued membership cards and T shirts to all recruits.
TIME-Monday, Feb. 19, 1973 -The Psychology Of Homecoming
As the nation prepared to welcome the first of its returning prisoners of war,
both military and private psychologists warned that the prisoners would be
suffering from invisible wounds that may take years to heal.
According to Clinical Psychologist Charles Stenger, planning coordinator of the
Veterans Administration P.O.W. program, the fact of imprisonment has a
psychological impact that is "tremendous-an extreme and prolonged stress." This
starts at the moment of capture. "That shock is about the most overwhelming,
stupendous experience that can happen," says William N. Miller, a psychologist at
the Navy's Center for P.O.W. Studies in San Diego. "No one who has not been
totally at the mercy of other human beings can understand it. It brings a feeling
of total helplessness and then a fantastic apathy."
Filled with guilt, concerned only with physical survival, the prisoner often
becomes obsessed with trivial rituals and trivial goals. For instance, says
Stenger (a prisoner himself during World War II), "it is routine to spend hours
folding a blanket, because it is one of the few things a guy can do from which he
can get a feeling of effectiveness if he does it well." USAF Major Fred Thompson,
once a P.O.W. in Viet Nam, recalls devoting hours to an effort to train the ants
in his cell to fetch crumbs. When that palled, he began building a dream cottage
in his head, board by board, brick by brick.
Zombie. Another problem is what Manhattan Psychoanalyst Chaim Shatan calls the
emotional anesthesia of captivity, a kind of psychological numbing that deadens
feeling. Explains Los Angeles Psychiatrist Helen Tausend: "Many prisoners learn
to cope with their situation by setting up low-key reactions in themselves-a kind
of little death to save themselves from a bigger death." Back in the outside
world, they often display a "zombie reaction"-apathy, withdrawal, lack of
spontaneity and suppression of individuality. The symptoms often disappear
quickly, but Shatan estimates that they can easily last three years. To a certain
extent, he says, "You never get over it."
Recovery is a difficult process. One reason: culture shock. First, explains
Stenger, "The P.O.W. has become partly acclimated to Vietnamese culture, which is
much more inner, self-oriented and passive than ours." Then comes the confusion
of return to a changed world. As Psychiatrist Tausend expresses it, a returning
prisoner is "like a man coming out of a dark room." By way of illustration, Iris
Powers, chairman of a P.O.W.-M.I.A. committee, recounts the experience of Army
Sergeant John Sexton. Released by the Viet Cong in 1971, Sexton had never heard
of Women's Lib, miniskirts or unisex. "When he went into a shop for some clothes
and saw a girl buying from the same rack-it was a unisex shop, and she was buying
pants with a zipper up the front-he just walked right out again."
Even stable marriages will be subjected to stress when husbands return. In
captivity, says Tausend, many a prisoner idealized the woman he would come home
to, cherishing "an impossible dream in order to survive." In most cases the dream
The focus of such problems may be sex; some wives fear that they may be frigid
for a while, and psychiatrists warn that some husbands may experience temporary
impotence. Some wives feel as if their imprisoned husbands had willfully
abandoned them; younger women especially, reports P.O.W. wife Jane Grumpier, "are
so bitter; they resent having wasted youthful years." Other wives may have
difficulty simply because of their prolonged deprivation. Admits one: "I don't
know if I can be a wife to him again; I've had that bed all to myself for such a
long time." Says another: "We've both been in prison."
Summing up, U.C.L.A. Psychiatrist Louis West predicts that "if people had a good
sexual relationship before, they will be able to re-establish it quickly
-provided the same bond of affection exists. Where the relationship was fragile
to begin with, it will be ruptured beyond repair."
In many cases, the bond between husband and wife will be easier to restore than
that between father and child. P.O.W.s, says one psychiatrist, will be coming
home not only to children who do not know them but, worse yet, to children who do
not like them. According to Tausend, "Small children may be frightened of their
fathers at first, especially of those who are overwhelmingly enthusiastic," while
"older ones who have idolized their father without knowing him may be
disillusioned. Here comes the great daddy hero, and he turns out to be a human
being who is grumpy and weak."
To reduce the impact of all these problems, Department of Defense psychiatrists
and psychologists began briefing P.O.W. families three years ago (TIME, Nov. 6).
The advice of the experts seems to boil down to six rules:
1. Do not belittle a P.O.W. if prison-induced habits persist. Long deprived of
shoes, beds and chairs, some returnees may at first have trouble tying their
shoelaces, may choose to sleep on the floor and squat rather than sit.
2. Be open about feelings. "Isolation comes when we pretend that everything is
all right if we are really feeling strange," Psychologist Stenger warns. "What
would be most damaging for these people is not to know where they stand."
3. Do not try to distract a prisoner or take his mind off what has happened to
him. Explains West: "In a relaxed setting, with a few friends, the returnee will
want to talk about his experience -relive it, almost-little by little."
4. Do not treat a former P.O.W. as mentally ill, because he is not. "He has
learned to adapt to an extremely threatening environment, and that takes a pretty
well-organized individual," Stenger believes.
5. Do not treat a returnee as a hero because, says West, he does not consider
himself one and will feel worse if complimented. The reason: he feels guilty for
surviving while other men, perhaps braver than he, died in combat.
6. Give the returnee the privacy he needs to sort things out. It is important,
urges Atlanta psychiatrist Alfred Messer, not to ask P.O.W.s to make speeches or
submit to interviews prematurely. "You've just got to give him a chance to get
his head on straight."
TIME-Monday, Feb. 19, 1973 -- The Returned: A New Rip Van Winkle
By Stefan Kanfer
The very village was altered; it was larger and more populous. There were rows of
houses which he had never seen before, and those which had been his familiar
haunts had disappeared. Strange names were over the doors-strange faces at the
windows-everything was strange...the very character of the people seemed changed.
There was a busy, bustling disputatious tone about it...A fellow...was haranguing
vehemently about rights of citizens-elections-members of Congress -liberty...and
other words which were a perfect Babylonish jargon...
WASHINGTON IRVING set his story in the late 18th century, when it took 20 years
and an American Revolution to bring about such alterations. With contemporary
efficiency and such time-saving devices as the Viet Nam War, change now occurs at
quintuple speed. The returning P.O.W.s have been away an average of four years;
it is long enough to make them a new breed of Van Winkle, blinking at a world
that can hardly believe how profoundly it has changed. Nor will it really believe
until it sees itself with the returning P.O.W.s' fresh, hungry eyes.
The little things are what the ex-prisoner will notice first, phenomena that
civilians have long since absorbed. That local double bill, for example: Suburban
Wives and Tower of Screaming Virgins. Four years ago, it would have been
restricted to a few downtown grind-houses. Today, blue-movie palaces are as much
a part of the suburbs as the wildly proliferating McDonald'ses. Shaking his head,
the new Van Winkle heads for a newsstand. Here, there is still more catching up
to do. A copy of Look? No way. Life? No more. How about a copy of Crawdaddy,
Screw, Money, Rolling Stone? Rip has heard of none of them. He looks, dazed, at
the roster of more undreamt of magazines: Oui, Penthouse, World, Ms. "Pronounced
Miz," says the proprietor who starts to elucidate, then drops the subject and the
magazine. Who, after all, could explain Gloria Steinem? Ah, but in this roiled
world a few bedrocks remain. There it is-the good old Saturday Evening Post. No,
it is the good old new old Saturday Evening Post, risen from the grave and
swathed in thrift-shop clothing, an item of that rising phenomenon, nostalgia.
Every age has enjoyed a peek in the rear-view mirror.
But in the last few years, total recall has become almost a way of life. Rip
examines magazines devoted to trivia, recalling the names of Tarzan's co-stars
and the Lone Ranger's genealogy. He sees ads for Buster Keaton festivals and even
for Ozymandian musicals like Grease, celebrating the vanished glories of '50s
rock 'n' roll. The stranger pushes on; nostalgia-at preposterous prices-peers at
him from shop windows. Fashion bends backward with shaped suits and long skirts,
wide-brimmed hats, ubiquitous denims and saddle shoes. He has, alas, missed
miniskirts and hot pants. He is just in time to see almost all women in long
pants. Well, why not? But men in high heels?
He peers in the window of a unisex shop, and then, holding fast to the corner of
a building to maintain his balance, he seeks stability at a furniture store.
Surely this window will yield a glimpse of the familiar. After all, what is
furniture but chairs, tables-and waterbeds? It is time, he feels, to cross the
Jesus freaks are gathered at the corner, mixing freely with other louder groups.
They carry the perennial banners of militancy, each inscribed with the device,
Liberation. Over it are the words Gay, Black, Women's, Chicano and People's.
These are the remnants of a great tidal wave of protest that broke in Rip's
absence, still sporadically coursing through the streets and campuses. The year
1968 was at once its crest and ebb. Rip was gone when Martin Luther King was
assassinated in Memphis and when 172 cities went up in smoke, when 3,500 were
injured and 27,000 arrested. He was gone when Bobby Kennedy was murdered two
months later, and when two months afterward, the city of Chicago seemed to become
the epicenter for every disaffected demonstrator in America.
Perhaps there was something in the global ionosphere that year, something that
still clings like smoke in an empty room. Without benefit of an unpopular war to
trigger protest, Paris also was torn by civil disturbances; so were Mexico City
and Tokyo. Even in Prague, the people rose up -only to be pushed into submission
by armored tanks. Today all protest seems, somehow, to be an echo of that
hopeful, dreadful time; but to the new listener there is no resonance, only the
flat remnants of unassimilated rage.
A striped pole catches Rip's eye. He settles into a chair-only to hear a fresh
diatribe from the barber-who now calls himself a stylist. Once, long hair was the
exclusive property of the hippies; they have gone but the hair has remained. Now
all the straights sport it. The barber talks on about a world gone into reverse.
Nixon has toured Communist China, which is now in the U.N. The Empire State
Building is no longer the tallest building in the world. The World Trade Center
is. Eighteen-year-olds can vote. The New York Giants will soon play in New
Jersey. In the American League, pitchers will no longer bat.
The stock market, Rip learns, has hit 1000, yet the go-go funds and glamour
conglomerates are a sere and withered group. Unfamiliar newsworthies are summoned
to his attention: Mary Jo Kopechne, Clifford Irving, Arthur Bremer, Vida Blue,
Archie Bunker, Angela Davis, Daniel Ellsberg. There are new countries leaping up
from the headlines, nations born while he was away:
Bangladesh, Botswana and Qatar. There was another country, too, called Biafra.
Like those radioactive elements produced in a laboratory, it was destined for a
brief, intense half-life before it vanished forever. But the eyes of its starving
children still stare from old magazines-and in the memory.
His hair cropped, or rather, styled-at absurd prices-Rip retires to a bar for
refreshment and intelligence. The TV set is in color now, and there is something
called Cable that makes the reception better-although for what purpose is not so
clear. True, there are no more cigarette commercials, and some programs called
Sesame Street and The Electric Company are brightening the day for children. But
for adults, it is, as always, lame adventure series and innocuous sitcoms, the
halt leading the bland. There are fewer talk shows and more movies made expressly
for TV-all of them, it seems, starring James Farentino and George Peppard.
Not all movies are made for the tube, announces a defensive film buff down at the
other end of the bar. He tells of the emerging genres: black films with
superheroes carpet bombing the inner cities; hetero, homo-and bi-sexual hits;
Andy Warhol spectaculars that may yet replace Seconal; and of course, the
constantly refilled pornucopia.
Yet films can still provide comfort for the weary and overburdened. Rip learns
that the stalwarts have not toppled. Gregory Peck, Paul Newman, John Wayne, Steve
McQueen are impervious to criticism; throw a rock at them and it still produces
sparks. As for the theater, that too has its enduring endearing qualities. There
are laments for the passing grandeur of the now tacky Broadway; butter and egg
musicals, and Neil Simon comedies still pull in the theater parties. Save for the
new nudity, the visitor might never have been away.
Rip wanders from the bar in search of nourishment. Next door is a restaurant; it
is not until he examines the menu that he sees the words "health foods"-and by
then it is a little late to run. On the shelves are strange labels: Granola, mung
beans, Tiger's Milk, lecithin, all at nonsensical prices. Vitamin E, he learns,
is expected to cure everything but the common cold; Vitamin C takes care of that.
Adelle Davis has become the Brillat-Savarin of the counterculture. Her self-help
books beckon from the paperback rack: Let's Get Well, Let's Have Healthy
Children, Let's Eat Right To Keep Fit.
Let's not, mutters the ex-prisoner. Abandoning his pepup and soy derivative, he
pushes onward to a record store. His favorites have quite literally passed on.
Judy Garland, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix-all killed by various ODs. The Beatles?
Fragmented. The unheard of Woodstock? While he was gone it was born, matured,
grew senile and became a comic epitaph on an old emotion. Some stalwarts remain
here too: Streisand, Elvis Presley, Joan Baez, The Stones. But who are the
Partridge Family? Cheech and Chong? Dr. Hook and The Medicine Show?
Fighting off a syncope, Rip flees to a bookstore. He is just in time for the
revisionist historians. When Rip left the U.S. the faint afterglow of Kennedy
magic was still warm to the touch. Then they called it charisma. Now they call it
Sha-melot. Such books as Henry Fairlie's The Kennedy Years and David Halberstam's
The Best and the Brightest sound the knell for the '60s and its leaders. The
returnee has missed the spate of Concerned Books: Soul On Ice, Deschooling
Society, The Whole Earth Catalog-when Rip left, earth was only dirt-plus almost
every float in Norman Mailer's Mr. America Pageant. Lose a few, win a few. He has
also missed Love Story, Myra Breckenridge, The Sensuous Woman. He browses through
the current paperbacks; words rise up and greet him like so much Urdu: ecology,
software, encounter groups, moon rocks, body language, future shock, acupuncture,
transcendental meditation, deep zone therapy. His trembling hands try the poetry
shelf, but the words of Auden seem as odd as the day he has just lived:
In the deserts of the heart
let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days,
teach the free man how to praise.
According to the poet, then, we are all behind bars -locked inside the jail of
mortality. No matter how bitter his past, the prisoner must find a way to leave
the personal desert for the world of common humanity. But how can one enter that
world when there are no doors? How can one "praise" what one cannot understand?
"Surely I must be exaggerating," Rip thinks. "Why try to understand it all in one
gulp? Why try to overtake history? Start slowly, read the leading fiction
bestseller. Escape for a while." He picks up Jonathan Livingston Seagull. The
story of a what? Of a goddam bird? His eye roves to the self-help books. Here's
one: Primal Scream. He tries it...
The air is cool in the police car, and the cops, although jittery, relax when
they see that their passenger is unarmed. They have their own stories to tell, of
new ambush attacks, and of strong desires for shotguns to repel something they
call the Black Liberation Army. But after they listen to their passenger's story,
there is a quiet in the car, and there is no further attempt to educate the new
Rip Van Winkle. There is no attempt to go to the station. Rip is, suddenly, a
free man all over again, and stuttering, he tries to find praise. Praise for his
country, for an America that, despite all the staggering changes, somehow is
still America. There is, finally, only one way. "Where to?" asks the driver. Rip
looks out the window for a long, lonely moment trying to remember something.
"Home," he says. -Stefan Kanfer
TIME-Monday, Feb. 19, 1973 -- Mental Movies to Unreel
The first American prisoners of war will be home this week; others must wait a
little longer. As families prepared for the happy and difficult reunions to come,
TIME Correspondent Christopher Byron visited the home of Air Force Major Joseph
Abbott in Alloway, N.J. There Joan Abbott and her seven children, who appear on
this week's TIME cover as symbols of a moving national moment, were getting ready
for his homecoming. Byron's report:
THERE is a man in this South Jersey farmhouse. He is more remembered than real,
his presence captured in random memorabilia-a plastic model of his F-105 fighter
plane poised on a living-room shelf, a duffel bag of uniforms at the top of the
stairs, a portrait by his wife hung in their bedroom. There are less direct
reminders too: a grease-splattered map of Viet Nam on a kitchen wall; a dog-eared
volume of an encyclopedia spread open on a table-the subject is Viet Nam.
Each evening at 6 o'clock the man is summoned by prayer to a kitchen table ringed
with seven children. They say in unison: "God, please take care of our daddy and
bring him home real soon. Thank you for the fruits and vegetables from our
garden, and all our family and friends."
The youngest Abbott, Matthew, now six, was born a week before his father shipped
out to Thailand in 1966. He knows from his older brother Joseph, 13, and his
sisters Joan, 16, and Dorothy, 14, that Daddy made good snowballs, "hard packed
ones that wouldn't fly apart in the wind."
Six years have passed. It is a long time in which to keep memories alive through
various stages of interest (and lack of interest, for that is the way of even the
most loving children). Joan Abbott has done it well, pretty much alone. "Joe and
I agreed when we got married that I'd be a real mother -so that's what I'm
Joan and Joe Abbott bought this seven-room house in August 1966, just before
Matthew was born. Joe left behind an unfinished project-a willow tree to be
planted in the backyard. After he was gone, Joan turned it into a family test of
hope. They tried many times to get a willow to take root. The trees kept dying.
Finally, two years ago a root took. The omen was, of course, good.
Joan has encouraged the children to write poems, essays, diaries, anything to
draw from their young minds the secret thoughts that a father might some day want
to share. She tries to spend as many minutes as possible with her youngest child.
"In my mind," she explains, "I'm making a mental movie called Matthew. When Joe
gets home, I'm going to play it for him."
Last spring, when Matthew entered kindergarten, Joan decided to return after 20
years to nursing school. Every day she makes the round trip of 120 miles from
Alloway to Philadelphia General Hospital's School of Nursing, attends six to
eight hours of classes and returns home to cook, shop, clean, study and mother
her seven children.
Despite her busy days, Joan Abbott remembers the first 2/2 years after Joe's
capture, when he was neither dead nor alive, just M.I.A. She remembers November
1969, when an antiwar group brought back a list of prisoners from Hanoi and Joe
was recalled to life as a P.O.W. She saw Joe on television then, being paraded
before microphones in Hanoi. Most of all, she remembers the whiplash of last
fall, when peace was at hand and then suddenly the hand was gone. Before that
promise faded again for a while, Joan decided Joe would be home before Christmas.
She called the kids together, and after "a conference" they all agreed. Only one
present would be bought, "a toolbox with lug wrenches, torque wrenches and all
the stuff a person needs to tinker with cars-Joe's favorite pastime."
The kit sits in a closet, a reminder to Joan each time she opens the door that
the future is best consumed in daily bites. Of that period, she remembers now, "I
felt as if I were a ship being battered on the rocks, the waves dashing over me
incessantly. I felt more tired, more worn out, than ever before in my life. I
just don't think I could go through it again."
For a while, there was talk about repainting the house.
An Army chaplain offered men to help, and Joan was pleased. The Abbotts held a
family conference, where twelve-year-old Daniel declared his opposition: "I want
Daddy to know that everything that's been done around here was done by us." So
the sprucing up has been reduced to whatever the children can manage.
"My principal function is to be a woman to my man,"
Joan says, and she pours her own meanings into those words. What about her return
to nursing school? Between mouthfuls of oyster stew at the student nurses'
cafeteria, she says emphatically, "I'd drop it in a minute. The very minute he
Phyllis Galanti decided to visit her mother last week in Blackstone, Va. She left
her phone number with LT Mike Covington, her Navy casualty assistance officer. On
Saturday at 1 o'clock in the afternoon, she was clipping her West Highland
terrier Tammy when the phone rang. "Hi, Phyllis," the voice said, "this is Mike.
He's on the list to come out in the first bunch."
If all goes well, and the effects of 6/2 years of imprisonment do not require
hospitalization, LT Commander Paul Galanti, 33, will get to see Phyllis this
week. "It's funny," Phyllis said, "but I knew he was coming in that first group.
I just felt it in my bones. I'm overjoyed."
Mrs. Galanti, who came from a career Army family and has served since last
November as the chairman of the National League of Families of American Prisoners
and Missing in Southeast Asia, has been getting ready for this week for a long
time. When Paul was shot down over Vinh on June 17, 1966, he had been married
three years. The Galantis had no children.
She has had only 20 pieces of mail from Paul over the years, some of them just
postcards, but she has at least had some idea of his health and state of mind.
She has also seen pictures of her husband, including one that ran on the cover of
LIFE in late 1967. It showed Paul sitting on a bench in a large cell beneath a
sign that read "Clean & Neat". "He's always been an upbeat, optimistic
individual," Phyllis says.
Phyllis went shopping last week in anticipation of her husband's return. She
bought herself a light blue dress to wear for the reunion, bottles of the "best
French champagne and perfume" and, for a man who used to play a good game of
tennis, a Rod Laver tennis sweater. "I've taken it up since he's been gone, and
now I hope we can play together."
As soon as Paul is certifiably healthy and can leave the hospital, Phyllis hopes
they can go off on a vacation together, somewhere quiet and warm. She expects
Paul to be lighter than his old 160 lbs., but intends to fatten him up. "His
favorite food," says Phyllis, "is a great big juicy hamburger with lots of
onions. And milk or a Coke-I bet that's the first thing he's going to ask for."
"I made the man repeat it twice!" bubbled Myrna Borling. "Then I fell apart. I
cried, I think. Maybe I spoke a loud prayer. I wanted to run out into the street
and just scream -'He's coming home!' "
Myrna Borling, 31, had just learned that Captain John Borling, U.S.A.F., was
among the first group of American prisoners to be released on Sunday. Borling was
captured in 1966 after his plane was shot down over North Viet Nam. Their
daughter Lauren, now seven, was nine months old, and naturally she remembers
nothing about her father.
"My life has revolved around Lauren," Mrs. Borling said.
"It's going to be hard to revolve it around John. Last Saturday night I went into
her room and she wasn't asleep. I asked her what was wrong, and she said, 'I'm
afraid of Daddy coming home. I'm afraid of Daddy.' I told her I was afraid of
Daddy too. And she said, 'But if I close my eyes, I can see Daddy smiling, and
then I'm not afraid any more.''
For months, in anticipation of the week to come, Myrna Borling has been mulling
over the changes in her life. She has prepared for John's return by cleaning the
apartment and trying to get all the bills paid. She thought of putting some
clothes in drawers for John, "but I decided against it. I don't even know what
size to buy."
Lauren also has plans. She has saved three of her just fallen-out teeth, and she
wrote to the tooth fairy, telling her not to take the teeth away until her father
had seen them. And she has other ideas, too, for when her father returns. "I want
him to take me to the park, to take me to Disney World, to teach me how to play
bowling and not to spank me like Mommy does."
Lauren's mother is definitely not in a spanking mood, just can't imagine," she
says, "I feel like I weigh five pounds. It is just a fantastic feeling." After
her worries about the problems of reunion, she finds that the certainty of this
week (instead of the old "sometime" state that all P.O.W. families have lived in
for so long) has changed things. "I'm O.K. now," she says. "The last time I saw
John was Dec. 5, 1965 I look back, and it already seems like it never happened.
All of it is gone. It doesn't seem like it's been that long. I can't wait to see
TIME-Monday, Feb. 19, 1973 -- A Celebration of Men Redeemed
It represented, in a peculiarly American way, a ritual of resurrection. For the
U.S., the war in Viet Nam had gone ambiguously: the nation's longest battle had
ended in nothing like glory but in a kind of complex suspension. The nation could
at least find its consolation, even its celebration, in the return of the
prisoners. Here, at last, was something that the war had always denied-the sense
of men redeemed, the satisfaction of something retrieved from the tragedy. The
P.O.W.s' return bore a tangible finality that the war itself, even in its
negotiated resolution, could never offer the U.S. Now the captured Americans, who
had been closest to the mystery of the enemy, were extricated, were coming home.
For a time last week, the release of the first prisoners seemed as maddeningly
tentative as the Paris talks themselves. Last-minute haggling between Saigon and
the Communists delayed the move from day to day. Then at week's end the word was
passed through the Pentagon: 115 of the 456 men held in North Viet Nam would be
turned over in Hanoi, and 27 of the 120 Americans held in the South would be
freed by the Viet Cong at Quan Loi, about 60 miles north of Saigon. As part of
the bargain, the South Vietnamese would release 4,000 North Vietnamese and Viet
Cong prisoners over a four-day period. In both North and South, the U.S. captives
would be loaded aboard medical-evacuation planes for Clark Air Base in the dusty
Luzon plain of the Philippines. At Clark as the release approached, the men
inside the Joint Homecoming Reception Center Command Post scanned a bank of
clocks reading "Hanoi," "Local," "Hawaii," "Washington D.C.," and "Zulu"
-Greenwich mean time. Officers manned hot lines, and prepared to chart every
movement of the prisoners from the instant of their arrival. The exercise was
worthy of a major offensive, except that now the object was almost extravagantly
The U.S. military's planning for the operation had been meticulous and even
loving, in an official way. When the prisoners of war from Korea were released in
1953, they were greeted by an intimidating battery of officers, psychiatrists and
reporters; this time the prisoners were to be protected. Each was assigned his
own escort, a sort of aide-de-camp, counselor, valet and buddy. Many of the
escorts were personal friends of the captives, the others were selected by
service, age, rank and background to match their P.O.W.s as closely as possible.
The 270-bed Air Force hospital at Clark, hitherto devoted primarily to the
treatment of Viet Nam War casualties, had been elaborately prepared, though in a
carefully understated way. The hospital's corridors were lined with gaily colored
Valentine's Day decorations and posters made by schoolchildren at the base:
WELCOME HOME, WE LOVE YOU and DO YOU LAUGH INSIDE ALL OVER. The prisoners would
be assigned to two-or four-man rooms, unless they require intensive care. The men
would be treated as gently and gingerly as possible. The casual treatment had
been planned by a battery of experts. Even former Pueblo Commander Lloyd Bucher,
a veteran of North Korean jails, was among those waiting at Clark Field.
"When the prisoners came back from World War II," said one doctor at Clark, "we
almost killed them with T-bone steaks, ice cream and companionship." The plan
this time was to shield the captives from all fanfare and confusion as they
emerged from their long limbo. Their diets would be relatively bland for the time
being, although the hospital was prepared to feed rice and nuoc mam, the pungent
Vietnamese fish sauce, to any man who might have become addicted to native fare.
No champagne or beer toasts are likely for a while; the prisoners had at least 72
hours of medical tests to go through first. Then there would be psychiatric tests
and some military debriefings, mostly to extract possible information about the
fate of some of the 1,300 Americans still listed as missing in action.
Soon after their arrival, the prisoners would make a 15-minute NOK (next of kin)
phone call-a joyful if sometimes eerie experience for men long out of touch with
their wives, parents, children. Each "returnee" would be measured and fitted for
a hand-tailored uniform. Each would be advised of the back pay and benefits he
had accumulated while sitting in his Vietnamese cell. In some cases, that meant
the sudden accession of modest wealth. One pilot imprisoned for nearly six years
has a hefty $154,000 waiting for him, partly the result of the $5-a-day bonus
granted for men who are held captive.
Some of the prisoners might require extended medical treatment at Clark, but
quite a few would doubtless be ready in three or four days for the next leg of
their trip back to normality-the flight to California's Travis Air Force Base.
They would go on to military hospitals near their homes, and the first reunions
with their families. It would be a normality that would take some getting used
to. The average prisoner had been away for four years; some, like Army Major
Floyd Thompson and
Navy LT Commander Everett Alvarez, had been gone for more than eight. There would
be a Rip Van Winkle effect, the dislocating experience of time-travel to a
startlingly changed American culture (see THE ESSAY), to young brides suddenly
turning 30 and remembered babies now on the verge of adolescence. To ease the
cultural shock, one prisoner's wife arranged for a barber to be available any
time of day or night to cut their son's long hair just before they go to see the
father at the hospital on his return. Convicts at least have visiting days, have
television and newspapers to describe the changing tastes of the society outside.
The prisoners' homecoming might be a dazing and sometimes unnerving joy (see box,
page 18). The war had wrenched them abruptly, violently, out of their lives,
deposited them in an utterly alien world of defenselessness, helplessness. Their
road home would be much longer than the flight from Clark to Travis.
The first group to be released included eight American civilians, seven of whom
had been working in Viet Nam for the Agency for International Development.
Highest-ranking among them was Foreign Service Officer Douglas Kent Ramsey, 38,
who was ambushed and captured while driving in a Jeep in Hau Nghia province in
Some in the first batch of returnees had acquired a certain celebrity while in
captivity. One was LT Commander Everett Alvarez Jr., 35, of San Jose, Calif. Shot
down over North Viet Nam on Aug. 5, 1964, he was the North's longest-held captive
and became a leader of the prisoners during the long ordeal. His homecoming was
destined to be less joyous than he might have hoped. His wife Tangee, whom he
married in 1963, got a Mexican divorce in 1970 and remarried. Meantime, his
sister Delia became a bitter critic of the war. "It is very important that
Everett is coming home," Delia said after learning that he was in the first
group. "But so many others are still missing, and the war still goes on."
Also in the group was Air Force Ace Pilot James Robinson ("Robbie") Risner, 47.
Winner of the Air Force Cross for heroism in 1965, he appeared on TIME's cover
that year as an exemplar of America's fighting men. A few months later, he
ejected from his crippled F-105 near Thanh Hoa in North Viet Nam and was
captured. He was a colonel then, but would discover this week that he had been
promoted to brigadier general.
Navy Captain James Bond Stockdale, one of the highest-ranking Navy P.O.W.s, was
also coming out with the first group. After he was shot down in 1965, his wife
Sybil, mother of their four sons, became a founder and national coordinator of
the National League of Families of P.O.W.s/M.I.A.s.
LT Commander William M. Tschudy, 37, also among the first out of the prisons, was
a navigator-bombardier on an A-6 fighter-bomber from the carrier Independence
shot down on July 18, 1965. His wife Janie and eight-year-old son Michael would
be waiting for him when he arrived at Portsmouth, Va., along with his parents.
One added satisfaction: Tschudy's A-6 commander, Navy Captain Jeremiah Denton,
was also among the first released and would be coming home to Virginia with him.
Gold Pass. Air Force Colonel Lawrence Guarinox would be coming out nearly eight
years after his capture. He appeared on a British TV film in 1966, stating that
he was a prisoner of war and not a war criminal, as the North Vietnamese claimed.
Air Force Sergeant Arthur Black, declared missing in September of 1965, was also
among the first. So was Air Force Major Murphy Neal Jones, who was taken in 1966
after he bailed out of his F-105. He was paraded through the streets of Hanoi for
public inspection and mocked as "Johnson's Peace Disturber" because his knees
were knocking together at the time. Another coming home was Air Force Major
Glendon Perkins, captured in 1966.
The nation greeted the release with an honest and appropriate pleasure, but also
with a few inevitable touches of somewhat exaggerated sentimentality. Baseball
Commissioner Bowie Kuhn was quick to offer each returnee a gold lifetime pass to
any major-league game. The Ford Motor Co. wanted to give each of the prisoners a
new car. There were sure to be other offers, and Pentagon officers sometimes
found themselves squirming a bit at the spectacle. President Nixon struck the
right note when he said, "This is a time that we should not grandstand it; we
should not exploit it."
There were too many individual dramas, too many complex emotions involved. If it
was a war without heroes, many Americans were intent upon making the prisoners
fill the role. There was valor there, of course, but there was also simple luck.
The prisoners' return was shadowed by the 1,300 men still missing. Moreover, many
were professional soldiers. Many had been shot down while they were delivering
500-lb. bombs on unseen victims at the touch of a button. They had obeyed orders,
dealt in death and presumably understood the odds and consequences. That they
survived-while 45,937 other Americans died-was cause enough for quiet, personal
celebration, but not, it may be, for public statues or halftime Super Bowl
No one, of course, would minimize their ordeal. In the weeks ahead, the
prisoners' stories will emerge, and they doubtless will be tales of suffering and
endurance, bravery, boredom and perhaps sometimes weakness. Only a few of the 35
men previously freed have described what life was like in the Viet Cong and North
Navy Commander Charles Klusmann, 39, was the first American serviceman to be
captured in Laos, where the Communists say they still hold seven military
prisoners. Klusmann, shot down on a reconnaissance mission in June 1964, was held
for 3½ months before he escaped. His experience, though brief, may have
been typical of treatment in the earlier stages of the war. After he was
captured, Klusmann was marched through villages for the populace to gawk at and
scorn. Last week in Atlanta, where he testified before a Governors' committee on
veterans' benefits, Klusmann observed: "Returning prisoners really shouldn't be
put in parades because they have already had a lot of people just coming out to
look at them like animals."
For two months, then, Klusmann was kept in a single room, allowed out only
occasionally to bathe in a stream. He suffered from dysentery and other diseases
brought on by a diet that included rats and dogmeat stew. "Your physical state
just deteriorates," he said. "I lost 40 pounds." Eventually he slipped into a
period of languor: "You get detached from reality. You wonder, is this all a
dream? They keep telling you that you were killed when you were shot down and
that is what your family was told."
Navy LT Norris Charles, 27, was shot down in 1971, and spent 8½ months in
a North Vietnamese camp before he and two other flyers were released last
September. Although released prisoners have been commanded not to discuss life in
the camps until all the men are freed, Charles offered some glimpses of the
experience in a newspaper interview. He had expected to be beaten by villagers,
but he found them oddly kind and curious about him. "Some of them would come in
and feel my hair, my Afro," he said, "and the kids would come in and give me
cigarettes." The girls giggled when he was ordered to remove his flight suit and
revealed that he was wearing red drawers.
Charles was taken blindfolded to a prison in Hanoi, installed in a room about 15
by 15 ft., furnished with two desks and a wooden plank bed with a boarded-up
window. There he was to spend the first 36 days in solitary confinement. He was
immediately issued personal supplies-a cup, toothpaste, tooth brush, shirts,
trousers, blankets, a teapot. The food was opulent enough by P.O.W.
standards-sweet milk and half a loaf of bread in the morning, thick potato or
cabbage soup for lunch, along with soybean cakes, or fish cakes, and sometimes a
ration of pork. Later in the day a third meal was served.
When he was allowed to talk with his fellow prisoners, Charles said, they
discussed the war and their hopes for a quick end to it. "The old guys," he said,
"who had been there for many years, called that feeling 'new guy optimism.' Every
time a new guy gets shot down, he comes in and says the war is going to be over
in six months." Charles and the others were permitted regular exercise periods,
eventually received playing cards and chess sets. "They told us if there was
anything we wanted, they would bring it in," Charles said. If isolation and
mistreatment were part of the others' stories, Charles and his companions at
least had some amenities. "I was able to keep up pretty well with what was
happening in the world," he told TIME's Leo Janos last week, "by reading
English-language editions of Russian and Chinese newspapers."
Air Force Colonel Norris M. Overly, 43, told a bleaker story of the five months
he spent in the "Hanoi Hilton" and other North Vietnamese camps. He and his
fellow prisoners were about 30 lbs. underweight, he said, because of a thin diet
of watery soup and bread. During his confinement, said Overly, each tiny cell was
equipped with a loudspeaker that broadcast "endless hours of propaganda." "We
were not treated as prisoners of war," Overly noted. "We were treated as
criminals." Regulations posted in the cells began "The criminal will..."
Until all of the U.S. prisoners are out and have told their stories, it is
difficult to compare their plight with that of other captives in other wars. No
one yet knows how many died in the Communist camps-just as no one can say how
many Communists may have died in such South Vietnamese prisons as Con Son, with
its famous "tiger cages." P.O.W.s have never fared especially well in any war,
except perhaps for some in World War I's Grand Illusion, the classic movie that
chronicles the remnants of chivalry in an otherwise brutal conflict. In the
American Revolution, for example, thousands died in British captivity. In Civil
War camps like Andersonville, Americans treated other Americans far worse than
some foreign enemies have. In Korea, an astonishing 63% of American prisoners
-6,451 men-died in enemy hands; the P.O.W.s there endured long frozen marches,
wholesale torture tactics and a cruelly systematic program of brainwashing.
The Viet Nam P.O.W.s are in many ways an anomaly. From the start, they were
relatively few. Most of them were officers and professional soldiers; they were
not the hordes of trench-fighting enlisted men who have often suffered a massive
barbarity. In contrast to other wars, Viet Nam's intricacies turned the prisoners
into a political and diplomatic as well as a military issue, and their treatment
by the enemy seems to have fluctuated, generally for the better, as they assumed
their extraordinary symbolic importance.
No Charges. The Korean experience set off a crisis of conscience in the U.S.-a
debate that now seems almost quaint. Only 21 out of the 10,218 American captives
became turncoats; 192 of the returnees were thought to be collaborators. Yet the
episode caused speculation that America's youth had turned physically soft and
morally flaccid, a somewhat exaggerated idea considering the suffering involved.
The experience led President Dwight Eisenhower to promulgate his six-point Code
of Conduct for P.O.W.s, pledging prisoners to keep faith with comrades and
country during captivity. Among other things, it said: "I will make no oral or
written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their
There might yet be recriminations regarding the conduct of today's returning
prisoners. Some instances of personal betrayal might eventually surface. But the
military was in a distinctly forgiving mood regarding the antiwar broadcasts and
statements that some prisoners made during their confinement. The Pentagon
announced last week that no charges would be brought against the men for such
performances. If the Administration planned to hold draft resisters to the letter
of the law, granting no amnesty, it had evidently decided that the prisoners have
already suffered enough.
So, too, have their families. Each made its own accommodations-women learned to
live with the experience of being neither wives nor widows, and of being both
fathers and mothers. Some of them have achieved over the years an independence
and autonomy that might even make it difficult for their husbands when they are
Most of the wives displayed an extraordinary strength, even though the war
deprived many of them of the early years of their marriages. Lorraine Shumaker
was a 21-year-old, married for a year, with an infant son, when her husband
Robert, a Navy jet pilot, left for duty in Indochina. Now, eight years later, he
would be coming home in the first group of prisoners, to their house in La Jolla,
Calif. His eight-year-old son Grant, who has no memory of his father, planned to
install himself in a cardboard carton and pop out as a jack-in-the-box surprise
when his father walks in the door. Sorting through her husband's clothes the
other day in preparation for his homecoming, Lorraine Shumaker reflected: "The
styles tell the story: Ivy League suits with those thin lapels, pencil-thin ties,
button-down collars on his shirts. I didn't have the heart to throw the stuff
out. I sent it to the cleaners instead."
Marty Halyburton waited in Atlanta for her husband Porter, a Navy LT Commander
who has been a prisoner since 1965. She was flooded with mail -as were other
P.O.W. wives-from people wearing Halyburton's P.O.W. bracelet in a program
started in the summer of 1970 by VIVA (Voices In Vital America). "When he left,"
she said, "I was just a 23-year-old bride, and I followed Porter everywhere." In
the past seven years, she has learned to manage for herself-moving three times,
buying and selling two cars, raising their daughter Dabney. At week's end, Marty
learned that her husband was also among the first group released. She was waiting
to tell him, among other things, about the strange looks she was getting at a
Baptist-nursery-school parents' meeting. Finally, one mother demanded to know why
her husband was in jail. Dabney, it turned out, had told her little classmates
that her father was a "prisoner."
In Wellfleet, Mass., Carol North and her four daughters prepared for the
homecoming of the man they had not seen for 6½ years. For three years
after Air Force LT Colonel Kenneth North was shot down, the family did not even
know he was alive.
Amy, now eleven, remembers about her father only that "he's got blue eyes and
used to tickle me." Says Carol North: "There's no use kidding ourselves, I'm sure
Ken has changed. I can see from his letters that he has grown more
introspective." She also worries that the enormous changes in her daughters may
be difficult for him to handle. "The girls have grown from obedient little
children to thinking young adults," she says. "Ken's coming home to kids who are
going to question and challenge him. He's going to want his pristine girls home
The most painful waiting was done by those 1,300 families whose men are not on
the lists, who are still missing in action. In Puyallup, Wash., Mrs. Emma
Hagerman remains convinced that her husband, Air Force Colonel Robert Hagerman,
is alive somewhere in Indochina, even though he has been missing for nearly six
years. "One day I was feeling depressed," she said last week, "and I remembered
that if you want a message, you should open the Bible and put your ringer on a
verse." She opened the book to Jeremiah, which she had never read before. The
text said: "And they shall come again from the land of the enemy." If Hagerman
does not appear during the 60-day release period, his wife is thinking of getting
a visa and, armed with his photograph, questioning the people around Bac Ninh,
where Hagerman's F-105 went down.
For such families, the bitterness of Viet Nam would go on. For those whose men
were on the list of 562 P.O.W.s to be released, it was nearly over. In a
Baltimore suburb, Andrea Rander and her two daughters were all set for Army
Sergeant First Class Donald Rander, a prisoner since 1968. He was not in the
first group, but they expected him soon. To welcome him home, Andrea planned to
give back to her husband the wedding ring he had left behind for safekeeping five
years ago. When he got out of Valley Forge General Hospital, she would fix him
his favorite meal of roast duck, beer and chocolate cake. His daughter Page, 6,
would formally present him with her homecoming gift: a small Rip Van Winkle doll
with a red wig, inscribed: "I'm Ready for You."
TIME-Monday, Feb. 26, 1973 -- A Nixonian Mood of Ebullience
Richard Nixon was delighted last week by an unexpected four-minute telephone call
to the San Clemente White House. From Clark Air Base in the Philippines, newly
released P.O.W. Colonel Robinson Risner told him: "The men would like me to
convey to you, Mr. President, that it would be the greatest personal honor and
pleasure to shake your hand and tell you personally how proud we are to have you
as our President."
After so much criticism of so many aspects of Nixon's Viet Nam policy, the call
from Risner must have sounded like the most heartening kind of vindication. The
President, who returned to Washington later that day, suddenly seemed to become
yet another new Nixon -ebullient, conciliatory, even humorous. The somber
isolation of Camp David far behind him, he was suddenly everywhere, talking
officially and informally on a variety of subjects. With his family, he strolled
and quipped his way through Lafayette Square Park ("Perfectly safe. No problem
when you've got about ten Secret Service agents with you"), dined out on Crab
Rangoon at Trader Vic's, invited newsmen into the Oval Office to overhear
decisions of state, and advised Richard Helms, his new ambassador to Iran, that
Iranian caviar was "the best in the world."
In 49 months in office, the President had rarely been more visible or voluble.
After a weekend in Florida ("I was happy to bring the boys home," he said during
a visit to the Mayport Naval Station), Nixon planned a meeting with AFL-CIO
President George Meany, then an address to the South Carolina state legislature.
In his moment of triumph, Nixon seemed less calculating, more casual than usual.
The relaxed mood appeared to be catching. Finishing her dinner at Trader Vic's,
Pat Nixon lit up her first cigarette in public since her husband took office. To
Washington observers, it was a smoke signal.
TIME-Monday, Feb. 26, 1973 -- An Emotional, Exuberant Welcome Home
All the plans for their homecoming were aimed at protecting and pampering some
fragile survivors. The exuberance of the 143 American prisoners making their way
home last week indicated that the official solicitude may have been unnecessary.
Elaborately bland hospital menus were torn up as the men wolfed down their first
American food in years. Some were painfully limping as they returned, most were
gray-faced and underweight, and a few seemed a little dazed. But the majority of
the men, on first inspection, seemed physically fit, emotionally taut and almost
boyishly delighted by their re-entry into the American world.
Many refused to sleep at all in the first days of their freedom, but stayed up
talking all night, savoring the experience. As one doctor prepared for an
examination of Navy LT Commander Paul Galanti, a prisoner for 6½ years,
the patient dropped to the floor, did 50 push ups, then walked around the room on
his hands. "Knock it off, Paul," the doctor laughed. "I get your point."
All week the men were filtering home in stages to their families-from Clark Air
Base in the Philippines to California, then to regional military hospitals. The
reunions there were the most poignant. Air Force Major Arthur Burer, gone for
seven years, arrived at Maryland's Andrews Air Force Base at 4 a.m., and had
barely walked past the honor guard when his wife Nancy, followed by a horde of
relatives, rushed onto the tarmac to hug him. At California's Travis Air Force
Base, Air Force Major Hayden Lockhart Jr., shot down over the North in 1965, was
welcomed home by his wife Jill and a son, Jamie, whom he had never met.
The homecoming was from the start an emotional event, not only for the prisoners
and their families but also for millions who watched the various airport
ceremonies on television. For the first time in many years of the Viet Nam
experience, the nation was indulging in an unabashed patriotism. Navy Captain
Jeremiah Denton set the tone when he stepped off the C-141 hospital plane that
ferried the first batch of men from Hanoi to Clark. Denton smartly saluted the
welcoming brass, then stepped to waiting microphones. "We are honored to have the
opportunity to serve our country under difficult circumstances," he said. "We are
profoundly grateful to our Commander in Chief and to our nation for this day."
Then, his voice quavering with emotion, he added: "God bless America!"
Navy LT Commander Everett Alvarez Jr., who was captured in 1964 and became the
longest-held prisoner in North Viet Nam, bounced down the ramp after Denton. In
the second plane from Hanoi came Air Force Colonel James Robinson ("Robbie")
Risner, an Air Force ace from World War II, Korea and Viet Nam, who was captured
in 1965. "It's like we've been asleep for seven years," he said.
After an eleven-hour delay, the first prisoners freed by the Viet Cong in the
South arrived, looking more gaunt and dazed from their captivity than the men
from the North. Douglas Kent Ramsey, a civilian adviser captured in 1966, walked
off the plane in his prisoner's pajamas and with a subdued, satisfied smile,
bowed to welcoming officers-an oddly Oriental touch.
That first night of freedom at Clark, the men indulged in what one officer called
"an orgy of eating"-liver smothered in onions, fried chicken, steaks. The
prisoners did not select one meat or another but ate them all, then tore into the
cornflakes, heaping salads and triple-scoop banana splits. At 3 a.m., one
prisoner went back to the cafeteria and ate an entire loaf of bread, each slice
thickly coated with butter.
The meticulous planning for room assignments did not last any longer than the
hospital diets. The men hopped from room to room, switching beds, or roommates,
until they were satisfied with the arrangements. At 3 a.m., the command center
received a call from the doctors that the civilian prisoners were wide awake and
wanted to talk, so debriefers were sent over to get on with the processing.
Meantime, the first next-of-kin calls were being put through to the U.S. "Say,
Honey, it's me," one prisoner stammered. "I hope you haven't burned all your
brassieres." "Hi, Mom." "It's been a long time." The calls, which were to be
limited to 15 minutes, averaged 40.
By the second night, the doctors realized that they could not keep the men penned
up much longer. Four busloads of them were taken on a shopping expedition to the
Base exchange, where the men snapped up cameras, radios, stereos, portable color
TV sets, jewelry and perfume. If, as feared, they found it difficult to make
choices after their long captivity, they did not show it.
"Hi." Two of the prisoners, Navy Commander Brian Woods and Air Force Major
Glendon W. Perkins, were rushed back to the U.S. immediately to see their
mothers, who were critically ill. By midweek, the rest began flying home. The
welcomes were short and emotional. At Virginia's Norfolk Naval Air Station, a
crowd of several hundred people sang God Bless America! and Onward, Christian
Soldiers as they waited in the wet night for Denton, Galanti and Navy Captain
James A. Mulligan. "Hi, everybody," said Mulligan. "There's something great about
kids waving American flags."
The three and their families were driven to Portsmouth Naval Hospital for private
reunions, complete with champagne, that lasted nearly until dawn. Mulligan, gone
for more than six years, called photographers to take pictures of him with his
six sons, some of them sporting long hair. Later, his wife reported: "His biggest
shock is the way society as a whole has changed. The mood of the country has
changed. Also the Catholic Church. It's like beginning to live all over again."
Mrs. Galanti said that her husband wanted to hear about the moon shots, about
President Nixon's China trip. "He's interested in Women's Lib," she added, "and
he goes along with it. I'm glad about that, because I've become pretty
The President, despite his obvious pleasure, did not participate directly in the
welcomes. He had said earlier that he did not want to interfere in what should be
family occasions. Still, his presence was ubiquitous throughout the week.
Apparently by prearrangement among themselves, the P.O.W. spokesmen all made a
point of thanking the Commander in Chief for their release (see box). The
President wrote letters to many of the families and also dispatched corsages to
For the present, the men were ordered not to discuss their lives in captivity, at
least not until all the prisoners are released. A reasonably clear general
picture about the life of prisoners in the North had already emerged: captives
there were held in camps, sustained by regular though substandard diets and
permitted to keep themselves physically fit. It was a hard but organized life.
"During some of our darkest days," Capt. Denton recalled, "we tried to cheer one
another by emitting a signal, the soft whistling of the song California, Here I
Come. We usually knew we were whistling in the dark."
Little information had been collected about captivity in the South. As the
prisoners came back from that oblivion, a few fascinating details emerged. No
prisoner of the Viet Cong had received a single letter since April 1970. Kept on
the move, the men to some extent became inured to such illnesses as malaria and
Explained Frank A. Sieverts, a State Department expert on P.O.W. affairs who
talked to the prisoners at Clark Air Base: "After two or three years, the cycle
of illness and health stopped alternating and stabilized at a somewhat lower
life-supporting plateau." Treatment for injuries was frequently crude -sometimes
wounds were lanced with rusty nails. Said one prisoner from the South: "This
stuff about not being able to live without sex is nonsense. What I dreamed about
was food and medicine."
Army Captain George Wanat was more bitter than most about his captivity with the
Viet Cong. He told his father in Waterford, Conn., "I'd kill those bastards if I
ever saw them again." He reported that he had been kept in solitary confinement
for five months "in a bamboo cage full of ants and poisonous snakes." His diet,
he said, was rice and pork fat, rationed at one bowl a day, plus some water.
It was also becoming obvious that the prisoners in the North had maintained a
fairly rigid internal system of discipline and command. Communications among the
prisoners appear to have been excellent. They exercised vigorously, kept their
minds active by teaching one another foreign languages and other subjects. It
probably was no accident that the men's statements as they arrived back in the
U.S. had a certain uniformity. As for the antiwar statements that the North
Vietnamese elicited from some of the prisoners, including himself, Robbie Risner
said at a press conference at Clark: "I think we should consider the source of
those statements. They were made in prison. At no time during my imprisonment
have I failed to support my President, my country and my President's policy."
At week's end Hanoi was to release 20 more prisoners. The next group was promised
in another two weeks. For those already out, the period of adjustment seemed to
be going rapidly. In Miami, Navy LT Commander Ralph Gaither stepped off the plane
into his family's arms after 7½ years. Later, his sister Shirley reported:
"He wants to buy a sailboat, but his fondest desire is to drink a can of beer
under a backyard tree."
TIME-Monday, Mar. 05, 1973 -- And Now a Darker Story
The first American prisoners to return from Hanoi presented an almost unvarying
impression of good health, tight discipline and bell-ringing patriotism Such was
the uniformity of the prisoners' remarks, in fact, that some skeptics even
wondered whether they had been scripted, or at least suggested, by U.S.
The prisoners themselves convincingly refuted such speculation. Said Navy Captain
Howard E. Rutledge: " am surprised anyone could conceive that we could come out
of there and say anything but 'God bless America.' Added LT Commander Everett
Alvarez Jr.: "For years and years we've dreamed of this day, and we kept the
faith-faith in God, in our President and in our country."
The outpouring of emotion readily reflected the end of years of hardships that
are only beginning to be known, and a patriotism that survived those hardships.
Prisoners who had doubts about the war or gave statements to protest groups or
were thought to have collaborated with the enemy were harshly judged by the other
The very first plane that landed at Clark Air Base, it turned out, carried two
American prisoners whom fellow POWs hope to bring to trial. Correspondent Seymour
Hersh reported in the New York Times that the men had been condemned by other
prisoners for making antiwar statements in spite of orders to the contrary U.S.
officials confirmed Hersh's report but stressed that they hoped the charges would
Following the appearance Hersh's story, further accounts of alleged mistreatment
and torture emerged, often from U.S. Government officials. It is still unclear
how widespread mistreatment was. The health and high spirits of the prisoners
themselves seem to suggest relatively humane treatment. Yet official sources say
that before October 1969, when conditions improved, psychological and physical
torture often occurred. Prisoners were hung upside down from beams until they
were ready to talk, made to stand for hours without being allowed to move, and
forced to crawl through latrines filled with human excrement. They were beaten
with clubs and rifle butts.
Most prisoners held in the South by the Viet Cong suffered an even worse fate.
Chained in separate cages, they were kept in total isolation. Unable to
communicate or even move, they would watch numbly as the guards shoveled ants and
other insects into their cages.
A tightly knit organization was ir possible in the South, but in the North
discipline was the key to survival. Notes were passed in the latrine, exercise am
prayers were kept up, and a camp chronicler was even appointed to record the
history of the captivity. By late 1969 such discipline had carried the prisoners
through the worst.
The story of how the American P.O.W.s in Viet Nam survived so well, according to
one U.S. official, "is something soul-stirring, something awesome " It will
likely be told in full once all the P.O.W.s are back home. Says Army Captain Mark
A. Smith, 26, who had no fewer than 38 wounds when captured by the Viet Cong in
April 1972: "The American people do not know what goes on in a place like that,
and it will be a shock to many of them."
TIME-Monday, Mar. 12, 1973 -- The Saintly and the Sadists
Afraid of jeopardizing the release of the remaining prisoners in Viet Nam, the
recently returned P.O.W.s have said little about their ordeal. But a few have
revealed enough to give an idea of what they suffered.
Navy Captain James A. Mulligan was imprisoned for seven years. Last week in an
interview with TIME Correspondent Arthur White, he would describe only his final
year (at the "Hanoi Hilton"), when conditions had much improved. He shared a
small, heatless room with two other P.O.W.s; a connecting room housed another
three. Food was far from ample: a breakfast of French bread with either milk or
sugar; a lunch of soup with a morsel of fish or vegetable; and an equally light
supper. The only excitement was listening to "Hanoi Hannah," a local
propagandist, blaring out of loudspeakers.
On Sundays, a group of P.O.W.s held an improvised church service enlivened with
patriotic songs as well as hymns. Religion was a strong bond among these
prisoners. One of their major projects was to reconstruct a Bible from memory;
anyone who could recall biblical passages contributed. Said Air Force Major
Norman McDaniel, who has been praised as a "Gibraltar of guts": "Most of my
fellow prisoners had faith in God. When the going got tough, then came the test
to see if we were worthy."
For diversion, the P.O.W.s conducted what they called "special activities." One
of them would narrate an episode from his life or discuss a skill he had learned
or a person he had known. Recalls Mulligan: "I described the textile mills in
Lawrence, Mass., where I grew up, the political picture there, the school system,
everything I could remember."
Spirits soared when Hanoi was bombed in December. "It was spectacular," says
Mulligan. "We saw explosions and realized they were working hard to wind things
up. I knew the war would end when the B-52s came. I said it was just a matter of
time and I'd be going home." He is bitter about Antiwar Protesters Jane Fonda and
Ramsey Clark who visited Hanoi. "They didn't help us; they hurt us."
Air Force Colonel James Robinson Risner echoed that complaint: "Communist morale
went up and down along with the amount of protests and antiwar movement back in
the States. Beyond any doubt, those people kept us in prison an extra year or
Two civilians who worked for the Agency for International Development, Richard
Utecht and Douglas Ramsey, were willing to discuss their imprisonment by the Viet
Cong in South Viet Nam, painting a far grimmer picture than Mulligan's. Utecht,
48, recalled his five-year ordeal with little rancor. He told TIME Correspondent
Peter Range that he was seized in Saigon by the Viet Cong during the Tet
offensive. For the rest of his captivity, he was marched more than a thousand
miles around an area northwest of Saigon-a Viet Cong tactic to avoid being
When camp was pitched for any length of time, each P.O.W. was locked up in an
8-ft.-by-8-ft. cell constructed of green logs. The prisoners did not eat much
worse than their captors: rice for every meal supplemented by the meat of
anything that ran or crawled-snake, dog, tiger, rat, anteater. A delicacy was
elephant blood soup. "Jungle meat can be real good," says Utecht. "One day I
tried to cut into a ball of meat. It suddenly spread out, forming a hand. It was
a monkey's hand. Yes, I ate it."
When he was first imprisoned, Utecht was threatened with death, but later his
captors were not often deliberately cruel. Hardest to bear were the forced
marches at night. Whatever the Viet Cong could not load on bicycles ("They looked
like camels with wheels"), they packed on the backs of prisoners. Once Utecht
collapsed from pain and exhaustion. A guard threw a rope around his neck and
forced him to walk along until he passed out. Luckily, a Viet Cong doctor stayed
behind to help him the rest of the way to camp.
One day the Viet Cong took a few shots at a U.S. plane as it passed over a
village. An hour and a half later, U.S. jets swooped down to strafe and bomb,
hitting some villagers. After the raid, townspeople menaced the prisoners with
clubs and pitchforks. "They would have killed us if the guards had not stopped
them. I saw women holding little children saturated with blood."
Disease-dysentery, malaria, beriberi-Was always a threat. Guards insisted that
prisoners put down their mosquito netting at night. Occasionally P.O.W.s received
injections-with painfully dull needles-of quinine and vitamins. Three weeks
before their release, rations were doubled and the P.O.W.s were given straw mats
for bedding; Utecht sensed that his imprisonment would soon end. As a souvenir,
he smuggled out a leg chain that was used to shackle prisoners.
Douglas Ramsey, 38, was delivering rice to refugees in Hau Nghia province when
the Viet Cong grabbed him. The guerrillas, he recalls, turned out to be "almost
friendly." As he traveled with them, he noticed that they seemed to know to the
minute when the routine of enemy artillery firing would begin and when it would
end. After one ambush, Ramsey estimated that they exaggerated the casualties four
or five to one in reports to their superiors.
Beri-Beri. Once he was shifted to rear echelon forces, he was treated more
harshly. "At one point, I was told that if I had a nightmare and cried out once
more in my sleep they would shoot me." The behavior of his captors varied
considerably. "The range went from the saintly to something out of the Marquis de
Sade. Some I would invite into my own home. Others I would like to take back of
the woodshed and only one of us would return." There was the doctor who saved his
life when he went into convulsions after bouts with malaria and beriberi. There
was also the guard who scattered peanuts among chickens when protein was
desperately needed by the P.O.W.s.
Kept in solitary confinement for six of his seven years' imprisonment, and often
locked in leg irons, Ramsey was subjected to frequent indoctrination. He supplied
some antiwar statements but they were too ambivalent to be printed or broadcast
for propaganda purposes. The opposition that he expressed to the war, he
believes, was within "my Constitutional prerogatives as an individual. When I got
out, I discovered that the Administration had made many of the changes I was
concerned about: the movement from the atmosphere of the Crusades to that of the
Congress of Vienna, from religious fanaticism to Metternich." In keeping with the
sober realism of many of the P.O.W.s, he makes no claims for himself beyond those
of common sense. "I do not particularly care for retroactive heroism."
TIME-Monday, Mar. 19, 1973 -- A Needed Tonic for America
We have reaped the fruits of our faith and trust in our God, our Commander in
Chief, our families and all the people of this wonderful, wonderful country.
America, we love you. -Air Force Colonel Frederick Crow
Happiness is returning to the United States, where everybody's heart is full of
gold the size of the Empire State Building. -Army Staff Sergeant
David Marker / would like to borrow three words from the late Douglas Mac Arthur
to express my feelings on this, my greatest day: duty, honor, country. -Air Force
Captain Leroy Stutz
Our emotions at this time are indescribable. To be back on American soil has been
our dream, our prayer for over seven years. You have reached across time and
space and brought us home. Thank you, America. Thank you, Mr. President. May God
bless you all. -Air Force Colonel Ronald E. Byrne, Jr.
Such were the words of the returning P.O.W.s in a poignant scene repeated at
airbases round the U.S. One after another, the P.O.W.s appeared in the doorway of
a plane, saluted smartly, strode smilingly down the ramp, spoke a few words into
the microphones and fell into the waiting arms of wives and families. A few
kissed the ground. It was an event that will be long remembered by those who
witnessed it in person or on television.
For many Americans it served as a reaffirmation of faith in a nation that had
grown accustomed to self-reproach. After their long ordeal, the P.O.W.s had every
reason to greet freedom ecstatically. But they had no need to offer profuse
thanks to the country that had sent them to war. If they could so spontaneously
pour out their love of country, then why should their fellow countrymen who had
stayed home in safety and affluence be despairing? The return of the P.O.W.s was
a tonic for America. "I just hope we can help America join closer together," says
Air Force Colonel Lawrence Guarino. "When the whole story is out, I think it will
do Americans justice, and they will be proud of the way their men stood up."
A few P.O.W.s commented on the war. Air Force Colonel James Kasler held the peace
demonstrators responsible for "prolonging the war. Their hands are stained with
the blood of American G.I.s." He said that he had been tortured in an
unsuccessful effort to force him to meet with a group of U.S. war protesters who
were visiting Hanoi. Air Force Major Hubert Flesher offered a minority opinion
that the U.S. had lost a war it never should have entered. "It was a conflict
between the Vietnamese people, and like it or not, it should have been theirs to
Most P.O.W.s, however, were too concerned with their homecoming to dwell on the
war that they had finally left behind:
AIR FORCE MAJOR ARTHUR BURER, 40, touched down at Andrews Air Force Base outside
Washington, and wondered how his wife Nancy would react. As he told TIME
Correspondent Jerry Hannifin: "I'd often thought of what I'd say to her when I
first saw her again. But she solved it all when she came sprinting out and leaped
into my arms. That assured me that everything would be all right and any problems
could be solved because of our love." The couple decided to take their marriage
vows over again-a reaffirmation of personal commitment-and go on a honeymoon.
Many other returned P.O.W.s are also having symbolic second wedding ceremonies.
Equally gratifying was Burer's reunion with his four children. He stayed up into
the night talking with his oldest son Bill, 17½. "The biggest burden he
carried was that somewhere he had a father, but a father he couldn't talk to,"
says Burer. "It's different when a family really loses a father. After a year or
two, if he had believed that I was dead, he could have forgotten about me and
gone on with life. But he lived his life knowing that he had a father he couldn't
Burer keenly feels the gap that has been created by his absence. "My ideas, my
beliefs, my morals, everything had just stood flat still. I came back thinking in
terms of 1966, and it's bizarre to be so far behind the times. I've done a lot of
reading and talking to my family, but we still haven't scratched the surface."
AIR FORCE COMMANDER ROBERT SHUMAKER, 39, the second U.S. pilot captured in North
Viet Nam, liked to joke when in prison: "I'm second, so I have to try harder." He
claims credit for dubbing the prison the "Hanoi Hilton," though he hopes that the
name will not give Americans the idea that it was a "luxury palace." For
2½ years of his eight years' captivity he was kept in isolation. He kept
his sanity during that period by mentally constructing a house for his family,
brick by brick. When a letter arrived from his wife Lorraine saying that she had
already bought a house, "I was really in a sweat. My mental project was ruined."
But he happily exchanged fantasy for reality when he reached La Jolla, Calif. He
told TIME Correspondent Leo Janos that he found Lorraine "exactly as I remembered
her. When she rushed to meet me at the airport, she looked like a High school
cheerleader." His eight-year-old son Grant is the very image of his dad. But that
did not make Shumaker more permissive. He spanked the boy for playing hooky from
school. "Believe me, I felt more pain than he did," he said. He also ordered
Grant's hair to be trimmed after someone remarked that his daughter must be glad
to have him home. He was stunned by the sexual permissiveness of a movie that was
not even X rated, and walked out of the theater. "And I'm no prude either," he
AIR FORCE MAJOR GLENDON PERKINS, 38, returned to Orlando, Fla., to find the
neighbors lining both sides of the street to welcome him. "Sometimes he's a
little embarrassed," says his wife Kaye. He has taken the changes at home in
stride. He is fascinated by the bright colors in men's clothes, and he quickly
donned wide-legged, cuffed trousers and double-zipper boots. "The clothes are
really having a therapeutic effect after all those years of wearing pajamas,"
says Kaye, who is surprised at his smooth adjustment. It is not at all what she
had been led to expect by cautious psychiatrists. They warned her that her
husband might be too shattered to be saddled with responsibilities like the
family budget. The day after he returned, Perkins asked: "O.K., where's the
AIR FORCE COLONEL JAMES ROBINSON RISNER, 48, has scarcely paused to catch his
breath since he arrived home in Oklahoma City. When he is not on the phone with
well-wishers, he is answering mail or making speeches or following up an
insurance claim or shopping for the home. "He is in such a mad hurry to
accomplish so much," his wife Kathleen told TIME Correspondent Marguerite
Michaels. "He never sits still except to eat, and he sprints from room to room.
It's great to have him home, but it's a little shocking too."
Explains Risner: "I have to keep moving because I'm so far behind. I hate to see
it get dark. I feel I haven't done enough in the daylight, and if I sleep, it's
like wasting time. I'm starved for people. I used to die just to catch a glimpse
of a leaf through the air vent in the wall of the cell. There's a great feeling
of happiness just to go in and out of the door when I want to."
Risner has even talked his five children into supporting Nixon, though they
favored McGovern for President. But some of Risner's military passion for
orderliness subsided in prison. "I used to get so mad at Kathleen when she'd kick
off her shoes in the middle of the floor and leave them there. But then I got to
prison and I missed seeing them. I don't say a word any more."
The American P.O.W. who has spent the longest time in prison is not in Viet Nam.
He is John Downey, 43, a CIA operative who was sentenced to life imprisonment
after his plane was shot down over China in 1952. He was allegedly trying to drop
supplies to U.S. agents in Manchuria during the Korean War. The Chinese have
allowed his mother Mary to visit him three times. Last week, Mary Downey suffered
a severe stroke, and President Nixon got in touch with Premier Chou Enlai. The
President asked: Could Downey be released at once? He could, replied Chou in less
than 48 hours. In fact, at his meeting last month with Henry Kissinger, the
Premier indicated that Downey would be freed later this year for "exemplary" good
behavior. The timetable was simply speeded up, and Downey is due home this week.
Two other Americans will also be released. They are Air Force Major Philip Smith
and Navy LT Commander Robert Flynn, whose planes were downed after they strayed
over the border from North Viet Nam. With them, the last American prisoners in
China will be free.
TIME-Monday, Mar. 19, 1973 -- The Other Prisoners
While Americans' attention has quite understandably been focused on the release
of the 576 U.S. prisoners of war, a much larger, more complicated and more
rancorous exchange of captives has been taking place among the Vietnamese
themselves. From both sides, prisoners are emerging with tales of torture and
suffering that go beyond any told by returning Americans, but that seem
nonetheless to be accepted as almost commonplace in this cruel war.
The first stage went smoothly enough, with the North releasing 1,032 captives in
return for some 7,000 Communists held in the South. The second swap was delayed
for more than a week as the two sides quarreled over the accuracy of each other's
lists. Saigon says it holds 27,000 Communists, but the Viet Cong says the true
number is many times larger. Similarly, the Communists say they hold 4,785 Saigon
troops, but Saigon says the real total is 36,603. By week's end some 1,500 more
Communists had been released as part of the belated second stage, with Saigon
pledging to free an additional 4,800, and the Viet Cong a total of 1,200, in
In all the squabbling, the sorest point of all is the status of "political
prisoners." Despite the Paris settlement calling for the release of all "civilian
internees," both sides are using their own vague definitions of when a
nonmilitary enemy sympathizer becomes a political prisoner. Saigon says Hanoi
holds 59,118 of them, while Hanoi says Saigon has more than 200,000. Whatever the
true totals, neither side is ready to release political prisoners on the same
schedule as the official P.O.W.s. Victims of torture on both sides, they languish
in a legal never-never land, protected by neither the Paris Accords nor even the
status of common criminals. Late last month, amid rumors that peace-keeping teams
would inspect the notorious "tiger cages" on the South Vietnamese prison island
of Con Son, Saigon set free 124 victims of "political re-education." TIME
Correspondent David DeVoss interviewed several of them at a Cholon hospital and
cabled this report:
It is not really proper to call them men any more. "Shapes" is a better
word-grotesque sculptures of scarred flesh and gnarled limbs. At lunch at the
hospital, they eat rice, fried pork and bananas, and as their chopsticks dart
from bowl to mouth, they seem almost normal-but they are not. When lunch is over,
they do not stand up. Years of being shackled in the tiger cages have forced them
into a permanent pretzel-like crouch. They move like crabs, skittering across the
floor on buttocks and palms.
They are of all ages and backgrounds. One was arrested in 1966 during Buddhist
riots. Another was caught in the 1968 Tet offensive. Now all are united by
deformity. "I was arrested one day in the park with my wife and children," one
man says as he rubs the shackle sores on his legs. "The police attached
electrodes to my genitals, broke my fingers, and hung me from the ceiling by my
feet. They did these things to my wife, too, and forced my children to watch. But
I never gave in."
Those who refused to renounce the Communists were carted off to the French-built
Con Son, 140 miles south of Saigon in the South China Sea, for political
reeducation. Of the 8,945 prisoners there, 6,467 are considered Communists. Due
to a steady diet of beatings-as well as sand and pebbles in the rice-dysentery,
tuberculosis and chronic stomach disorders were common. Water was limited to
three swallows a day, forcing prisoners to drink urine. Those who pleaded-for
more food were splashed with lye or poked with long bamboo poles.
Things have been especially bad since the ceasefire. When told of the Paris
settlement, the prisoners cheered, only to be stopped by doses of lye and bamboo.
"We had hoped to begin the New Year with happiness," said one. "But my New Year
began when I was doused with excrement."
So far, the government response to these accounts has been one of complete
denial. Government sources say the prisoners are impostors, hired to discredit
them prior to President Thieu's trip to San Clemente. Some in the government seem
genuinely to doubt that the men really exist. "How can these men be alive?" asked
one knowledgeable and honest government security officer. "No one ever comes back
from the Con Son tiger cages alive."
TIME-Monday, Apr. 09, 1973 -- Goodbye, Saigon, Goodbye
When it finally arrived, the day that the G.I.s called X-plus-60 was hot and
mildly anticlimactic. On the withdrawal deadline two months after the Paris truce
signing, the U.S. military command in Viet Nam was closed down in a simple midday
ceremony in a parking lot near Saigon's Tan Son Nhut airbase. No U.S. military
band was available for the occasion. Loudspeakers blared out a recording of The
Star-Spangled Banner, and a color guard rolled up the blue flag of the command
under which 2,500,000 American G.I.s had served since 1962. Ellsworth Bunker, a
distinguished career diplomat who had served as U.S. ambassador to South Viet Nam
since 1967, also furled his flag last week. President Nixon accepted the
resignation with "deepest personal regret," and named former ambassador to Italy
Graham Martin to the post.
It took 19 flights to lift out the 2,500 American servicemen who still remained
in the country on the last day. At about 5:20, a chipper North Vietnamese colonel
stationed at the rear cargo ramp of a hulking U.S. Air Force C-141 transport
presented a bamboo scroll painted with a Hanoi pagoda scene to an embarrassed
American sergeant, whom he thought to be the last departing American. Moments
later, Army Colonel David Odell, the Tan Son Nhut base commander, shouldered
through the crowd and stepped to the boarding ramp; he had been having a final
glass of champagne near by. Though the 825 American members of the Joint Military
Commission were to stay on in Viet Nam for another two days, Odell could tell his
grandchildren that he was officially the last man out.
By 5:30, the C-141 carrying Odell and 55 other departing servicemen was airborne.
Outside the Tan Son Nhut gates, a crowd of newly unemployed Vietnamese base
workers were busy hawking chairs, tables and canned goods that had been freshly
looted from a G.I. mess hall. It was not an inappropriate finale; the last days
of the U.S. military presence in Viet Nam were one great, giddy scramble. TIME
Correspondent David DeVoss reports:
After four years of being urged to stay out of Viet Nam's larger cities, there
they were: the last U.S. servicemen, buzzing about Saigon on driver-pedaled
cycles, flirting with bar girls, buying souvenirs and generally staging the
biggest shopping, sex and sightseeing spree ever seen in the city.
For many of the G.I.s, the departure proved an emotional experience, carried out
in the dark recesses of bars like Randy's Randa-Vous and the Snake Pit. "All my
goodbyes are taken care of," said Army Specialist Four Nelson Coffey, 29, of
Portageville, N.Y. "I've paid my girl friend's rent till the end of the month and
given her a couple hundred piasters so she'll survive. I guess if she can't hook
up with a civilian soon, she'll go back to the rice paddies."
At the last minute, about 400 other G.I.s were frantically trying to arrange to
get their fiancees and wives back to the States. The waiting room at the U.S.
Consulate in Saigon was packed with nervous Vietnamese women and mixed-blood
children, all lined up to receive U.S. visas.
One Vietnamese entrepreneur, known to G.I.s as "Miss Lee," talked about the
future of her business-Saigon's Magic Fingers Steam Massage and Barber Shop. At
one time, Miss Lee had 60 girls at work; now she has only seven. "Everything
fini," she lamented. No one seemed more downcast than "Momma Bich," who played
hostess during the 1960s to some of the wildest parties ever seen in Saigon's
back rooms. U.S. Special Forces troops used to lavish $1,000 apiece on parties
that lasted a whole weekend. Now fat and aging (she is 32), Momma is left with
$30,000 in lOUs from G.I.s and a flood of bittersweet memories. "I love Special
Forces men. They are all crazy and never care about tomorrow. They go into field
and maybe die. I stay here and get drunk and maybe die."
At the "Pentagon East," the sprawling U.S. military headquarters in Saigon, the
only thing working was the air conditioning. The eerie silence, broken only by
the clacking heels of an occasional soldier, resembled a scene from the last reel
of On the Beach. Desks, chairs, maps and bookcases remained in place, but many of
the offices were empty. Most of the 1,200 civilian bureaucrats and technicians
who will eventually occupy the building were already on the job, but they slept,
played chess or just looked out the windows at the crumbling concrete bunkers,
now covered with bougainvillea.
Once a charming French city of 500,000, Saigon reeks of the war that has
officially ended. On Vo Tanh Street, west of Tan Son Nhut, paraplegic war
veterans sell stolen army uniforms. Their wives and daughters are for sale on
Cach Mang Street. Now that Saigon is jammed with more than 2,000,000 refugees,
for whom there are no jobs, crime is becoming epidemic. Murders have increased by
50% since 1970, and robberies have jumped 60%.
The last of the departing G.I.s went, like tens of thousands of their
predecessors, through Tan Son Nhut's Camp Alpha. The camp has a capacity of
1,800, but in the last days there seemed to be about four times that many
soldiers. Bags and bodies were everywhere. Recent arrivals stripped to their
skivvies and sat in the sun. There were plenty of diversions: a swimming pool, a
movie and an Alpha Club that featured the Dreamers' show band. But most G.I.s
just waited, playing chess or pool or saying one final goodbye to girl friends.
For $2, a harried Vietnamese artist would personalize Samsonite luggage by
painting the owner's name and a Vietnamese dragon on the side.
Civilians. The exit at Camp Alpha is marked with a sign that says, "Through these
gates pass the world's best soldiers." Outside, crowded brown Army buses took the
G.I.s on a four-minute ride to the waiting planes. One of these buses passed a
disorganized column of 17-year-old Vietnamese recruits, marching from boredom to
exhaustion. "You're on your own now, fellas!" one soldier yelled.
Back in Saigon, there are now only 159 U.S. Marines guarding the U.S. embassy,
but there are 9,000 American civilians still in South Viet Nam, about 3,000 of
them looking for work. Saigonese call them "the new carpetbaggers." They can be
seen sipping beer on the terrace of the Continental Palace or walking on Tu Do
Street in flowered, flared pants and "Keep On Truckin" T shirts. In just three
months, International Personnel Services has recruited 500 customers. Says its
manager, E.V. Nickerson: "There are a lot of Americans looking for work, and most
of them don't know how to express themselves in writing. For a $100 membership,
we write a resume and help a member find a job." Why do they stay on? Nickerson
shrugs. "They like the life, the low taxes and the women."
TIME-Monday, Apr. 09, 1973 -- At Last the Story Can Be Told
For weeks the returned P.O.W.s had been stepping from "freedom birds" onto the
television screens-most of them saluting crisply, walking smartly, looking
physically fit and acting mentally alert. As the nation's early apprehensions
faded, a new idea set in: perhaps the P.O.W.s had been humanely treated after
all. That illusion was shattered last week. With all the known surviving
prisoners safely home from Viet Nam, the dam of restraints broke, and tales of
mistreatment and torture poured forth. Navy Commander Richard Stratton, best
known for his deep bows and seemingly drugged appearance in a 1967 news
conference, summed up the reports of many prisoners when he said: "I have been
tortured, I have been beaten, I have been placed in solitary confinement, I have
been harassed, I have been humiliated." Navy LT Commander Rodney Knutson struck
the same harsh note. "Lenient and humane treatment?" he asked. "Not on your
Prisoners detailed a mosaic of torture ranging from the brutally physical to the
ingeniously psychological. They conceded that treatment had varied for each
P.O.W., that conditions had improved remarkably by the fall of 1969, and that
high-ranking officers had absorbed the worst of it. But mistreatment was clearly
widespread, and often brought on by the prisoners' steadfast resistance. As Navy
Captain Jeremiah Denton said, "We forced them to be brutal to us." Even those who
considered their treatment comparatively mild, such as Air Force Captain Joseph
Milligan, often suffered enormously. Provided totally inadequate medical
attention, Milligan treated-and cured-a badly burned arm by letting maggots eat
away the pus, then cleaning off the maggots with his own urine.
The favorite props of the North Vietnamese captors were lengths of rope, iron
manacles that could be screwed down to the bone and fan belts for administering
beatings. Prisoners claimed that they were tied up for interminable periods into
positions that yogis could not assume. Ropes tied to a man's ankles, wrists and
neck were tightened until he was bent over backward in a doughnut shape. Men were
also bent forward into a position of a baby sucking its big toe. The ropes cut
off circulation, and in several cases paralyzed limbs for months, even years.
Raw Flesh. Handcuffs on the wrists of one prisoner were tightened so much that
blood came through the pores. Hands and feet often swelled to unimaginable
proportions and turned black. Jaws, noses, ribs, teeth and limbs, the prisoners
charged, were deliberately broken and left unset. The sick and wounded were left
in their own excrement for days on end. Fan belts or lengths of rubber turned
buttocks of beaten prisoners into raw flesh. Sergeant Don MacPhail said that he
was hung from a tree over three fresh graves and beaten with sticks. He was told
that he would be in the fourth grave.
Many U.S. senior officers and uncooperative prisoners of lower rank were held in
solitary confinement. Navy Captain James Mulligan was kept alone for 3½
years, Colonel Robinson Risner for 4½ years, and Air Force Colonel Fred
Cherry for two years-with an unattended infected shoulder. Said Mulligan last
week, "You're isolated in a small cell, with no sound, no fresh air. I was kept
like an animal in a solid cage, worse than an animal. I couldn't even see out. I
didn't see the moon for four years."
Fish Heads. Before 1969 food was kept at near starvation level at the more severe
camps. For many prisoners, there were only two meals a day, six hours apart, and
they might consist of nothing more than a bowl of watery soup, occasionally with
a fish head in it. The bread was often wormy and the rice sandy. LT Commander
Knutson said that he and his fellow prisoners ate with one hand on their rice and
the other on their soup bowl in order to keep the cockroaches from taking over.
Much of the torture was intended to force "confessions" or extract information.
Often prisoners were beaten until unconscious to get them to sign statements
about the "humanity" of their treatment. U.S. officials figure that as many as
95% of the P.O.W.s captured before 1970 were tortured. Almost all broke. Said
Navy Captain Allen Brady: "I never met a man with whom they were not able to gain
at least some of their objectives." Most felt, as did Army Major Floyd J.
Thompson, that "these propaganda statements just weren't worth dying for."
There were partial victories. When interrogators put a pistol to Captain
Milligan's head to force him to give some intelligence, he gambled that none of
the officers present understood English and wrote nonsense after each question.
Navy Captain James Stockdale never broke. Asked for information about U.S. ships,
he drew a picture of an aircraft carrier with a swimming pool and 300-ft. keel.
Navy LT Commander John McCain III once listed the offensive line of the Green Bay
Packers as the members of his squadron.
Defense Department officials believe that many of the 55 men listed as having
died in captivity in North Viet Nam did so at the hands of torturers. According
to several P.O.W.s, Air Force Major Edwin Atterberry, one of two prisoners who
escaped and were recaptured in 1969, was beaten to death.
Although there seemed to be far fewer beatings at the hands of the Viet Cong,
conditions in the South held their own horror. One prisoner was buried up to his
neck for days. Another, who was suffering from dysentery, was denied medical
assistance and finally suffocated in his own excrement. For those well enough to
walk, there were endless work details. Army Major William Hardy, captured in
1967, figures that the Viet Cong "treated me like a slave" because he is black
and "they believed all they heard about Negroes still being treated like slaves
in the U.S."
Colonel Risner named Oct. 15, 1969 as the beginning of improvement in the
prisoners' treatment. The credit for the change seems to belong to all the people
who tried at about that time to focus world attention on the plight of the
P.O.W.s-President Nixon, the wives of the P.O.W.s, Congress and the media.
Embarrassed by world pressure, the politburo in Hanoi may have passed the word to
go easier. At any rate, prisoners were allowed for the first time to exercise
outdoors for 30 minutes, but behind bamboo screens so that they could not see
each other; they got a third daily meal of bread and water, and a third blanket.
They began to pass their days in boredom rather than fear. Milligan began to
raise a family of spiders in his cell, and watched geckos "mate with each other
and grow old."
By the winter of 1970 most of the prisoners had been taken out of solitary or
small-group cells into large open cell blocks that held about 45 men. It was
after they were put together that they were able to organize-and even coordinate
a resistance of sorts.
They called themselves the "Fourth Combined P.O.W. Wing." Each camp had its own
American commandant, as it were. The prisoners adopted Air Force organizational
tables-wings, squadrons, operations. A tap code and a hand code were the most
effective methods of communicating, but everything helped-the modulations of a
cough, the syncopated swipe of a broom.
Flag. By late 1971 the organization had solidified enough to stage its own
psychological warfare. On Dec. 7 they staged a church service in the "Hanoi
Hilton." Their North Vietnamese captors called it "the riot." On that day the
Fourth Combined P.O.W. Wing ordered a mass prayer service in defiance of camp
regulations prohibiting meetings of more than 20 men. Ordered to stop, they
prayed even louder. When the wing leaders were taken outside the cell block,
those inside broke into The Star-Spangled Banner.
Such exercises in symbolism proved immensely valuable in sustaining morale. Air
Force LT Colonel John Dramesi, who escaped with Atterberry in 1969 but was
recaptured, began in the fall of 1971 to laboriously stitch together an American
flag. He used the threads from a yellow blanket for the gold embroidery, pieces
of red nylon underwear and red thread from a handkerchief, white threads from a
towel and patches of blue from a North Vietnamese jacket. The flag often flew at
night in the Hanoi Hilton cell block that he shared with 40 other men, and it was
dutifully saluted. "I thought that a flag could be a symbol to which we could
attach ourselves, so that we could retain our honor and respect," says Dramesi.
In much the same manner as the prisoners sustained themselves on such bits of
symbolism, the U.S. has now turned toward the P.O.W.s as uplifting
symbols-victors, in the sense of having survived, in a war that was never won,
patriots in a land that had grown weary of flag waving. For the moment, their
return has provided the only solace at the end of what President Nixon last week
described as "the longest and most difficult war in our history."
TIME-Monday, Jun. 11, 1973 -- Life without Father
When the Communists released the names of their prisoners-and then the prisoners
themselves-the families of 1,340 men had to bear a shock: those 1,340 were still
officially listed as missing in action. Legally, the M.I.A.s are still alive, but
their wives and children live in a limbo of both legal and personal
uncertainties. Last week a salute to veterans was held at the Cotton Bowl in
Dallas. Such public celebrations serve only to intensify the anguish of
M.I.A.wives, and some stayed away. One such wife, interviewed by TIME'S Joseph J
Kane, is Peggie Duggan of El Paso.
"I ran into the worst emotional bump when the lists of prisoners came out, " says
Peggie Duggan. "I was really expecting a big list. My antenna was up. Then I
watched the P.O.W.s return on television. I don't know-I couldn't stay away-it
was like a bird being hypnotized by a snake.
"Now, whenever I see a returned P.O.W. I bite my cheek inside, and then I know I
won't cry. Whenever you hear certain songs, you know you've had it. I come home
and play the piano or the organ. I play a lot of Bach-oh, do I play a lot of
Peggie Duggan, a handsome brunette of 34, lives with her two children in a large
house atop Mount Franklin overlooking El Paso. It is elegantly furnished with
Persian rugs, brass candlesticks and French Provincial chairs. On New Year's Eve
in 1971 Peggie Duggan received an unexpected visit from an Air Force major with a
grim message: the F-4D jet fighter flown by her husband, Major William Young
Duggan, 38, had been shot down that same day over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos.
It was his second combat tour in Viet Nam, his 454th combat mission-and in the 17
months since then nothing has been heard about him.
Harsh Reality. Talk in the Duggan household usually runs to teen-age beauty
contests, minor league baseball games or a month-long visit to the family ranch
near Austin. But Peggie Duggan lives with the reality that her husband may never
be found. At first she left everything as it was, not moving, for example, the
old truck that her husband liked to drive.
Until last week Texas law, like the law in most other states, declared that a
person had to be missing for seven years before he could be declared legally
dead. But at the urging of Peggie Duggan, Governor Dolph Briscoe personally wrote
an amendment, which passed the legislature just three minutes before the deadline
of its final session last week. Now a man missing in action is considered dead
when the Pentagon issues a death certificate.
With that, Peggie at last will be able to sell stock that is held in Bill's
name.The Air Force sends her two-thirds of his paycheck of about $1,800 a month;
it deposits the rest in a savings account that cannot be drawn on unless a reason
is given in writing.
"The terror needs time to heal, " she says. "I just cling to a fleeting hope.
Maybe they were all murdered, but I can only hope they will find one of them in a
cave somewhere. "
The Duggans' daughter Charlotte Ann, 13, believes her father is very much alive.
Before she will change her mind, she says, "I'll have to see his body. " Her
brother Robert Scott, 12, is painfully reconciled to the possibility of his
father's death. Their mother fills her days as a coordinator for the National
League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia. She is
also a volunteer publicist for community affairs in El Paso's public schools.
"The only thing I can do is stay extremely busy in the daytime so that I just
collapse at night, " she says. "I go to every dum-dum thing that comes along.
I've been active before, but never with such hysteria. I cannot stand to think
about it-if I relax, I cry. "
Peggie Duggan sees little chance that she will marry again. "It depends.Ann
sanctifies her father, and I'm not sure anyone should ask to marry us. We still
keep a home for Bill. " She can understand wives who have given up hope, but she
is not planning to install any grave markers in her husband's memory, and she is
nervously noncommittal about the future. "I just put one foot in front of the
other. It's not that I am being optimistic, I'm just grasping for straws.
"The wives of P.O.W.s and those killed in action can run the full grief cycle.
But the M.I.A. wife can never complete the cycle. You can only go 359 degrees,
and then you start all over again. "
TIME-Monday, Jun. 11, 1973 -- Plantation Memories
The order is set forth clearly in The U.S. Fighting Man's Code, which is issued
to all U.S. servicemen. An American prisoner of war must "continue to resist by
any means available," and "obey the lawful orders" of senior U.S. officers in the
P.O.W. camp in which he finds himself imprisoned. Last week the senior officer at
one of those camps in North Viet Nam, Air Force Colonel Theodore W. Guy, filed
charges with the Defense Department calling for courts-martial of eight former
P.O.W.s -none of them from the Air Force, and all enlisted men.
Ted Guy 4/18/29 to 4/23/99
Colonel Guy's F-4 fighter-bomber was shot down over Laos in 1968, and he was
imprisoned in the "Plantation Gardens," a camp on the outskirts of Hanoi. Guy,
44, a stiff-backed professional officer, was appalled by what he found: more than
100 polyglot prisoners, Americans and others, civilians and servicemen. Though he
was held in solitary much of the time. Guy issued orders by tapping in code on
his cell walls. Men who, under torture or duress, had been cooperating with the
enemy by making antiwar statements were told to taper off and eventually to
Yet eight men, (Three Marines: Sergeant Abel Kavanaugh, Staff Sergeant Alfonso
Riate and Private Frederick Elbert; and five Army men: Specialist Four Michael P.
Branch, Staff Sergeant Robert Chenoweth, Staff Sergeant James A. Daly Jr., Staff
Sergeant King Rayford Jr. and Staff Sergeant John A. Young.) according to Guy and
other former prisoners, continued to make statements and otherwise collaborate.
Guy asserts that these men failed to adhere to the code of conduct, undermined
efforts of fellow prisoners to set up an organization, and sought the cooperation
of their fellow prisoners in collaboration. As a result, they allegedly secured
favors-including beer, peanuts and popcorn, and trips to Hanoi. Guy said that
partly because "certain people talked," he was beaten by guards-"I had some teeth
knocked out and I had my stomach muscles kicked loose." All eight of the men he
has accused, said Guy, disrupted his command by failure to cooperate, and also by
revealing what he was doing to organize the prisoners and by running their own
Forgive and Honor? Many former P.O.W.s and their wives voiced approval of the
pressing of the charges, though some Pentagon and State Department officials had
urged Guy not to do so. The Secretaries of the Army and the Navy will now decide
whether the charges merit courts-martial.
Most of the accused themselves expressed surprise on hearing of the charges; at
least two of them voiced public denials. They had relied on former Defense
Secretary Melvin Laird's promise to "forgive and honor" returned P.O.W.s. Two men
had been taking steps to reenlist, until Guy's charges hit them. One of these
men, Private Frederick Elbert of Brentwood, L.I., made a telling remark: "Colonel
Guy has been through a hell of a lot-and so have the rest of us."
TIME-Monday, Jun. 18, 1973 -- From Euphoria to Suicide
Edward Alan Brundo
Finally home after nearly eight years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, Air Force
Captain Edward Alan Brudno beamed joyously as he stepped from a plane in
Massachusetts and hugged his wife close. "Words like unbelievable, exciting and
unreal perfectly describe the fantastic excitement of being reborn," he exulted.
That was 16 weeks ago. A month later Brudno's mood had changed. "I knew the initial
euphoria would pass, and it has," he confided to the wife of a fellow P.O.W. "I'm
feeling pretty depressed these days." Brudno's despair deepened, and last week he
ended his life with an overdose of sleeping pills. Before he died, he wrote, in
French, "My life is no longer worth living."
Brudno's death tragically confirmed the warnings sounded by psychiatrists before
release of the prisoners. They had predicted that many men might return emotionally
scarred for life (TIME, Feb. 19). Los Angeles Psychoanalyst Helen Tausend had said
that captivity may leave a P.O.W. "only the shell of a man," and Yale Psychiatrist
Robert J. Lifton had suggested that the war's unpopularity would lead many
prisoners to conclude that their suffering had been in vain. Something like this
may have happened to Brudno. Like all suicides, Brudno's act must have had many
causes, some predating the war. "There was no specific thing that caused his
depression," says his brother Robert. But both he and his wife Deborah had changed
in subtle ways, and he soon discovered that Deborah and her parents had been active
against the war to which he had been so deeply committed.
Brudno's suicide came two days after Pentagon Health Chief Richard Wilbur announced
that all former Viet Nam prisoners would be counseled for five years. The
Government's goal: to prevent the violent deaths common among American servicemen
who survived imprisonment in the Far East during World War II and the Korean War.
According to Wilbur, these men "did badly" after their release. Of the deaths that
occurred in the group from 1945 to 1954,40% resulted from murder, suicide or
accident. As for Viet Nam prisoners, all have suffered from a transient "stress
reaction" (euphoria, fear or depression), and most are having difficulty "moving
back into a family."
Learning of Brudno's death, one psychiatrist bluntly predicted that other suicides
were likely. Hoping to head off that possibility, the Air Force set about learning
everything it could about Brudno. The son of James Brudno, a Quincy, Mass.,
physician, Alan was an introverted boy with few friends. He earned a degree in
aeronautical engineering at M.I.T. and dreamed of becoming an astronaut. A few
months before he shipped out to Viet Nam, he married Deborah Gitenstein of
Harrison, N.Y. Eight days before he was due to return to the U.S., he was shot
down. "They kept him alone in a tiny cell without even a cot," his father told TIME
last week. "He had to sleep on a hard stone floor. In the mornings they'd serve him
some gruel or pumpkin soup." Nevertheless, he mustered enough energy to study
French and, according to Air Force LT Colonel Kenneth North, imprisoned in a cell
adjoining Brudno's, he seemed "in solid shape."
After his release, Brudno avoided the public events that many psychiatrists feel
are slowing the recovery of P.O.W.s; the hoopla deprives them of the quiet they
need to sort things out emotionally. But nothing in Brudno's private world was
quite right any more. He was painfully aware of the time he had lost. Captivity, he
wrote in a letter three months ago, "was an emptiness that could never be
described." As a result, he continued, "I find myself just out of a time machine.
What sadness I feel in having missed so much."
He was sad, too, about the emotional troubles that his wife had developed in his
absence. In prison, he had become a different person. Captivity, those close to him
believe, stripped away his emotional resources until the man who came home had
little strength left to face a complex world. "He lost all flexibility," Robert
Brudno said. "To him, disappointment and misfortune were disaster. All the normal
problems of repatriation were crises." Though Robert considers it "simplistic" to
ascribe his brother's death to the antiwar movement, he does observe that "it hurt
Alan that so many Americans were against the war." Atlanta Psychiatrist Alfred
Messer suggests that Brudno may also have felt isolated. "Maybe the reason he wrote
his suicide note in French was to emphasize, however subtly, that people just don't
understand the pain of the P.O.W."
Hoping to ease the pain, Brudno turned to a psychiatrist for help. It was not
enough to prevent his death. Eight days before he killed himself, he went to
Gloucester, Mass., and sat for a portrait he planned to give his wife, instructing
Artist Armand Sindoni to paint him "without a smile." As he accepted payment of
$100, Sindoni said that he hoped his subject would visit Gloucester again. To this
Brudno replied prophetically, "I won't be back."
Here's another short bit about Brudno which was broadcast on CNN on May 10, 2004:
BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Air Force captain Alan Brudno came
home this day, home to the wall which honors the Americans who died in Vietnam.
He'd been a pilot, was shot down in 1965, and spent seven-and-a-half years as a
prisoner of war. He and former POW Orson Swindle tapped messages to one another
through their prison walls.
ORSON SWINDLE, FORMER POW: He aspired to be an astronaut, wanted to get in the
aero -- you know, the space program, coped with the Vietnamese quite beautifully,
in a way, through his intellect and guile, outwitting them.
MORTON: He was tortured, of course -- they all were -- was released in 1973, and
four months later killed himself, leaving a note in French, "My life is no longer
worth living." His brother, Bob, led the fight to add his name to the wall. The
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund led by Jan Scruggs objected there were no suicides
on the wall. But the Air Force and the Defense Department ruled he died of his
wounds, physical and mental, and belonged here.
SWINDLE: He died of mortal wounds that he received in prison, and I know darned
well he did.
BOB BRUDNO, CPT. ALAN BRUDNO'S BROTHER: He just -- he sacrificed so much, being a
POW for seven-and-a-half years, not allowed to write, being tortured. Other than
death, there isn't any more sacrifice anybody can make for his country, and he
deserved all the help that we could give him. This country owed him and his
fellow POWs and everybody who served in Vietnam a lot.
MORTON: He's home now, here on this wall with his friends, with the other
comrades he never knew, who lost their lives in America's longest war. Some of
its wounds have taken years to heal.
Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.
TIME-Monday, Jul. 16, 1973 -- Tarnished Homecoming
The Nixon Administration wanted nothing to mar the triumphant return of the U.S.
prisoners of war from Viet Nam. Melvin R. Laird, then Secretary of Defense,
declared that no returned P.O.W. would be prosecuted for propaganda statements
made under the duress of captivity. The Pentagon discouraged former prisoners
from bringing misconduct charges against one another. But along with the
red-carpet welcomes, free visits to Walt Disney World and dinner on the White
House lawn, some bitter recriminations began to emerge. In two separate cases, an
Air Force colonel and an admiral, both of whom had been imprisoned, brought
charges of collaboration with the enemy against fellow prisoners.
In the first case, Air Force Colonel Theodore W. Guy charged (TIME, June 11)
eight enlisted men with accepting favors from their North Vietnamese captors in
return for making antiwar statements and giving information about P.O.W.
organization. After a delayed and apparently superficial investigation, the Army
and Navy last week dismissed the charges for lack of evidence. For one of those
accused, the news came too late. A week before, Marine Sergeant Abel ("Larry")
Kavanaugh, 24, had put a bullet through his brain in his father-in-law's bedroom
in Commerce City, Colo. The second suicide among the returned P.O.W.s, Kavanaugh
had no history of mental depression and was a confirmed skeptic about U.S.
involvement in the war.
Kavanaugh's suicide underscored the cruelty of allowing Colonel Guy's charges to
hang in the air for six weeks and spurred the Pentagon announcement that the
remaining seven men would not be put on trial. But it brought scant comfort to
Kavanaugh's widow, who bitterly charged that "the Government murdered my
husband." She is considering a lawsuit against Guy and the Pentagon for damages,
based, perhaps, on "malicious prosecution." The State Department expert on P.O.W.
affairs, Frank A. Sieverts, commented on Kavanaugh's death: "It could have been
the captivity and then the specter of public humiliation through a court
proceeding. Perhaps we'll never know, but you can't help but wonder."
Still awaiting a ruling by the Navy is the second case, brought by Rear Admiral
James B. Stockdale. He has accused Navy Captain Walter E. Wilber and Marine LT
Colonel Edison W. Miller of mutiny, refusal to obey orders and aiding the enemy.
Directed against high-ranking officers within his own service, Stockdale's
charges are considered more serious. Like Guy, Stockdale did not want to bring
the charges but felt an obligation to other prisoners to do his duty, even at the
cost of tarnishing the P.O.W.s' heroes' welcome.