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Senior U.S. POW is released

Senior U.S. POW is released

On August 16, 1945, Lt. Jonathan Wainwright, (captured by the Japanese on the island of Corregidor, in the Philippines), is freed by Russian forces from a POW camp in Manchuria, China.

When President Franklin Roosevelt transferred Gen. Douglas MacArthur from his command in the Philippines to Australia in March 1942, Maj. Wainwright, until then under MacArthur’s command, was promoted to temporary lieutenant general and given command of all Philippine forces. His first major strategic decision was to move his troops to the fortified garrison at Corregidor. When Bataan was taken by the Japanese, and the infamous Bataan “Death March” of captured Allies was underway, Corregidor became the next battle ground. Wainwright and his 13,000 troops held out for a month despite heavy artillery fire. Finally, Wainwright and his troops, already exhausted, surrendered on May 6.

The irony of Wainwright’s promotion was that as commander of all Allied forces in the Philippines, his surrender meant the surrender of troops still holding out against the Japanese in other parts of the Philippines. Wainwright was taken prisoner, spending the next three and a half years as a POW in Luzon, Philippines, Formosa (now Taiwan), and Manchuria, China. Upon Japan’s surrender, Russian forces in Manchuria liberated the POW camp in which Wainwright was being held.

The years of captivity took its toll on the general. The man who had been nicknamed “Skinny” was now emaciated. His hair had turned white, and his skin was cracked and fragile. He was also depressed, believing he would be blamed for the loss of the Philippines to the Japanese.

When Wainwright arrived in Yokohama, Japan, to attend the formal surrender ceremony, Gen. MacArthur, his former commander, was stunned at his appearance. Wainwright was given a hero’s welcome upon returning to America, promoted to full general and awarded the Medal of Honor.


On January 27, 1973, Henry Kissinger (then assistant to the President Richard Nixon for national security affairs) agreed to a ceasefire with representatives of North Vietnam that provided for the withdrawal of American military forces from South Vietnam. The agreement also postulated for the release of nearly 600 American prisoners of war (POWs) held by North Vietnam and its allies within 60 days of the withdrawal of U.S. troops. [1] The deal would come to be known as Operation Homecoming and was divided into three phases. The first phase required the initial reception of prisoners at three release sites: POWs held by the Viet Cong (VC) were to be flown by helicopter to Saigon, POWs held by the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) were released in Hanoi and the three POWs held in China were to be freed in Hong Kong. The former prisoners were to then be flown to Clark Air Base in the Philippines where they were to be processed at a reception center, debriefed, and receive a physical examination. The final phase was the relocation of the POWs to military hospitals. [2]

On February 12, 1973, three C-141 transports flew to Hanoi, North Vietnam, and one C-9A aircraft was sent to Saigon, South Vietnam to pick up released prisoners of war. The first flight of 40 U.S. prisoners of war left Hanoi in a C-141A, later known as the "Hanoi Taxi" and is now in a museum.

From February 12 to April 4, there were 54 C-141 missions flying out of Hanoi, bringing the former POWs home. [3] During the early part of Operation Homecoming, groups of POWs released were selected on the basis of longest length of time in prison. The first group had spent six to eight years as prisoners of war. [4] The last POWs were turned over to allied hands on March 29, 1973 raising the total number of Americans returned to 591.

Of the POWs repatriated to the United States a total of 325 of them served in the United States Air Force, a majority of which were bomber pilots shot down over North Vietnam or VC controlled territory. The remaining 266 consisted of 138 United States Naval personnel, 77 soldiers serving in the United States Army, 26 United States Marines and 25 civilian employees of American government agencies. A majority of the prisoners were held at camps in North Vietnam, however some POWs were held in at various locations throughout Southeast Asia. A total of 69 POWs were held in South Vietnam by the VC and would eventually leave the country aboard flights from Loc Ninh, while only nine POWs were released from Laos, as well as an additional three from China. The prisoners returned included future politicians Senator John McCain of Arizona and Representative Sam Johnson of Texas. [5]

John L. Borling, a former POW returned during Operation Homecoming, stated that after being flown to Clark Air Base, hospitalized and debriefed, many of the doctors and psychologists were amazed by the resiliency of a majority of the men. Some of the repatriated soldiers, including Borling and John McCain, did not retire from the military, but instead decided to further their careers in the armed forces. [6]

The culture of the POWs held at the infamous Hanoi Hilton prison was on full display with the story that would come to be known as the "Kissinger Twenty". One of the tenets of the agreed upon code between those held at the Hanoi Hilton stipulated that the POWs, unless seriously injured, would not accept an early release. The rule entailed that the prisoners would return home in the order that they were shot down and captured. The POWs held at the Hanoi Hilton were to deny early release because the communist government of North Vietnam could possibly use this tactic as propaganda or as a reward for military intelligence.

The first round of POWs to be released in February 1973 mostly included injured soldiers in need of medical attention. Following the first release, twenty prisoners were then moved to a different section of the prison, but the men knew something was wrong as several POWs with longer tenures were left in their original cells. After discussions the twenty men agreed that they should not have been the next POWs released as they estimated it should have taken another week and a half for most of their discharges and came to the conclusion that their early release would likely be used for North Vietnamese propaganda. Consequently, in adherence with their code, the men did not accept release by refusing to follow instructions or put on their clothes. Finally, on the fifth day of protest Colonel Norm Gaddis, the senior American officer left at the Hanoi Hilton, went to the men's cell and gave them a direct order that they would cooperate. The men followed orders, but with the stipulation that no photographs were to be taken of them.

It turned out that when Henry Kissinger went to Hanoi after the first round of releases, the North Vietnamese gave him a list of the next 112 men scheduled to be sent home. They asked Kissinger to select twenty more men to be released early as a sign of good will. Unaware of the code agreed upon by the POWs, Kissinger ignored their shot down dates and circled twenty names at random. [7]

Overall, Operation Homecoming did little to satisfy the American public's need for closure on the war in Vietnam. After Operation Homecoming, the U.S. still listed about 1,350 Americans as prisoners of war or missing in action and sought the return of roughly 1,200 Americans reported killed in action and body not recovered. [8] These missing personnel would become the subject of the Vietnam War POW/MIA issue for years to come. As of 26 July 2019 the Department of Defense's Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency listed 1,587 Americans as missing in the war of which 1,009 were classified as further pursuit, 90 deferred and 488 non-recoverable. [9]

In addition, the return of the nearly 600 POWs further polarized the sides of the American public and media. A large number of Americans viewed the recently freed POWs as heroes of the nation returning home, reminiscent of the celebrations following World War II. [10] : 79 No matter the opinion of the public, the media became infatuated with the men returned in Operation Homecoming who were bombarded with questions concerning life in the VC and PAVN prison camps. Topics included a wide range of inquiries about sadistic guards, secret communication codes among the prisoners, testimonials of faith, and debates over celebrities and controversial figures. [10] : 80

The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and the U.S. Department of State each had liaison officers dedicated to prepare for the return of American POWs well in advance of their actual return. These liaison officers worked behind the scenes traveling around the United States assuring the returnees' well being. They also were responsible for debriefing POWs to discern relevant intelligence about MIAs and to discern the existence of war crimes committed against them. [11] [12] Each POW was also assigned their own escort to act as a buffer between "past trauma and future shock". [10] : 84 However, access to the former prisoners was screened carefully and most interviews and statements given by the men were remarkably similar, leading many journalists to believe that the American government and military had coached them beforehand. Izvestia, a Soviet newspaper, accused The Pentagon of brainwashing the men involved in order to use them as propaganda, while some Americans claimed the POWs were collaborating with the communists or had not done enough to resist pressure to divulge information under torture. [10] : 84–5 The former prisoners were slowly reintroduced, issued their back pay and attempted to catch up on social and cultural events that were now history. Many of the returned POWs struggled to become reintegrated with their families and the new American culture as they had been held in captivity for between a year to almost ten years. The men had missed events including the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the race riots of 1968, the political demonstrations and anti-war protests, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon and the release of The Godfather. [13]

The returning of POWs was often a mere footnote following most other wars in U.S. history, yet those returned in Operation Homecoming provided the country with an event of drama and celebration. Operation Homecoming initially ignited a torrent of patriotism that had not been seen at any point during the Vietnam War. Overall, the POWs were warmly received as if to atone for the collective American guilt for having ignored and protested the majority of soldiers who had served in the conflict and already returned home. [14] : 500 The joy brought by the repatriation of the 591 Americans did not last for long due to other major news stories and events. By May 1973, the Watergate scandal dominated the front page of most newspapers causing the American public's interest to wane in any story related to the war in Vietnam. Correspondingly, Richard Nixon and his administration began to focus on salvaging his presidency. [14] : 503

Many worried that Homecoming hid the fact that people were still fighting and dying on the battlefields of Vietnam and caused the public to forget about the over 50,000 American lives the war had already cost. [10] : 97 Veterans of the war had similar thoughts concerning Operation Homecoming with many stating that the ceasefire and returning of prisoners brought no ending or closure. [10] : 103–4

The plane used in the transportation of the first group of prisoners of war, a C-141 commonly known as the Hanoi Taxi (Air Force Serial Number 66-0177), has been altered several times since February 12, 1973, to include its conversion (fuselage extension) from a C-141A to a C-141B. Nevertheless, the aircraft has been maintained as a flying tribute to the POWs and MIAs of the Vietnam War and is now housed at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. [15] The Hanoi Taxi was officially retired at Wright Patterson Air Force Base on May 6, 2006, just a year after it was used to evacuate the areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Operation Homecoming has been largely forgotten by the American public, yet ceremonies commemorating the 40th anniversary were held at United States military bases and other locations throughout Asia and the United States. [16]

Operation Homecoming's return of American POWs from Vietnam (aka "Egress Recap") was the subject of David O. Strickland's novel, "The First Man Off The Plane" (Penny-a-Page Press, 2012). [17]


Pentagon: We Don’t Call Them POWs Anymore

Army Brigadier General Rick Mustion traveled to Idaho last June to present Robert Bergdahl with the Army certificate acknowledging the promotion of his son, Bowe, to sergeant.

Lots of people call Bowe Bergdahl, who has been held by insurgents on the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier for nearly three years, a prisoner of war. Even his father, Bob, used the term for his son in a recent chat with Time’s Nate Rawlings. But he’s not a POW, and never has been, at least as far as the Pentagon is concerned.

In fact, the Pentagon told Time on Wednesday – to the surprise of experts in the field – that it stopped using the term “prisoner of war” in 2000. That’s before 9/11 and all the legal debate over the status of alleged al Qaeda operatives at Guantanamo Bay (the Bush Administration ultimately termed them “illegal enemy combatants”).

“It is true that Sergeant Bergdahl is being held by criminal actors, and not a nation-state and signatory to the Geneva Conventions, but the POW designation was changed several years ago to `Missing-Captured,’” Commander William Speaks, a Pentagon spokesman, says. “The `POW’ designation has gone away completely.”

“That’s very interesting,” says Simon Schorno, spokesman for the Washington office of the International Committee of the Red Cross. “I didn’t know that.”

“Sometimes important things are hiding in plain sight,” says Eugene Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale and is a former long-time president of the National Institute of Military Justice. “This is one. Given how the Bush administration struggled with how to characterize the Guantanamo detainees — avoiding calling them POWs — it’s not surprising that people tended not to focus as sharply on the other side of the equation, where one of our people is being detained by someone else. “

Speaks cites a Pentagon directive that notes:

POW is not a casualty status for reporting purposes. For reporting purposes, the casualty status and category would be missing-captured. POW is the international legal status of military and certain other personnel captured during an armed conflict between two countries and that status entitles those captured to humanitarian treatment under the Third Geneva Convention, “Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.” The international status of POW is automatic when personnel “have fallen into the power of the enemy.” There is no action required by any country in the conflict to have that status applied to their personnel and for their personnel to be entitled to the humanitarian protections of the Geneva Convention.

Basically, the Pentagon is saying the POW label is applied internationally and automatically, and there’s no reason for the U.S. military to do the same. But the POW label has been widely used inside the Pentagon – and continues to be used in places like the Pentagon’s Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office and the Prisoner of War Medal, created in 1985.

Schorno, of the ICRC, says there can be no POWs stemming from the Afghan conflict as far as the Red Cross is concerned. “Bergdahl’s not a POW because we don’t qualify Afghanistan as an international armed conflict,” he says. “We see it as an internal conflict with an international presence, which makes him a person detained in the context of a non-international armed conflict.” (“It is,” he concedes, “a bit convoluted.”)

All combatants captured are supposed to be accorded humane treatment under the Geneva Conventions by their captors, but plainly that’s voluntary and can be ignored, especially by non-state insurgents. The key benefit of being a POW, according to Schorno: prompt release once a conflict ends.

Bergdahl’s status has changed, but he was never listed as a prisoner-of-war. (As his status changed, so did his rank: captured as a private 1 st class, the Army promoted him to specialist on June 12, 2010, and sergeant on June 16, 2011.)

Initially, when the Pentagon announced he had gone missing on June 30, 2009, it used one of the military’s rarest, but spookiest, labels to describe his status: Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown, or DUSTWUN.

Three days later, after a video surfaced that the Pentagon concluded showed Bergdahl in enemy hands, his status changed again – “Missing-Captured” – which is what it remains today.


Hanoi releases 108 American POWs

CLARK AIR BASE, Philippines -- A gaunt but cheerful 108 American prisoners of war regained their freedom today, with the senior ranking prisoner in North Vietnam declaring the U.S. POWs "performed magnificently . they were first class soldiers."

"I would like to say I've been in better places but I have never been with better people," Air Force Col. John P. Flynn, 50, the senior ranking man held in the North, said as he stepped off his freedom flight.

"Our men performed magnificently. They were first class soldiers. They were first class citizens."

The 108 were flown from Hanoi to Clark Air Base in the Philippines in three planeloads. If processing at Clark goes as smoothly as it has in the past, the first of the men should be back in the United States by the weekend.

The release leaves 147 known U.S. POWs still in Indochina, including 10 in Laos. Another 32 are to be released by the Viet Cong Friday and the rest are all supposed to be freed by March 28 according to the Vietnam cease-fire.

Flynn was followed off the plane by Navy Lt. Cmdr. John S. McCain III, the son of retired Adm. John S. McCain, who was commander-in-chief of the Pacific forces at the height of the Vietnam war.

The younger McCain, 36, walked from the plane with a noticeable limp and graying hair. He paused for about 15 seconds to chat with his father's successor, Adm. Noel Gayler, and then limped to the bus, where he climbed on unassisted.

Among the men released today was Bobby Joe Keesee, a mysterious civilian who at one time reportedly flew a stolen airplane to Cuba. U.S. officials said they did not know why Keesee, a Korean War paratrooper who was last seen in Bangkok in 1970, was held prisoner but since there were no outstanding charges against him, a State Department spokesman said in Washington he would be welcomed back like the rest.

Keesee did not get off the plane with the rest of the prisoners, but walked off the back ramp directly onto a bus. Authorities at Clark had no immediate comment on his status.

Keesee was the only civilian among the 108. The rest were mostly pilots shot down in 1967 and 1968.

Most of the men appeared to be in good physical condition although thin and pale. The two exceptions were McCain, who was shot down on Oct. 26, 1967, and Air Force Capt. Hubert C. Walker, 31, of Tulsa, Okla. Walker, moving very slowly under his own power, was escorted off the plane by a medic.

The senior man on board the third C141, Air Force Col. David W. Winn, chose to step of his plane in the flight coveralls worn by American pilots instead of the blue outfits given the other POWs by the North Vietnamese.

"You brought us home with honor and we hope to serve you well," Winn said. "To borrow from Keats, freedom is happiness and happiness is freedom. That is all we need to know and it's all we know today."

One of the prisoners had his wife waiting here for him. Roberta Stafford, wife of Navy Cmdr. Hugh A. Stafford, 38, flew to Clark from Hong Kong where she lives to be on hand for her husband's arrival. Air Force officials said Mrs. Stafford chose to greet her husband privately in the base hospital rather than greet him on the flight line.

An enthusiastic crowd greeted the men with cheers, flags and posters and the men responded with happy smiles and vigorous waves as they walked down a red carpet to buses. As they drove to the base hospital in blue ambulance buses, they leaned out the windows and gave the crowd the thumbs up sign.

"From all of us and believe me from the bottom of our hearts, I want to thank God, the United States of America and all you wonderful, good looking people," said Navy Capt. Leo T. Profillit, 44, of Palo Alto, Calif., the first man off the plane.

He then said "Thank you" but it was barely heard above the cheers and yells from the 500 persons who came to the base to greet the returning men.

A U.S. military spokesman said in Saigon the United States will resume its troop withdrawal to coincide with the latest release of the POWs. The withdrawal had been suspended since Sunday because of disputes over the POW release.

In addition to the POWs coming out of Vietnam, the last two American prisoners held in China were scheduled to be released Thursday.

Among those to be released by the Viet Cong Friday were Army Maj. Floyd J. Thompson, an American advisor who was the longest held prisoner of war, and Marine Pfc. Ronald L. Ridgeway, who was originally listed as killed in action but was discovered to be alive when the Communists released his name earlier this year.

In the United States, Peggy Manhard learned that her diplomat husband, Philip, would be released after nearly five years of captivity. She was attending a White House reception for foreign diplomat wives when President Nixon made a surprise appearance.

"I'm thrilled and thank you very much," she told the President, her eyes brimming with tears.

"Obviously your husband is a strong man," Nixon said to her as she shook her hand.


The Not-So-Great Escape: German POWs in the U.S. during WWII

Late in 1944, authorities at Security Unit No. 84—one of five hundred camps on American soil housing German prisoners of war—began to feel a sense of relief. Here at Papago Park in Arizona, a difficult lot of more than three thousand officers and sailors from the German navy and merchant marine finally appeared to be adjusting to camp life. This seemed especially true over in Compound 1A, which housed the troublesome Nazi U-boat commanders and their crews.

Guards marveled at the sudden changes in 1A. The compound was much neater. The prisoners appeared in high spirits. They spent hours creating large and well-tended flower beds. With permission of the camp authorities they had even begun to build an outdoor court for faustball, or “fist ball”—volleyball. Several times a day the prisoners carefully groomed the court’s surface with rakes provided by the guards. The Americans attributed all this activity to typical German organization and efficiency.

Nearly 400,000 German POWs were brought to the United States during World War II, and officials recorded precisely 2,222 individual attempts by the Germans to flee their camps. POWs scaled fences, smuggled themselves out in or under trucks or jeeps, passed through the gate in makeshift GI uniforms, cut the barbed wire or tunneled under it, or went out with work details and simply walked away. Their motives ranged from trying to find their way back to Germany (which none ever did) to merely enjoying a few hours, days, or weeks of freedom.

But none of these assorted breakouts could match in audacity, scale, or drama the plan under way at Compound 1A at Papago Park. It would trigger the largest manhunt in Arizona history, bringing in local law enforcement, the FBI, and even Papago Indian scouts.

The Christmas Eve breakout would end largely in a farce, with no one shot, hurt, or even seriously punished, but that in no way diminished the seriousness of the attempt—or the panic it spread at the time.

The first Germans arrived at Papago Park, six miles east of Phoenix, in January 1944. They were placed in a half-dozen compounds in the rough-hewn camp, which had previously housed National Guardsmen, the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, and segregated black infantry units.

As John Hammond Moore notes in his account of the escape, The Faustball Tunnel, camp officials invited trouble by concentrating the least cooperative POWs in the two sections of Compound 1. These were the troublemakers, previous escapees, and other problem prisoners: officers and seamen in section 1A, noncommissioned officers in 1B.

Only Capt. Cecil Parshall, the provost marshal, saw a problem with this arrangement. Parshall was an ex-police detective and decorated World War I veteran who, among other colorful exploits, had pulled off a bank heist while serving as a general in the Mexican army. Parshall pointed out that there was a spot in Compound 1 that could not be seen from the guard towers. “Those Germans were a fine bunch of men, smart as hell,” he said later. “And it made no sense to put the smartest of them in Compound 1. I knew they would discover that blind spot.”

Idleness made it worse in Compound 1. Only about one in four prisoners in the camp were gainfully employed, earning eighty cents a day in canteen credits picking cotton and doing other chores. The Geneva Convention exempted officers and noncoms from work detail, allowing them to sleep late and spend their days plotting ways to get beyond the wire. Lt. Wolfgang Clarus, who had been captured in North Africa where he commanded a coast artillery unit, recalled: “You stare at that fence for hours on end, try to think of everything and anything that can be done, and finally realize there are only three possibilities: go through it, fly over it, or dig under it.”

German POWs had attempted to “dig under” without much success at a camp in Colorado and at Fort Ord, California. In Compound 1A, digging evidently began sometime in September 1944 under the direction of a team of four U-boat captains who plotted strategy while playing bridge in the barracks. “It was a challenge and an adventure,” recalled one of them, Capt. Fritz Guggenberger, who had been personally decorated by Hitler for the exploits of his U-513. “The tunnel became a kind of all-consuming sport. We lived, ate, slept, talked, whispered, dreamed ‘tunnel’ and thought of little else for weeks on end.”

The site selected for the beginning of the tunnel was in the blind spot between the nearest guard towers that Parshall had warned about. The entrance shaft was three and a half feet from a bathhouse, which was the structure closest to the outer fence surrounding Papago Park. Diggers loosened a board on the side of the bathhouse to create a passageway and positioned a large coal box nearby to conceal the shaft. They would walk into the bathhouse, ostensibly to shower or wash clothes, then exit and slip down into the tunnel’s six-foot-deep vertical entrance shaft. Three groups of three men worked ninety-minute shifts during the night, one man digging with a coal shovel and small pick, the second lifting soil in a bucket to the third man topside, who also served as the lookout.

A fourth group of men distributed the excavated soil the next day. They flushed it down toilets, stored it in attics, or let it slip through holes in their pockets onto the new flower beds. As the tunnel progressed, a small cart was fashioned out of a shower stall base to haul the dirt back to the entrance.

Soil piled up at such an alarming rate that a new means for getting rid of it had to be found. Capt. Jürgen Quaet-Faslem, a cocky Prussian who had commanded U-595, came up with an idea. “Shouldn’t we have a sports area in this compound?” he asked. “I think they are supposed to ‘encourage’ sports.” Thus was born the notion of a volleyball court—on rough ground that would need to be leveled. This the prisoners proceeded to do daily, spreading soil taken from the tunnel with the help of shovels and rakes provided by the Americans. Guards got used to seeing a mound of dirt there they assumed it was the same old pile and not a fresh supply unearthed from the tunnel.

The tunnel moved forward at up to three feet on a good night. In late November a colonel from a visiting team of inspectors declared that the camp need never worry about prisoners digging out: the soil, he proclaimed, was hard as a rock. He was standing right atop the concealed tunnel entrance at that moment prisoners who heard him smiled as if in agreement.

The diggers intended to tunnel under two fences and a patrol road that encircled the camp. Just beyond the road stood an electric light pole in a clump of bushes. By triangulating on paper they calculated that the tunnel needed to be 178 feet long from the bathhouse to the pole. But someone wanted to double-check the distance. So he attached a small weight to a string and late one night hurled it into the undergrowth near the pole. Suddenly, a jeep with two American soldiers came along the patrol road. Capt. Hans Werner Kraus, skipper of U-199, watched in horror. “That string caught one of them right across the neck,” he said. “Fortunately they were moving very slowly. He simply brushed it aside, said nothing, and the vehicle disappeared into the night. But the line broke and was still hanging on the far fence weeks later. Several times the Americans walked by, stared at the string, wondered how it got there and why.”

Back in February, Quaet-Faslem had escaped by hiding on a truck loaded with plywood. He crossed the border and made it more than thirty miles into Mexico before being recaptured. From that experience he knew that stocking enough food was vital. Though German prisoners disliked commercial American white bread—“nothing but air,” someone remarked, “you can squeeze it into nothing”—they decided the basic item in the getaway packs should be bread toasted and pulverized into crumbs. It was packed tightly in waxed paper envelopes saved from individual breakfast cereal boxes. Mixing the crumbs with milk or water “would make sort of a mush that might be monotonous but it would be nourishing and easy to carry,” said Kraus.

Escapees also needed some kind of credentials. American photographers had taken snapshots for the prisoners to ship home to Germany in order to show how well POWs were treated in the United States, and the pictures proved useful for fake passports and other papers. The forged papers were imprinted with official-looking stamps, fashioned from scraps of leather and rubber, which would allow the escapees to pose as foreign sailors trying to get to California or the Gulf Coast.

Prisoners earned U.S. currency by creating fake Nazi paraphernalia to sell to the guards. They used sand molds and melted toothpaste tubes to turn out Iron Crosses, eagles, and other insignia. Then they painted the items with black shoe polish and scuffed them up to simulate wear as if they were the real thing.

Three other Germans were engaged in another novel scheme. Capt. Wilhelm Günther and Lts. Wolfgang Clarus and Friedrich Utzolino had no intention of hiking 130 miles to the Mexican border. Looking at an Arizona map, they saw that they could walk only 30 miles or so westward and hit a river, the Gila, which flowed southwest to join the Colorado River near the border. All they needed to float down these rivers was a boat.

The trio—dubbed the “three mad boatmen” by their fellow POWs—proceeded to build a flatboat big enough to carry themselves and their gear. From scavenged pieces of lumber they fashioned the struts of a wooden frame. Canvas and tar for the skin were obtained from the camp under the ruse that the roof of one of the barracks needed repair and the prisoners would gladly do the work. The boatmen designed their craft so that it could be folded up and carried in separate parcels, none to exceed eighteen inches—the maximum width that could fit easily through the tunnel. Much of their work was done openly: guards thought it was just another time-killing handicraft project.

The excavators, meanwhile, labored every night in the tunnel into early December. The final fifty feet were the most difficult to dig, as the tunnel plunged as far down as fourteen feet to go under a drainage ditch and the adjoining roadbed. Diggers worked by the light of a bare bulb strung on an electric wire connected to the bathhouse socket. The insulation covering the wire was badly worn in places, and everyone suffered painful shocks as they bumped against it in the tight confines of the tunnel, which was less than three feet in diameter.

On December 20, the tunnel measured precisely 178 feet long. In the vertical shaft at the far end, Quaet-Faslem and Guggenberger pushed a coal stove poker upward through the ground and into the air. Then, through the tiny hole, they pushed a stick with a little rag tied on the end. Prisoners on the roof of one of the barracks saw this flag appear in just the right place near the electric pole and let out muted cheers. The completed exit was covered and disguised with two shallow wooden boxes containing dirt and grass to blend into the landscape.

Three days later, on the afternoon and evening of Saturday, December 23, next-door Compound 1B erupted in a noisy party. The noncoms there drank forbidden schnapps distilled from citrus fruit, waved a German flag, shouted, and burst into Nazi marching songs. Ostensibly they were celebrating news of Hitler’s last-gasp offensive in Belgium, the Battle of the Bulge.

Under cover of this diversion, the escape began through the bathhouse. The escapers proceeded in ten teams of two or three men each, some carrying packs laden with nearly one hundred pounds of spare clothing, packages of bread crumbs and other food, medical supplies, maps, ersatz credentials, and cigarettes. Shortly before nine o’clock in the evening, the first team—Quaet-Faslem and Guggenberger—descended the entrance ladder and began struggling through the tunnel on elbows, stomach, and knees, pushing their packs ahead of them.

The 178-foot journey took a little more than forty minutes. Guggenberger climbed the exit ladder and cautiously lifted the cover. A light rain was falling as he and his companion emerged into a clump of bushes and dashed down into the waist-deep ice-cold water of the nearby Crosscut Canal. By 2:30 a.m. all twenty-five prisoners—twelve officers and thirteen enlisted men—had exited the tunnel and were making their way through a hard rain outside the wire of Papago Park. Colleagues who stayed behind closed up both ends of the tunnel.

The general plan was to head south and move only after dark, avoiding trains or buses. Many carried the names and addresses of countrymen or sympathizers in Mexico who might help them get back to Germany. All knew that the odds of actually reaching their homeland were extremely slim. But for now, in the early hours of Christmas Eve, they were free—embarking on an adventure that surely beat life in captivity.

That night one team found a small dry stable and rested among comfortable bales of hay, celebrating Christmas Eve with a meal of roasted bread crumbs and canned milk, and listening as a Mexican family living nearby sang Christmas carols. Another team stumbled across a dilapidated shack and took up temporary residence one of them had a harmonica, and he quietly played “Stille Nacht.”

Back in Papago Park, the first real opportunity for the American authorities to discover something amiss was Sunday’s four o’clock head count. The German officers remaining in Compound 1A delayed it further by demanding that the count be conducted by an American officer, not a mere sergeant. “It is only proper that as German officers, we have respect and equal treatment,” one insisted imperiously.

It was about seven o’clock before Parshall was certain that a large group of prisoners was missing. He telephoned the FBI to report names and descriptions of the escapees. While he was still on that call, another phone rang. It was the sheriff in Phoenix reporting he had an escaped POW in custody. Herbert Fuchs, a twenty-two-year-old U-boat crewman, had quickly grown tired of being wet, cold, and hungry and hitchhiked a ride to the sheriff’s office. Soon thereafter, a Tempe woman called to say that two escapees had knocked on her door and surrendered the phone rang again, and a Tempe man reported that two hungry and cold POWs had turned themselves in to him.

One more call came that Christmas Eve from someone at the Tempe railroad station saying yet another escapee had been arrested. This was Helmut Gugger, a Swiss national who had been drafted into the German navy. Almost certainly under physical persuasion from the Americans, Gugger revealed the existence of the still-hidden tunnel the following day.

With a half-dozen escapees already in custody, authorities launched what the Phoenix Gazette trumpeted as “the greatest manhunt in Arizona history.” Soldiers, FBI agents, sheriff’s deputies, police, border patrol, and customs agents all joined the search for the nineteen Germans still at large. Ranchers and Indian scouts, drawn by the $25 reward posted for the capture of each escapee, carried newspaper clippings bearing mug shots of their quarry. “We didn’t think we were that important,” Guggenberger remarked later.

J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, had repeatedly warned the American public about the dangers posed by escaped German prisoners. In reality, there was not a single recorded instance of sabotage or assault on an American citizen by an escaped POW. Any crimes committed were typically the theft of an automobile or of clothing needed for the getaway.

In any case, public reaction in Arizona soon focused less on any possible menace to law-abiding citizens than on outrage over all the provisions the newspapers reported found on the recaptured POWs, including rationed or otherwise hard-to-get items like cartons of cigarettes, packages of chocolate, coffee, sugar, and even ten pounds of pork fat. One Phoenix resident wrote the Arizona Republic: “Now isn’t that a hell of a state of affairs when we, the tax-paying citizens, cannot get a single slice of bacon for weeks on end when we come home from working in a defense plant and then read in the papers that prisoners of war can get away with slabs of it?”

After Christmas, most of the remaining nineteen prisoners hiked south each night as far as they could. Capture was a possibility at any moment, and they were also alert to very real physical danger. During the war, no fewer than fifty-six escaped German POWs were shot to death—the great majority by authorities but some at the hands of trigger-happy civilians.

On January 1, 1945, a pair of escaped officers decided they could go no further. Captain Kraus and his second watch officer on U-199, Lt. Helmut Drescher, had been covering up to ten miles a night, but Drescher now had a swollen foot and hobbled along using a forked stick as a crutch. In the morning they approached an isolated ranch house and knocked. When a twelve-year-old boy trailed by two much younger siblings answered the door, Kraus explained who he and Drescher were and said that they wanted to surrender to local police. The boy said his parents were away but should be home soon.

The Germans made themselves at home. They brewed coffee, shared their remaining chocolate with the children, and then regaled the kids with stories about life on a U-boat. When the parents came home around eleven that morning, they found everyone sitting in the kitchen. Their son hurriedly explained the situation. The father pulled from his pocket a folded sheet of the newspaper with mug shots of the escapees. He took out a pencil, looked at Kraus and then Drescher, and drew a big X through each of their pictures.

That same day, a Papago Indian discovered another pair of prisoners as they were sleeping, less than thirty miles from the Mexican border. Four days later, bounty-hunting Papagos caught another pair asleep in the same area, and an army patrol from the POW camp at Florence nabbed three more.

The following day, the two captains who had been first out the tunnel—Quaet-Faslem and Guggenberger—were awakened by a group of Indian scouts. “And Captain Quaet-Faslem,” asked one of the scouts, “did you have a good sleep?” Quaet-Faslem was astonished to see that it was one of the same men who had captured him in Mexico eleven months earlier. With the capture of yet another pair of Germans two days later on January 8, only a half dozen POWs—two three-man teams—remained at large.

One of the teams consisted of the “three mad boatmen,” Clarus, Günther, and Utzolino. They thought they had made good use of their boat’s canvas skin on their first day of freedom by sleeping under it and staying dry in the rain. But when they reached the banks of the Gila River four days later and started to assemble their craft, they discovered the canvas had shrunk in the rain. Then, after they shortened the wooden struts to accommodate the shrunken canvas, they found that the Gila, which had looked so large and inviting on their maps, was more mud than water. As soon as they loaded their gear into it, the boat sank to the muddy bottom. “We should have known that the Gila wasn’t much of a river,” Clarus said later. “Of course, everyone who lives in Arizona knows that.”

Over the following two nights, they succeeded in floating the craft for only short stretches of the river. Finally, the trio abandoned the plan that had sustained them through so many weeks of labor back in camp. They destroyed the craft and set out on foot. A week or so later, near Gila Bend, some cowboys spotted one of them washing his underwear on the bank of an irrigation canal and called the police.

For the next fortnight the whereabouts of the final trio of escapees remained a mystery. The team consisted of Capt. Jürgen Wattenberg and two of his crewmen from U-162, Walter Kozur and Johann Kremer. Wattenberg had been the senior ranking officer in the compound and quickly built a reputation as the leading troublemaker by submitting extensive lists of complaints about camp food, recreation, and anything else he could think of. The Papago Park commander referred to him as “the No. 1 Super-Nazi of this camp.”

After his escape, Wattenberg delayed heading south and explored the area. Kozur and Kremer even ventured into Phoenix one night, visiting a bowling alley and enjoying a few beers. The trio holed up in a shallow cave on a slope in the mountains north of the camp almost within view of Papago Park. From there Kremer pulled off the most bizarre caper of the entire escape. Every few days he joined up with one of the work details sent outside Papago Park. He exchanged places with a friend who spent the night in the cave while Kremer sauntered back into the camp with the work detail. There, he gathered news and food. He would then either join a work detail to get out of camp, or send food out with a member of the detail and remain in the barracks.

On January 23, a month after the escape, a surprise inspection revealed Kremer’s presence in the camp. The following evening, Kozur left the cave and made his way down to an abandoned car where friends on work details stashed provisions for the trio. Instead of food he found three American GIs with rifles pointed at his head. Only Wattenberg was still at large.

Four days later, on January 27, Wattenberg ate his last piece of food, shaved, put on a clean shirt, and hiked into Phoenix. He had seventy-five cents in his pocket, most of which he spent on a restaurant meal. He slept for a while in a chair in a hotel lobby and then, walking the streets during the night, asked for directions from the foreman of a street-cleaning crew. The foreman thought the accent suspicious and alerted a policeman. By nine that morning, Wattenberg was back at Papago Park.

Their great escape was over except for the punishment, which turned out to be surprisingly light. Despite the egregious lapses in security, no American officer or guard was court-martialed. And though some of the escapees half-expected to be shot—rumor had it that Germany had executed American POWs in retaliation for the bombing of Dresden—they were merely put on bread and water for every day one of them had been absent from camp.

Still, it had been worth it. Years later, Clarus said of the tunnel: “Conceiving of it, digging it, getting out, getting back, telling about our adventures, finding out what happened to the others…why, it covered a year or more and was our great recreation. It kept our spirits up even as Germany was being crushed and we worried about our parents and our families.”

This article was written by Ronald H. Bailey and originally published in the November 2007 issue of World War II Magazine. For more great articles, subscribe to World War II magazine today!


POWs: Returning to a Society They Did Not Recognize

In February and March 1973, dozens of flights on U.S. Air Force C-141A Starlifters began the journey home for 591 prisoners of war in Southeast Asia. The Paris Peace Accords, signed on Jan. 27, 1973, ended the U.S. military’s involvement in Vietnam and provided for the release of the POWs. Most had been held in North Vietnamese prisons and were freed in Hanoi. Others were freed near Saigon (the release site for Viet Cong captives held in South Vietnam) and Hong Kong (three prisoners who had been held in China).

To ease the POWs’ reentry into American life, the Defense Department created Operation Homecoming, a five-year multifaceted program that included not only the flight home but also procedures to evaluate the physical and mental condition of repatriated prisoners of war, collect data from those RPOWs for use in future wars, and help the men return as much as possible to their former life or move forward in a different direction, with a particular emphasis on reintegration into their family after a long separation.

I participated in that process as a senior Army psychologist working with Army returnees. I had served two tours in Vietnam as a combat infantry adviser (1966-67 and 1968-69). I received seven valor wards, a Purple Heart and an Air Medal. While earning a doctorate in counseling psychology, I wrote my dissertation on the adjustment of Vietnam veterans. Afterward, I continued my research on Vietnam vets.

The first stop on the Operation Homecoming journey was Clark Air Base in the Philippines. Onboard the aircraft were flight surgeons (because most RPOWs were pilots, the planners thought they would prefer flight surgeons to regular physicians), nurses and aeromedical technicians. Over several weeks, 54 flights transported 325 Air Force, 138 Navy, 77 Army and 26 Marine returnees, along with 25 civilians including two German nurses captured outside of Da Nang. One was the only woman POW.


POWs freed in North Vietnam walk from the bus that transported them to Hanoi’s Gia Lam Airport, where they boarded a C-141 Starlifter for a flight to Clark Air Base in the Philippines. (U.S. Air Force)

At Clark, the RPOWs called home and visited the base exchange for personal supplies. They also were evaluated medically and psychologically and debriefed. The debriefings were important in getting information on the fate of Americans missing in action and POWs who might have died or perhaps were still alive in Southeast Asia.

Each RPOW talked with a debriefer and an escort, matched as closely as possible to the former prisoner in age, education, background, career experience, interests and family life. The escort was trained to serve as a shock absorber, a buffer to help the man adapt to his sudden shift into a vastly changed world.

The length of the RPOWs’ stay at Clark depended on their health and intelligence debriefings. The goal was to move the men quickly—within days or a week—to military facilities near their homes. They were flown from Clark to California via Hawaii and then transferred to a military hospital or wherever they wanted to go.

While most Americans greeted the returning men openly and warmly, some viewed them not as heroes but rather as war criminals. That antipathy was mostly directed toward crew members on bombers.

In general, the RPOWs had to deal with four major issues: 1) physical damage from torture, improperly healed combat wounds and injuries, malnourishment and the effects of various diseases 2) the reunion with a family that had changed significantly during the absence of the husband/father 3) the considerable career gap between them and peers who had not lost the prime years of their work life to captivity 4) their introduction into a society that did not exist prior to captivity.

All of the Army RPOWs—unlike Navy and Air Force flight crews captured after being shot down over North Vietnam—had been taken prisoner in South Vietnam, and their horrendous treatment at the hands of the Viet Cong resulted in great suffering, including shelters with little protection from extreme climatic conditions, poor nutrition, infections and diseases, beatings and untreated wounds. They were often chained or imprisoned in small cages. Some of the younger RPOWs showed maturation deficiencies due to the malnutrition, disease and infections.

For many POWs returning to their families, the enduring physical problems were not their only concern. The family separations required on some tours and during combat assignments were an accepted part of the job, but the prolonged absence due to captivity added an unknown dimension to family dynamics. Some RPOWs had left toddlers and returned to preteens. Additionally, the role of women in society was undergoing considerable change, exemplified by the women’s liberation movement.

The extended separation put the woman in charge of the family, m inus her mate. Some women were able to keep the family together, and some sought relief by bonding with other men. Many saw themselves as captives in their own right because they did not know if they were wives or widows. They were locked in their own prison of loneliness, fear, anxiety, apprehension and dread, facing a future with too many unknowns. A two-parent family became a single-parent household with the mother now totally responsible for the family, maybe forever.

Upon the reunion of RPOWs and their families, spousal views on the roles of husband-wife/mother-father frequently diverged. Often the military husband had made major financial decisions, determined where the family lived, disciplined the children and set the tone family for life. In normal deployments, all of this fell onto the wife temporarily, until the husband returned 12 or 13 months later. But when the man came home after a long captivity, the family had survived and functioned without him for years. Some children had spent most of their young lives without their father. However, the RPOW was still, psychologically, living in a different time.

For many repatriated POWs, the changes during the separation would be so great that the family could never again be a cohesive unit. The reunited members might have totally different perspectives on what the future should be like. Often the bewildered father was no longer needed to head the family. It’s easy to image how strong clashes would occur.


Army POWs held by the Viet Cong were driven by truck to the South Vietnamese town of Loc Ninh, near the Cambodian border, where they were released and are now being briefed by a U.S. Army officer. A helicopter took them to Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut Air Base. A C-9 Nightingale medical transport plane flew them to Clark Air Base. (U.S. Air Force)

Special Forces Capt. Floyd “Jim” Thompson was captured on March 26, 1964, and repatriated on March 16, 1973, a period of nine years, making him the longest-held POW of the Vietnam War. When Thompson was assigned to Vietnam, his wife, Alyce, and family moved into housing at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. At first, Thompson’s status was unknown, possibly killed in action. Ultimately, his family was told to vacate their quarters at the fort. Alyce Thompson, confused, afraid, lonely, with a family to care for, eventually moved in with another man, and they lived as husband and wife, as recounted by journalist Tom Philpott in his 2001 book Glory Denied.

Thompson was reunited with his wife at Valley Forge General Hospital, an Army hospital near Philadelphia. In Philpott’s book, Alyce Thompson described her 39-year-old husband as “emaciated” and added, “He had gotten so old. White hair. He looked at least sixty.” She said to him, “There is something I have to tell you.” He replied, “I knew something was wrong.” They divorced in 1975.

Many returning POWs had spent their career-building years in the military trying to survive in enemy prisons. Leadership assignments, professional military education and other important aspects of military life escaped them. In the competition for plum positions, they had fallen behind.

During Thompson’s almost nine years in captivity, I advanced from second lieutenant to major. I had served as a platoon leader, executive officer, company commander and battalion staff officer. I graduated from the Army Special Warfare School, the Defense Language Institute and the Officer’s Career Course. I also had earned a master’s degree and was five months away from my Ph.D. Quite a difference.

From the moment of captivity, the POW’s known world ceased to exist. He had not been part of an evolving society in the United States, nor a participant in events there as they were occurring. As new captives were imprisoned, they shared what was happening back in “the world.” Many POWs were unable to emotionally, psychologically or intellectually accept what they were told.

On their return to the United States, they still could not believe what had taken place in America while they were in communist prisons, shut off from the free world. In the late 1960s the hippie movement began (anti-war, free love, open use of drugs, communal living), and by the time the repatriated POWs got home the hippie lifestyle had moved into mainstream American society. The POWs reentered an America that was a much different place. Their world had changed so much that in many cases it no longer existed.

Operation Homecoming’s medical, psychological and social experts were aware that the RPOWs would need help reestablishing family relationships, facing vocational challenges and functioning in an environment foreign to them.

In 1969, the Defense Department had already begun to create plans to assist the POWs once they were released. Because no Americans troops had been imprisoned as long as those in Vietnam, the planners had no comparable data to use. The Navy established the Center for POW Studies, or CPOWS, at the Navy Health Research Center in San Diego in 1971 to conduct research with the families of returning POWs.

The Defense Department also funded a five-year program, running from 1973 through the end of 1978, to evaluate the effects of long-term captivity. Defense Secretary Melvin Laird stated, “I cannot emphasize too strongly the necessity to make every possible effort within our capability to help these men readjust to healthy, normal, productive lives when they return.”

In a memo, Laird said military medical facilities would be established to “diagnose, treat, alleviate and hopefully cure the physical and mental diseases that afflict the returnee and to assist in the counseling that would aid the returnee in adjusting to his position in military or civilian life.”

In 1972 all branches of the military met at CPOWS to develop a standard method for evaluating and treating the returnees and collecting data. Air Force RPOWs went to Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, and Army RPOWs went to Brooke Army Medical Center, also in San Antonio. Navy and Marine RPOWs went to the Naval Aerospace Medical Institute in Pensacola, Florida.

Once a year, for five years, the RPOWs would report to their military hospitals for physical and mental evaluations. After the first two years, several Army RPOWs stopped reporting to the Brooke medical center but were evaluated at Army hospitals in areas where they were stationed. Others sought private care. Not all Army RPOWs completed the five-year program. Some dropped out over time.

In December 1978, CPOWS closed, and Operation Homecoming was terminated in January 1979.


Air Force Capt. Michael S. Kerr, captured in 1967, has an emotional homecoming with wife Jerri on March 7, 1973, at Travis Air Force Base in California. The Kerrs later divorced. (Bettmann/Getty Images)

Some of CPOWS’ behavioral scientists believed the closing was premature because the collected data warranted much more analysis, including conclusions and recommendations for the future. As a participant in this program, I can say that as time passed, collection, analysis and documentation of the evaluations gave way to the needs of expediency and efficiency.

Generally, the experiences of Army captives were different from those of most POWs, who were pilots and therefore commissioned officers. Army POWs typically were enlisted men, noncommissioned officers.

Not all Army RPOWs were part of Operation Homecoming. Some had been freed earlier by the North Vietnamese government for propaganda reasons, and others had escaped. They were on their own evaluation schedule after returning to Army control.

One Army escapee, Special Forces Maj. James “Nick” Rowe, who was captured in 1963 and broke free in 1968, described his reintroduction to the outside world in a 1971 book, Five Years to Freedom.

While he was a patient being evaluated at an Army hospital in Vietnam, a nurse handed him a copy of Playboy magazine, saying, “This is the beginning of your therapy.” Rowe thought, “After a five-year drought, this was too much to take all in one visual gulp.” (While serving as U.S. Army adviser to the Philippines government, Rowe, then a colonel, was assassinated by communist guerrilla insurgents in April 1989.)

During the Vietnam War, 179 Army members were captured and imprisoned between Jan. 1, 1961, and Dec. 31, 1976, in all areas of Southeast Asia, according to the Defense Department document Number of Casualties Incurred by US Military Personnel in Connection with the Conflict in Vietnam (Jan. 20, 1977). The 179 included the 77 returned via Operation Homecoming, as well as 57 who were released earlier or escaped and 34 who died in captivity.

The remaining 11 were still classified as POWs as of December 1976, based on the debriefings of returning POWs, who may have seen someone at a POW camp, but that person’s whereabouts was unknown in 1976. Today there are no known POWs in Vietnamese hands.

The 77 Army men released in 1973 consisted of 28 officers and 49 enlisted. The average age when captured was almost 28 for officers and 23 for enlisted. There were 25 aviators or air crew members, 16 infantrymen, 18 Special Forces or combat advisers, seven in transportation and 11 from other Army occupations. By the time of their release, most had been moved into North Vietnamese prisons, but 18 were still in Viet Cong camps in South Vietnam.

The Operation Homecoming evaluations found that many younger RPOWs were not physically, mentally and psychologically equipped for their time as a prisoner. James Daley, age 22, described their plight in his book A Hero’s Welcome, published in 1975. He recalled hearing a prison propaganda recording that ended with the question, “Why die for Old Glory?” It made Daley think of several fellow POWs who died in captivity. “I considered the endless war,” he wrote. “And I couldn’t help but ask myself the very same question.”

The actions of some younger POWs were viewed by senior POWs as collaborating with the enemy to obtain extra benefits, a breach of the military’s Code of Conduct. After the war, some senior RPOWs brought misconduct charges against enlisted men and officers for their behavior.

A Marine sergeant facing charges, one of eight accused enlisted RPOWs in the Marines and Army, committed suicide. At this point the Defense Department stepped in. Investigators found insufficient evidence for the allegations, so all charges were dropped for the remaining two Marines and five soldiers. All branches created committees to evaluate the behavior of the RPOWs. Some were found unqualified for continued service and released from active duty.

Older officers and NCOs, as career soldiers, understood that the danger of being captured was an accepted risk of their chosen vocation and placed value in the Code of Conduct. They also were mostly married. Those strong family ties, combined with military experience and a staunch belief in “the Code,” strengthened their ability to resist and endure. The younger POWs were less educated and experienced, not interested in a military career and didn’t have wives or children to return to. They had a harder time resisting the pressure their captors applied. They did what they could to survive.

The differences in age and rank also came into play when the POWs got home and tried to return to a normal life. The senior, career-oriented officers and NCOs fared best.


A former POW gets an exam in 1973 at Travis Air Force Base. Annual evaluations showed most returnees adjusted to changes they faced. (U.S. Air Force)

The initial psychological evaluation of the RPOWs consisted of various personality inventories and tests. If the psychologist decided more information was needed, additional testing was done. Based on the clinical evaluation of their post-captivity lives and careers, whether in the military or civilian life, the RPOWs were placed in one of three groups.

The first group, the “successful adjustment” group, consisted of men who were successfully coping with the changing demands of their lives. They did not exhibit any psychiatric disorders. Their social, vocational and family lives were satisfactory and productive.

In the evaluation’s “borderline adjustment” group were men experiencing minor or mild difficulty dealing with career, family or social issues. Some also had mild personality disorders or neuroses. They were functioning and moving along in their lives, but it was hard for them.

The “unsuccessful adjustment” group comprised the RPOWs with severe adjustment difficulties, according to the clinical evaluation. They were diagnosed as having a psychotic disorder or a severe nonpsychotic mental disorder.

In 1973 all 77 Army RPOWs received psychological evaluations during the first three to six months after release. The evaluations indicated that 51 soldiers (66 percent) were successfully adjusting, 15 (20 percent) were experiencing some difficulty adjusting and 11 (14 percent) were encountering severe adjustment problems.

The successful group consisted of 22 officers and 29 enlisted, based on their rank upon repatriation. Because of their length of captivity, many RPOWs were automatically promoted, which meant their repatriation rank was considerably higher than their rank when captured. The borderline group contained five officers and 10 enlisted. In the unsuccessful group were one officer and 10 enlisted.

As time passed, fewer men were evaluated at Brooke medical center. The second evaluation consisted of 74 men. By the time of the final evaluation in 1978, there were just 43 men in the program, including RPOWS who had become civilians (released from active duty), medically retired from the Army or retired normally. In that evaluation, 30 (70 percent) were classified as successful, nine (21 percent) as borderline and four (9 percent) as RPOWs with severe adjustment problems.

Before Operation Homecoming concluded, 25 Army RPOWS chose to not go through the full five years of evaluations. At their last evaluation before dropping out, 14 men (56 percent) were in the successful adjustment group, five (20 percent) were facing some adjustment problems, and six (24 percent) had received a diagnosis of psychiatric problems.

During the five-year evaluations the first two years after repatriation were the hardest for the RPOWs in terms of readjustment to their careers and normal behavioral patterns. The most successful returnees were older when captured and spent less time as POWs than either the borderline or unsuccessful RPOWs.

It is generally accepted that being in combat in Vietnam and becoming a POW was one of the most traumatic experiences a soldier could ever experience. Yet, as the final evaluation in 1978 shows, only 9 percent of Army RPOWs were dealing with severe adjustment problems in their post-captivity lives, while 70 percent were able to reenter society and adjust normally. They were successfully coping with the demands of life, raising families, pursuing careers and enjoying their post-captivity years.

Bob Worthington is a retired Army lieutenant colonel with a doctorate in counseling psychology. He served his last decade in the Army as a senior clinical psychologist, leading the Army RPOW psychological evaluations from 1976 until the final reports in 1979. He is a writer (www.BobWorthingtonWriter.com) with over 2,500 publications. His latest book is Under Fire with ARVN Infantry (McFarland, 2018).

This feature originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of Vietnam magazine. To subscribe, click here.


Col. Norman McDaniel

Retired United States Air Force Colonel Norman A. McDaniel was born on July 27, 1937 in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The son of sharecroppers Fannie Marie and Clyde Oliver McDaniel, he graduated as the valedictorian of the Armstrong High School Class of 1955. He attended North Carolina A&T State University, participated in the AFROTC program, and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U. S. Air Force (AF) upon receiving his B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering in June, 1959.

After entering AF Active Duty, McDaniel completed a series of military trainings. From 1961 to 1964, he served in the 23rd Bomb Squadron at Travis AFB, California, and then, was assigned as a Sub-Systems Program Manager on the F-111 Aircraft Development Program at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. In 1966, McDaniel was assigned to Takhli Air Base (AB) in Thailand, where he flew combat missions over North Vietnam. On July, 20, 1966, McDaniel and four of his five crew members became prisoners of war (POWs) when their plane was shot down. While a POW, he was promoted to the rank of Major and was awarded the AF Silver Star for valor and leadership in the POW camps. As one of over 700 American POWs held by North Vietnam, McDaniel was released on February 12, 1973, as part of Operation Homecoming. After returning from Vietnam, he completed the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia and graduate school at the Florida Institute of Technology (earning his M.S. degree in systems management). Between 1975 and 1987, McDaniel completed tours of duty as a System Program Staff officer at AF Systems Command, Andrews AFB, Maryland. He also served as Division Chief for Congressional Activities and Acquisition Policy at Headquarters USAF, the Pentagon commander of AFROTC at Howard University in Washington, DC commander of the Air Force Survival Training Wing in Spokane, Washington and as Assistant Deputy to the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (AD,DUSD) for International Programs and Foreign Disclosure Policy, the Pentagon. During that period, McDaniel also completed the Naval War College, Senior Program at Newport, Rhode Island. After retiring from active duty in 1988, he worked in the defense industry. From 1991 to 2006, McDaniel was a Faculty Member, Department Head, and Associate Dean at the Defense Acquisition University in Ft. Belvoir, Virginia. He currently works for himself as a motivational speaker, and part-time, as a Facilitator of the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) helping men and women separating or retiring from U.S. military services to succeed in their transition from military to civilian life.

On September 18, 1998, McDaniel served as the keynote speaker at the Pentagon's celebration of National POW/MIA Recognition Day in honor of all of the former POWs, unaccounted for service members and civilians, and their families. McDaniel's military honors, include the Silver Star for Valor, three Legions of Merit, Bronze Star with "V" Valor Device, three Distinguished Flying Crosses (the POW medal), the Purple Heart and the Vietnam Service Medal with fourteen bronze stars. McDaniel is married to Jean Carol (Breeze) McDaniel. They have two children, Christopher and Crystal, and four grandchildren

Norman A. McDaniel was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 8, 2012.


Medical Treatment

There were Japanese civilian doctors or medical officers who came around the camps, or there were the POW medical officers in each camp who conducted treatment. In each camp, there was some facility like a simple clinic, but medical supplies were as scarce as they were among Japan's civilian population. When the POWs were unable to work because of illness their food ration was cut. Due to poor sanitation, lice and fleas plagued POWs, and there was danger of spreading infectious diseases. The Tokyo and Osaka Camps had attached hospitals, Shinagawa POW Hospital, and Kobe POW Hospital, which treated seriously ill patients from each branch camp. In addition to those two hospitals, POWs were sometimes sent to nearby Army hospitals or hospitals that belonged to the companies where they worked.


Thank you!

Pilots in Pajamas was shown on East German television in early 1968, at which point the broadcast was picked up by U.S. military monitoring of the Communist nation’s propaganda. Toward the end of one of the segments, there was Dewey Wayne Waddell, his eyes flicking up to the meet the camera, just as he had planned.

“Well this thing that showed up turned out to be exactly what I&rsquod hoped for,” he recalls. “When [the Air Force] saw that, they pulled off several stills and sent them to my family, who identified me of course. So that&rsquos what changed my status from MIA to POW.”

Waddell was released on March 4, 1973. But the story of the photograph doesn’t end there.

Years later, at a cartoon and photography convention, a friend of Waddell’s happened to meet the son of one of the German photographers, Thomas Billhardt, the man with the still camera. Later, on a visit to Berlin, that friend went to see Billhardt’s work &mdash and there, hanging on the wall, was a picture of Wayne Waddell, taken the day of the Pilots in Pajamas filming. The friend arranged for the former prisoner and the photographer to connect. They met in Berlin in the late 1990s at a “nice little session” that was recorded for local television and the newspaper and, upon leaving, Waddell’s wife asked to purchase the picture to take home.

A few years later, Waddell was interviewed once again about his experience, this time for a piece in the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine about graduates who had been prisoners of war. The magazine ended up using that photograph on the cover it also subsequently made the cover of a book about the POW experience. (It was at that point that Waddell discovered that he had been “reidentified” at some point along the way. In the caption information that travels with the photograph he is listed as “Pewey” Waddell.)

In recent decades, Waddell has returned to Vietnam several times, the first time in 1994 with his wife and children. Though he says he was apprehensive as their plane neared Hanoi &mdash it “brought back memories of high-speed run ins on bombing runs,” he says &mdash he has fond memories of the place from later trips. He has noticed the spread of capitalism and of the English language, and found the people he met friendly and accommodating.

During a visit to the Hanoi prison, when one of the Vietnamese officers present asked him what he had been thinking when he’d been there as a prisoner, Waddell responded that he’d been thinking “I sure would like to get out of here.” His hosts, he says, thought that was funny.

And now, a half-century after that photograph was taken, Waddell says he’s “intrigued” to see the nation’s eyes turn to Vietnam as a piece of history, as the subject of a documentary rather than daily news.

“That&rsquos an interesting thing for me, that I&rsquove pondered a few times. The way I&rsquove described it, it&rsquos like a movie that I saw, except I was in it,” he says. “As a matter of fact, it seemed I had a starring role.”


German Prisoners of War

German POW’s captured in campaigns in Western Europe, were held in Allied POW camps. These came under the inspection of the Red Cross and all the evidence suggests that German POW’s held in Western Europe were well treated – accommodation was adequate as was food. The Red Cross took care of communicating with families. German POW’s captured on the Eastern Front had a far worse experience.


The war in Russia had brutalised those who fought there – on both sides. The common standards of decency even in war all but disappeared. Those German POW’s who were captured were tarred with the known atrocities that had been carried out by the SS. German POW’s were seen as the people who had destroyed vast areas in western Russian and killed millions. Therefore, those who had been captured were used to rebuild what they had damaged. If they died doing so, then they died. The Nazi government had warned all German soldiers about the dangers of being captured alive – “a fate worse than death” – and many did not see this as an exaggeration.Russia had failed to co-operate with the Red Cross. Russia had failed to provide a list of captured German soldiers – despite promises – and the Germans reciprocated. German POW’s could expect nothing but the harshest of treatment from the Russians.

The Germans had 91,000 men captured alive after the Battle of Stalingrad. Few of these men returned to Germany after the war ended. Made to carry out hard labour often in extreme weather conditions, many died as a result of lack of food and disease. Their accommodation was basic at best.

Very many more Germans soldiers became POW’s when the war ended in May 1945. They were expected to rebuild Russia. Gerhard Ohst was sent to Velikiye Luki. Here was Russia’s largest railway repair shop – but a ruin in 1945. 1000 German POW’s were sent to Velikiye Luki to rebuild it. What many expected to take 20 years was completed in just 3 years – but many died doing so, primarily from malnutrition and the diseases associated with it. The Soviet authorities had one requirement – that work that needed to be done was done. How many died doing this work was unimportant. Such an attitude fitted in with the attitude that had prevailed in Russia on both sides since the time of ‘Operation Barbarossa’ in June 1941.

The Russians divided the prisoners into three classes. Those who exceeded the work required of them – they were given extra rations those who completed the work required of them got the basic ration of food those who failed to complete the work required of them, got less than the basic ration. The rations for those who exceeded their work requirement were minimal – and the more hungry someone became, the less productive he was work-wise. A ‘normal’ day’s ration was a bowl of gruel and just over 1lb of bread.

Twice weekly, German POW’s received lessons in Communism, but there is no evidence that this met with any success. The NKVD was also active in the POW camps hunting out those who had committed war crimes.

German POW’s frequently had to work alongside Russians who had been assigned to various rebuilding tasks.

Germans held as POW’s in British camps had access to Red Cross visits. There was a chance of escape but few attempted to do so especially when it became clear that Nazi Germany was not going to win the war. Many of the British POW camps were in remote areas of Britain. The escape routes that existed in occupied Western Europe and were manned by resistance fighters did not exist in Britain. Without these manned routes with their safe houses, any Germans who did escape were very much by themselves. Crossing into the Irish Republic was a possibility but this still required crossing water. Crossing the English Cannel was a serious problem for anyone wanting to get back to mainland Europe without being seen.

The most common cause of complaint to the Red Cross seems to have been about the cold in the huts they were housed in – i.e. the British weather. Another common complaint was about the quality of food served up. The latter complaint was presumably a common one from a British point of view in a German POW camp.

Once in captivity, a German POW was stripped of any Nazi regalia that they might have on them ranging from ceremonial daggers, badges and arm bands etc.

The number of German POW’s vastly increased as the Allies broke out of their Normandy landing bases in 1944. As the Third Reich started to collapse in 1945, the numbers meant more and more POW camps were needed on mainland Europe. The Germans under the supervision of French troops were sent to work on farms or in mines. There was little reason for any German POW to escape and many simply got on with their lot. After the surrender of Nazi Germany, the priority was to get back to Germany itself men qualified in a trade that Germany needed to rebuild itself. As early as the summer of 1945, POW’s who were builders, farmers, drivers etc were sent back to Germany. However, those suspected of war crimes or being members of a political group were held back for further questioning.

“Our diet was inadequate during the first few months of captivity, and the prisoners lost up to a quarter of their body weight. There was sufficient water available and the hygiene arrangements were satisfactory. The conduct of the British camp supervisors and sentries was correct at all times.” Rudolf Böhmler.

However, medical treatment was an issue.

“A camp hospital was built, but there was a shortage of every kind of medicine. Dental treatment was practically out of the question because of a lack of the necessary instruments and equipment.” Rudolf Böhmler.

In Western Europe, the British and Americans did not have any intention of keeping German POW’s for longer than was necessary. They realised that many of the men they had captured had been conscripted into the war effort by the Nazis and that the vast majority had committed no war crimes. It was also generally believed that they would serve a better purpose rebuilding damaged Germany as opposed to simply languishing in a POW camp.

However, captured SS officers were kept away from regular army POW’s. At a POW camp at Bellaria, they were kept in a special guarded unit. Barbed wire kept both sets of prisoners apart. Whereas the army POW’s were allowed one hour’s exercise outside of the camp, the captured SS men were only allowed to exercise inside the camp and they were escorted by guards at all times.

In the autumn of 1946, senior army officers were transported to a POW camp at Munster. Here they could be visited by relatives who were allowed to bring with them food parcels.

Those suspected of being too politicised by Nazi doctrine, had to face a review board on a regular basis as the Allies were not prepared to release anyone who was suspected of having a Nazi past. A senior Allied officer was the head of any review board and he worked alongside two assessors. Anyone suspected of being politicised was not given a defence councillor but he did have access to an interpreter. The review boards had four categories. If a POW was placed in Categories 1 or 2, he would not be released. Categories 3 or 4 meant that a POW could expect a quick release from a POW camp as he was no longer a POW. However, many were simply moved from a POW camp to a former concentration camp at Neuengamme and held as a civilian detainee until the authorities were convinced that there were no issues concerning these individuals.

German POW’s continued to be held by the Allies for a number of years after the war had ended. The last POW’s held in Egypt returned to Germany in December 1948.


Air Force's Last POW Retires After More Than 30 Years of Service

Air Force Lt. Col. Rob Sweet says he knew what to expect after he was shot down in his A-10 Warthog near Basra, Iraq, in the minutes before he was captured by enemy forces.

It didn't stop him from thinking, "I'm a dead man," he said in a news release recalling the mission.

It was Feb. 15, 1991, during his 30th mission as part of Operation Desert Storm. The 24-year-old first lieutenant and his flight lead and wingman, Capt. Stephen Phillis, went out in their A-10s to strike noteworthy targets and Iraqi Republican Guard tanks near an oil field, dodging surface-to-air missiles and gunfire. They were assigned to the 353rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, operating out of King Fahd International Airport in Saudi Arabia.

Sweet, the service's last serving prisoner of war, retired this week as the deputy commander of the 476th Fighter Group at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, the Air Force said Tuesday. He reflected on his 19 days as a POW and how the experience shaped his life as a pilot and leader.

With heavy fire all around, Sweet -- call sign "Sweetness" -- and Phillis were told to leave the area. But the two held on to check out one last crucial site.

"We left and found a pristine array of tanks that had not been hit, which shocked us because by that point everything had been bombed for the past 30 days," Sweet said in the release.

Then, he felt a hit to the back of his aircraft and part of his right wing, prompting him to eject over enemy territory.

Phillis radioed to search-and-rescue forces after his teammate bailed out and flew around the area to draw gunfire away from Sweet as he floated downward. His aircraft was hit by an Iraqi SA-13, causing Phillis to crash. He was killed in action, according to Air Force Magazine.

More than a dozen Iraqi soldiers arrived to detain Sweet. Once jailed, he was beaten, starved, "fought off diseases, and dealt with emotional and mental torment," the release states.

Sweet was unaware of what happened to Phillis until a prisoner exchange brought him out of confinement.

"I was not without psychological problems," Sweet said. "I had survivor's guilt, and it took me a long time to get over that."

Sweet said he knew Phillis had aimed for a 20-plus service career in the Air Force, so he aspired to do the same. An Air Force Academy graduate, Sweet put in 20 years on active duty before transitioning to the Reserve, according to a separate release. Together, his career spanned 33 years.

He said his most fulfilling assignment was becoming a squadron commander to mold the next generation of pilots.

"You have to find it [motivation] for yourself," Sweet said. "Find a leader you want to emulate and do that. There's fundamentals people need to have in order to be a good leader, of course. One thing is to lead by example and from the front. Secondly, a leader should take all the blame and none of the credit."

Sweet took his final A-10 flight last weekend, what's commonly known as "the fini flight." His friends and family attended the ceremony, where they doused Sweet in water and champagne as he climbed down from the aircraft.

"You've had an outstanding career that I know you, your family, friends and fellow Airmen are proud of," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles "CQ" Brown said in the release to honor Sweet.

"With your retirement, it will be the first time in the history of our Air Force that we will not have a former POW serving. Thank you for all you've done."

Phillis was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions in combat that day. Brig. Gen. Jim Demarest, head of the Florida Air National Guard and a Desert Storm veteran, is lobbying to get Phillis' award upgraded to the Medal of Honor, Air Force Magazine said.


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