Last week we observed Veteran’s day with our speaker, Robert Wideman, former Navy pilot and Vietnam POW.  Robert shared an abbreviated (and personal) version of his book Unexpected Prisoner: Memoir of a Vietnam POW.  The focus of this talk was on his capture and his first several weeks as a POW.

Wideman described the day of his 134th mission over North Vietnam as a beautiful day for an anticipated  “routine” flight.  His aircraft started to roll at 10000 feet and rapidly descended to an unsafe altitude of 6000 feet.  Ejecting, he prayed to God his parachute would open. He sent out a transmission on his radio which was not answered. The sound of a passing bullet proceeded his “crash” landing in a trench where he was unable to quickly get out of his harness.
Fifty feet away he saw a Vietnamese soldier who was quickly joined by others (uniformed and civilians).  He was about to be stabbed by a young man with a bayonet but was saved by the intervention of an elderly farmer.  Soon a young woman started to beat him with a rubber sandal.  He was escorted on foot into the foothills and guarded by NVA soldiers who protected him from a wild civilian mob (apparently motivated by casualties caused by his crashed plane).  He became part of a large convoy of trucks heading south.  He was surprised by the numbers and the ability of this convoy to avoid US airpower.
He soon was presented to his first interrogators.  After he refused to answer questions his arms were tightly bound with ropes causing such pain that he tried to knock himself out by banging his head on the interrogator’s desk. This only caused an increased level of awareness.  After 20 minutes of this “torture” he agreed to answer questions.
Next he was tied in a 2x6 cubicle for the night where it was hard even to urinate.  Early the following morning he was interviewed in English - first with “soft” questions about his home baseball team and family but soon switching to technical questions about his flying. This went on for one week.
He was then transported to Hanoi.  The trip took 4 days and was interrupted by a US bombing run.  In Hanoi he was once again asked questions - now more broad-reaching about such matters as US Naval strength, number of bombers, etc.  When his captors realized his answers were not truthful, he was once again painfully bound.
In 1970 he was transferred to a compound with much improved conditions.  For the next few years the main issue was boredom and the difficulties associated with cramped conditions and difficult “roommates”.  On March 4th he was returned to the US.  PTSD and difficulty with relationships was part of the deal as it is with so many returning combat veterans.  A good reminder for us all on this Veteran’s Day 2020 of the sacrifices of those who defend.