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tv   Oral Histories Vietnam War POW Leon Ellis  CSPAN  April 19, 2021 4:57pm-6:27pm EDT

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graduation, to being relieved of command by president truman during the korean war. watch tonight at 8:00 p.m. eastern and enjoy every weekend on c-span3. american history tv on c-span3. every weekend documenting america's story. funding for american history tv comes from these companies who support c-span3 as a public service. leon ellis served in the air force in the vietnam war. his plane went down during a bombing run and he was held as a prisoner of war for five years. >> i grew up on a farm between athens and commerce, georgia.
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this was growing up in the '50s, i was born in 1943, so growing up in the '50s, my grandfather had been a farmer, we lived with him or he lived with us. my grandmother died and we kind of took care of my grandfather. he was winding down on his farming days, but we had mules. he had a pair of mules when i was real young. eventually he sold off the pair of mules and we had one mule that we used for gardening and we had a full acre of garden, so there was always a lot of work to do there. then we did some farming ourselves, so we grew corn and some hay and some wheat and some oats from time to time. and as a 12 and 13-year-old boy, i was plowing that mule, in the garden, in the cornfields and so on. before i was flying supersonic jets, i was on the south end of a north bound mule.
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it was a unique experience. you think about plowing mules and people had been plowing oxen for years and years, and there i was flying a jet thereafter. it was a very interesting time in history. i loved being outdoors. to back up a little bit, when i was five, my parents took me and my brother down to the veterans show at athens park. there on a pedestal, they had a static airplane from world war ii as they often do in veterans parks, and it was a world war ii fighter plane. i crawled up on that airplane and it was like, okay, this is me, this is what i do. this is going to be my future. and so i went home and i would -- we had a swing on the old front porch as farmhouses often did, and i would get that swing going as high as i could go and then i would drop my mother's cushions from my bombing passes, so that was my introduction to flying.
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and then model airplanes, the balsa woods that we would toss. i didn't have hand control. that was too complicated than i had to spend so i just bought the 29-cent balsa wood ones that you could throw. carved some airplanes out of pine wood. then during the korean war, many flights would come over our farm. i would be out in the fields, in our garden and i would look up and see that formation of airplanes going over. so even though i was working the dirt, my heart was really in the sky and that's where i wanted to be. i always loved being outdoors. i loved adventure, but cautious. my mother was a schoolteacher and a brilliant woman. she graduated from the university of georgia with a phi kappa phi and that kind of stuff. she actually kept house and lived for the woman and cooked for her and cleaned house for
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her room and board so she could go to school. when my mother graduated from the university of georgia in 1931, her father sold a pair of mules -- actually traded a pair of mules with some money and bought her a 1931 ford. that was kind of her going away present. and she went off to south georgia and became a home demonstration agent. but my mom was quite a character and a great influence on all of us. so growing up in that home, we experienced a lot of exposure to intellectual things. she went back when they -- sputnik went up. the government funded the national science foundation and she got a scholarship for her masters in science to teach science. so i was exposed to a lot of science and i was always interested in those kinds of things. model airplanes -- in the eighth grady sat in -- the library was my homeroom. i sat next to the a's.
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i think it was by chance, so i sat next to the a's, and we would go in 15 minutes early and get the roll call and i would pull out a notebook with an a on it. like aeronautical engineering, airplanes, and i would read for 15 minutes about airplanes. in high school i got into athletics. my mom's brother had two brothers who played football and they played at university of georgia in the 1950s when i was 10, 11, 12 years old. my mother was a great football fan. she knew all the players. she just was a fan of sports, but especially football. and so growing up there was so easy to get to the university of georgia, i started watching
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games for $1, student tickets when i was in ninth grade, but i actually went to my first game when i was about 9 or 10 years old. so i played football in the days when we played both ways at commerce high school. we actually left medicine county schools and went to commerce. my brother and i learned how to play football. i played both ways. i played quarterback on offense and today what would be called cornerback on defense. it was a small school, so i played basketball, i ran track and i played baseball. my world was occupied with sports, which i loved. i love being outdoors, i liked things physical. but at age 11, i learned to drive a car. at 12 i was driving trucks in the field as well as mules, so i'm adventurous and i started to talk about my mother a while ago because my mother was a very confident person and a very outgoing person but she had fears about things on farms and people getting injured. so she was always overconcerned
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about us. and so that caused me to be cautious, which turned out to be good. once i learned to be not overly cautious, because to be a good fighter pilot, you have to be very confident and very adventurous and risk taking, but you have to be good at risk taking or you'll die very quickly. so being able to calculate the risk versus reward and go right to the edge but not over it and get killed was actually a fundamental thing in my profession that i kind of came about -- something in my personality but also a lot about growing up and being adventurous but always having that awareness that there is real danger out there, and being able to balance the two. and that played out in my years later when i was a p.o.w. as well, that ability to go to the edge and execute very risky things and not get caught. it was kind of like a cat and mouse game at times.
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i'm jumping ahead there. i wanted to fly, but, you know, there was nobody in my family that was flying. i didn't know anybody flying. i wanted to go to the air force academy but it was brand new and we didn't have the internet, we didn't have counselors in school to tell you -- help you figure that out, and so there was nobody in my life to walk me through that. but the university of georgia was nearby, so that's where i was going to go to college and get my degree, but quick as i got in, of course, and you had to be back in those days a member of some r.o.t.c. for two years. that was a land grant college rule. so i got into the air force r.o.t.c. and i really loved it. at the end of my sophomore year, my brother's brother who played football was a doctor. so i knew it was doctors. it was interesting. there was some risk and adventure in being that and i liked science. but as quick -- at the end of my
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sophomore year, i had passed the written and the physical. i did really well on the written because i had been studying airplanes all those years, and so they said, would you like a contract to become a pilot? air force r.o.t.c. your junior and senior year, you would be on contract and then you would be a pilot when you graduate. absolutely, that's what i wanted, and i went across campus and changed my major from premed to history so i could kind of coast through it. i was not a good student. i wasn't very disciplined with academics. i was probably a.d.d. and didn't know it because i just couldn't sit down and study very long. fortunately, from my upbringing and having a good memory of hearing things and seeing things, i was able to get through the university of georgia in four years, which now is not the norm, by the way. they string it out because they're having a good time. they go five and six years. but i was working my way through school so i had to get through
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and get out. three days after i graduated and finished university of georgia, i entered flight school in valdosta, georgia at moody air force base. you probably can imagine after hearing my story how thrilling that was and how excited i was, where a lot of guys who were very concerned this was going to be hard and this is going to be difficult and we have to work hard at this, leon ellis went there to play and enjoy flying. i didn't have any money in college to play much, and now i get a paycheck every month, and i have a nice apartment on base and a paycheck, and i just bought my new car and the college was 10 minutes away, so flight school was a wonderful, wonderful year. i did well flying, i had good flying skills and all that, so it all went well. i dated a lot of girls at valdosta state college, but i knew that we were probably going
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to go to war and i just kind of kept my distance from getting too involved, and so i had a girlfriend or two, but i just knew that wasn't for me right now. i was in a wedding or two for a couple of my friends who met girls at valdosta state and got married, and one of them didn't come back, and that was the sad part of our era that we lived. in august of 1966, 53 weeks after going to valdosta, i received my wings. that was a big day. mom and dad was there, my girlfriend was there, all that, but, you know, that assignment said f-4 phantom pipeline southeast asia. which meant as quick as they could get us combat trained, we were going to war. the war was building up quickly in vietnam at that time, so it
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could be vietnam and it could be an assignment to thailand because we had air bases in thailand that we were bombing over the north and in south vietnam. i was assigned to georgia air force base in the high desert of southern california near victorville and napa valley. roy rogers lived just around the corner from where i lived, and i went by his house every morning to go to work. it was a neat place. high desert, doesn't rain much, a little bit cool in the wintertime, the wind blows a lot. but we were 90 miles from los angeles, maybe an hour and a half, and about two and a half hours over las vegas. i never went to las vegas, but we were right on the main highway that goes on the interstate from los angeles to las vegas. the flying was great.
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we did everything they did in top gun, plus we did the air to ground, the bombing and all that. so it was a lot of fun. we played some golf along the way, and one of my buddies that i met in our survival school and then became close friends with was a guy named lance slyjohn. we were single together, we met a lot of nice young ladies around and played a lot of golf. we went off to war together, lance did not come back. he's the only air force academy graduate still to be awarded the congressional medal of honor. he was shot down two days after me. he made it 46 days in laos where he was shot down, badly, badly injured, crawling 46 days. finally captured. escaped. captured again, brought to hanoi and he died in hanoi 30 or 40 feet away from me, and i didn't
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know it was him delirious and yelling and screaming until two years later until someone passed to me the story. and i realized it was my buddy, lance. after the war i became good friends with his parents and janine, his sister and i are good friends, and we collaborated and she's working on a documentary that will premiere in june this year about lance's story. it's a great, great story. a rare human being of being both a focussed person and a relationship person, someone we respected and loved and he didn't make it and we honored him as we did all the veterans from vietnam. backing up, lance and i were at georgia air force base, and we had some interesting experiences there flying, incredible flying. we would take off in the morning in a flight of four and fly below 400 feet, below 200 feet
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sometimes. at faster than 500 miles per hour. when you're a kid who plowed with mules but always wanted a hot rod, it was great. i listen to podcasts called ready for takeoff podcasts. it's all aviators. pilots really became infatuated with flying somewhere between the age of 5 and 10, and they never let go of it and they end up flying. there are exceptions to that but that is the rule. so here we are doing what we always wanted to do. i had one interesting story that i'll tell because -- it wasn't so famous then but now it is. i met this lovely young lady -- two of them. both brunettes, both beautiful college girls, and one of them's father retired.
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she was home for some reason, so she left, and that left the other one. and her fiance had just been shot down in vietnam. he was just like me except a year ahead of me. he was the class of '64 from the academy, and i'm the class of '65 from georgia, and because i was a distinguished graduate from r.o.t.c. i got to go to the class of '65. that's why lance and i were classmates in our flight school and training. she was in shock and trauma, really, and in recovery she dropped out of school and came home to be with her parents. we were having dinner one night and she said, would you like to go to my father's retirement party friday night? i said, probably not, i wouldn't know anybody there, they were all colonels and people like that and i wouldn't know anybody. she said, he was general dolittle in the dolittle raid. i said, what time does it start? i would love to be there.
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it was an interesting night because there was general dolittle, mrs. dolittle and colonel cole who is 97 and still alive, or maybe 98 now, and the cole family. it was like a kids' soccer game. you know, the crowd is with general dolittle and you know to be polite you have to rotate. then we go to mrs. dolittle and talk about her and then back to general dolittle all night long. it was a great memory i had being locked up in the p.o.w. camp to have met general dolittle. and to be with the coles, colonel cole was a great guy and wonderful people. it was a real privilege. special to be in that opportunity and that particular situation. so we go to vietnam in the end of june 1967.
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lance and i and our buddies got on a chartered continental airlines flight from travis air force base, california near san francisco to fly to park air base in the philippines to go through jungle survival school which was a requirement en route to vietnam. in fact, we had assignments to thailand which was a good deal because there is no war going on in thailand and you get to sleep at night in barracks where there is no war going on, and then fly your flight and get credit for your missions and all that. we took off and leveled off, and sure enough, lance and i, quick as we got leveled off, we were back talking to the flight attendants. we got dates with these -- we called them stewardesses. we had dates with these women the next night at clark air base. lance and the woman he met
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really hit it off, lenora. if you read the book "into the mouth of the cat," you'll read about lenora. they dedicated an f-4 in milwaukee last memorial day of 2017, and i met lenora again for the first time. she would drop in occasionally as part of her continental crew. they went home and picked up marines and took them back home and we would see her from time to time. the wars are always very interesting, how things happen during wars and connections are made and all sorts of things. there's always romance, adventure, all of that packed in with the trauma and the dying and the injuries that go with war. well, we went through jungle survival -- and as we're getting ready to leave, they said, everybody going to uban, thailand, stand up. uber, not you, ellis, not you, you're going to danang. right away we started flying combat missions.
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lance and i were undergraduate pilot training so we were in the back of the f-4 at the time flying with majors and captains in the front seat. we were pretty strong personalities and we quickly adapted and got a lot of experience. so we were flying with new guys in country checking them out. about half the time we were flying with new front seaters who had just come in and didn't know the rules of engagement and didn't know the terrain or area of operations we were in, so we had that opportunity. we became their instructor pilots, so to speak. we flew about half the mission and they flew half. they had ammunition in the back that we didn't have. but it was a team effort and we quickly started to rack up sorties. by november i was on my 53rd
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sortie in north vietnam. i had others in south vietnam for the marine corps, and those were really good missions and we enjoyed those. most of our missions were on the ho chi minh trail. we would fly there day and night, three shifts a day, and we would rotate two weeks on the first shift, three weeks on the second shift afternoon and early evening and two weeks on the late night shift, and then we would rotate to the next shift. so we had airplanes ready to fly and in the air flying missions 24 hours a day flying the ho chi minh trail, and the goal was to stop supplies from the army to the south. we bought watches over there because you could buy them for 11.95.
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it had the day of the week on it. sunday the day was red. that's how we knew it was sunday because seven days a week was always the same. time passed fairly quickly. i had been there a couple months, two and a half months, and so they said, hey, would you like to go to tinan air base and pick up an f-4 and bring it back here. we have an inspect and repair facility in tinan down in the island of taiwan. you'll go from here to the philippines and then fly over there and pick it up. so i did. it was a nice trip, a little r and r away from the base and away from combat. the major and i went over. we had a really good time, picked up an airplane, brought it back. i get back, and i had been back for a few weeks and lance said,
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hey, lenora is coming to bangkok the first week in november. let's go. i'll get her to get you a date, let's go to bangkok. i said, lance, i was just gone for ten days. i got to get my counter so i can stay abreast of my peers and go home when they go home. he said, i got to go to bangkok, i really wish you would go. no, i got to stay here and fly. he goes to bangkok first week of november. i go down on the 7th of november. he gets back that afternoon and finds out -- well, the next day -- he gets back the 8th and finds out i had gone down, and then he goes down the next day. now, the report says that i was shot down by anti-aircraft artillery attacking a gun site, which is all true. but i'm convinced that the airplane -- well, the airplane blew up the minute the bombs
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came off the rack. you know as a pilot you feel the bombs. we had six 750-pound bombs come off the airplane and you can hear it and you can feel it. that's a lot of weight in the airplane, and the airplane kind of rises up sharply when the bombs come off because there is a lot of weight going on. less than two seconds after those bombs came off, our airplane blew into several pieces and started tumbling. later the wing man said the airplane blew into three pieces. so pretty clear to me that, in retrospect, that we were the first of about 10 airplanes that were blown out of the sky over the next 60 days by the fm-35 fuse that had just come out, and it was electronic. it was supposed to be a delayed fuse so we could drop them and they would lay them on the ground and they would go off later when the trucks came by or whatever. we weren't committed, we weren't supposed to have that kind of fuses that day, but i think that's what happened, because i've never heard of an airplane being hit and blowing up into
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three pieces unless it was hit by a surface air missile, and there were none of those around. i'm pretty sure that we were the first, lance was the second. he went down two days later. his airplane blew up on a bombing run just after a bomb relief. his airplane blew up, and that continued to happen until our d.o. refused to fly those fuses anymore. but i lost my roommate -- my roommate in the combat zone. lance was across the hall and down the hall a little bit. he was in a sister squadron and my roommate doug went down and he didn't come back, either. finally there was a mission where they spread out and watched the bombs come off, and they saw a bomb explode right after they came off the airplane. they saw the bombs explode, and there was no anti-aircraft artillery, the bombs just exploded. they confirmed what it was. so the pilots started to refuse to fly and our d.o., who was
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kind of famous, went to the air force in saigon and told the general, you can court martial me but we're not flying those fuses anymore. >> can you tell us what a d.o. is? >> the d.o. is a colonel who is director of operations. now in the air force that's called an ops group commander. they made it a commander slot. then it was a staff job. it would be the same thing as a cag in the navy, the combat air commander that runs the air group, the d.o. responsible for all flying operations on the base or the carrier. thank you. so kyle booth was an ace in the korean war and very famous in the air force. he wrote a little manual called "no guts no glory" for air-to-air combat. he was a great pilot. i actually flew with him a good bit. we were friends there and i met him when we came back home. he was a two-star general then.
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my airplane blew up 7th of november, 1967 over enemy territory over the gunners that we had been bombing. and i knew i had to eject. so i immediately -- we were going to die in two seconds. we were going to hit the ground, so i pull that handle to eject and so did my front seater right after i did, and it's all automatic. when you pull that handle, it automatically blows a canopy, it automatically, this projectile explosion that runs under the seat, the gas tubes that project your seat with you in it about 60 feet in the air to get away from the tail and away from the airplane. then automatically the separator activates and it throws you out of the seat. the seat goes one way and the pilot goes the other way. as the seat goes that way, the lanyard for my parachute is
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attached to the seat and it pulled it automatically. everything happens automatically once you pull that handle. in less than two and a half seconds i'm checking my parachute. the training is great. we knew exactly what to do. i didn't panic. you talk to any combat person or any ems person, when you're in chaos and the heat of the battle, you just go to training by the numbers. one, two, three, four, five. that's what you do. we were very well trained and that's what i did. i wasn't afraid then, i was just operating knowing what i had to do to make sure everything was okay and then do everything possible to evade capture. the only thing in my mind is how can i evade capture. i tried to slip my parachute to the river which was a couple meters south. those parachutes don't slip too well. i need a perfect parachute fall and i didn't have any injuries. i hit all the points just like a paratrooper.
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i had been so well trained. turned on my radio, jumped into an old bomber crater that was there. i jumped into this crater that was about 3 feet deep. called my man and said, i'm on the ground, i'm headed south. i saw these guys ate reunion after the war, these pilots and my wing man. they said, you know, we heard your radio call but we decided we couldn't shoot that well. we might hit you. and i said, that was a good call because they were surrounding me within 30 seconds, they were capturing me. i tried to fight them. i had a .38 revolver and i had an empty chamber under the hammer of a smith & wesson. we had been told in survival school that people around you, militia, they're rookies when it comes to capturing p.o.w.s, so that's your best chance to get away. i thought, these are rookies,
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we'll see. i fired a round of tracer above them and said, get away, get away. those guys didn't flinch. they went like this. one pulled out a tiny book and on one side it had phonetic vietnamese to english, and on the other side it showed a picture of a pilot with his helmet on holding up his hands, and it said, surrender, no die. here's this guy in the heat -- they're shooting at my wing man, and it's just chaos. and this guy goes, surrender, no die, surrender, no die! hands up, hands up! and i decided that was probably the best advice i was going to get that day, and i went like this, and they pounced on me and they couldn't do the zippers on my survival vest and my g suit, so they finally whipped out a big knife and started cutting, and that was scary. right now it's all over for me right now as far as getting away
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or resisting, i'm just totally out of control. that's when the shock hit. the fear, the shock, the trauma of what -- it's like -- that movie, what kind of story have we fallen into? i think it's a c.s. lewis story, then "the tales of narnia," what kind of tale have i fallen into? they stripped me down to my jockey shorts and i'm terrified. they gave me my flight suit back, my boots. they blindfolded me and i had about a 30-second connection with my front seater captain ken fisher. we were in an underground bomb shelter and i had a long enough time to say, ken, is that you? i heard someone breathing hard. he said, is that you, are you okay?
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i said yeah. they separated us. they had a rope around my neck like a dog on a leash walking around. my hands are tied and i've got a blindfold on. they're pulling me along, and they pull me village to village, hamlet to hamlet. i look out that blindfold and i see this ditch. my mind goes to stories about the korean war where some were taken out back and just shot in a ditch and covered up. i thought, this is how it's going to end. in a moment of pure panic, i'm about to die, i just -- the only thing i can think is i'm going to face him and he's going to have to shoot me face on. i turn around and threw my head back so i could see up under that blindfold a little bit and here's this guy with their gun like this and they're yelling and screaming.
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one of them grabbed me and spun me back around facing the ditch again. same thing, it's like, i'm not going to be shot in the back. i spun back around. oh, they just went crazy. they're yelling and screaming and cussing in vietnamese. another guy grabs me and spins me around again, and this time he kicked me right in the butt and i go to balance, and like we used to do on the farm, i just did a flat foot jump. the ditch was about two feet wide, and when i did, they jumped over and started laughing. all they wanted me to do was jump the ditch and go to the next hamlet. sometimes what we assume is going to happen, thank goodness, is not what really happened. that was a great relief, and i guess then i thought, okay, maybe i'm going to live through this. i grew up in a strong christian home, and i always believed god had a prepare for me and that i could trust him, and so at this point i was kind of like ronald reagan was later when he was shot.
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i said, okay, i lived through this so there must be something yet i'm supposed to do in this life, so my job is to do my duty, be a good soldier and get through this. that kind of became my moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day, month by month, year by year commitment now. i get to hanoi, took two weeks getting to hanoi at which time we were bombed three times. i watched them drop bombs 200 or 300 meters from me. i walked out of a foxhole and bombs are blowing up. there's pieces of red hot bomb shrapnel about this long and this long laying on the road right beside where my foxhole was, so that was kind of interesting. the local popolous came after me a couple times, and the sergeant
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was a great, honorable person and he and his soldiers protected me. he had orders to bring me in alive, and he was a good man and he protected me. i've been back to vietnam, i didn't get a chance to go back to this area, but i would like to see him and shake his hand, because he took care of me to get to hanoi. we get to the hanoi hilton. i didn't, at the time, know it was called the hilton, i don't think. i learned that after i had been there a little while. but all the american p.o.w.s were in one corner, the top -- when you, i guess the northwest corner of that place we called little vegas. everything has to be named. somebody had named it the hanoi hilton. that was a dark humor kind of thing. when you're in trouble, you have to laugh even when things are terrible. so they named it little vegas in
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that cell blocks. there was several cell blocks and they were all named after the old casinos in las vegas. so i went into the thunderbird, but down the hall was the mint and they were confinement cells. then beside us were two small cell blocks, then there was the riviera and the gold nugget. outside they didn't have roofs on them, but the whole thing was to keep us from seeing any other p.o.w.s and keep us totally isolated. my cell was a 6.5x7' cell. it was like a very small closet or bathroom. that was my cell for the next few months. there were four total, three other guys and me. our bathroom was a 3-gallon bucket and thank goodness it had a lid on it.
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we had to empty it every morning. we only got out to pick up our food twice a day, and that was six months of pumpkin soup with a side dish of a couple tablespoonfuls of student pumpkin and rice or baguette twice a day. we had what we called sewer greens and it was like chopped-up spinach. we had rice and our bread and veggies. thin, watery soup with a pack in it, but it was boiled. that was nice because it helped protect us from the germs. the communists did something
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right. the thing i think to understand about the vietnam war was the problem was the communists, not the vietnamese people. we all loved the vietnamese people, they were wonderful people. i met a family heading north and stayed in their home one night, and they were wonderful people. just like family in georgia or anywhere else. some of my best friends are vietnamese living in this country. vietnamese people are wonderful just like every other country in the world. wonderful people. that kind of gives you an idea of my initial shoot-down and capture in hanoi. now, during those next nine months, i got there november the 21st. just before thanksgiving, just before christmas, and there was a lot going on.
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they were capturing a lot of people. in 1967, operation rolling thunder was a big pace and they were shooting down and capturing a lot of people. so they were busy. the interrogators were busy interrogating a lot of people, so i didn't get into any serious consequences until after january. they were building up for a big pr campaign at christmastime to get some photo ops to show the world how well they were treating us. they did serve us a special meal, and some guys, the catholics, all got to go to mass downtown. they blindfolded them, put them in a truck or van, hauled them down to mass. a few of them, maybe 15 or 20, down to mass where the catholic priest lectured them about participating in the war during the mass. and we heard some of that on the radio.
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every cell in north vietnam where american p.o.w. is were, they had electricity. we called it a bitch box where three times a day we got propaganda, trying to convince us they were right and we were wrong. they also were telling us -- right after christmas they tried telling us we were war criminals. that was a big shock. we had gone through some pretty good training but we had never been told that we're going to be treated as war criminals, and that was the big shocker, because they told us we were going to be tried as war criminals and we might not ever go home if we didn't collaborate and cooperate -- not collaborate, cooperate with them and help them in the war. what they wanted was for us to make anti-war propaganda. and that was the battle. we wanted to live by the code of conduct, be faithful to our country. the code of conduct has six articles called the fighting man's code. but basically you want surrender of your own free will, you'll
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keep faith with your country and its allies, you won't make statements harmful to them, you'll keep pace with your fellow p.o.w.s. if you're a senior, you'll take command. if not, you'll obey the lawful orders of those above you. so that was questions other than rank and order number and date of birth. so our goal was to live by the code of conduct and deny them any advantage by having us as p.o.w.s, because they wanted to take advantage of us as hostages. so it was a battle every day. every time we saw them we were supposed to bow. that was a daily battle. they would beat us over the head until we would bow. some days we would bow and when we got our courage up, they would not bow, and it was off and on.
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guerrilla warfare going on all the time. they brought a three-page biography to our cells. we figured they were collecting a dossier on pilots to build a database on american pilots fort russians. but they wanted to know everything about our family and how much money our parents earned and what kind of work they did and where we had been assigned and what kind of schools we had been to and all this kind of stuff. so, you know, i put down name, rank, service number, date of birth and left the rest of it blank. those four were the big four we could give and did give. then they came back and hauled us out into interrogation, and my buddies went, too. i had a good cop/bad cop. one interrogator is telling me he doesn't want to hurt you, but he will terrorize you and put electricity on your heart. eventually they did torture.
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my hands were in handcuffs and my legs were in leg irons and i was put down on the floor, on the concrete floor slab with my hands above my head. and so, okay, well, that's no big deal. well, after hours my hands would cramp and my knees were wobbly and i would fall over. and when i did, they would come in and start kicking and beating. so we went back and forth over that all night long and the next day. finally i decided, okay, i was just worn out from all of that. i couldn't figure out a way to beat them, and i said, okay, how am i going to win this battle? i was kind of negotiating with myself, and i couldn't come up with a plan that i could keep doing this forever, so somewhere eventually i'm going to give in.
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my plan was, okay, i'll give in but i'm not going to give in. although i didn't know the company policy exactly on how to fight this battle yet. what came about was about what i later learned was the company policy, so to speak, the guidance from our leaders. that was to take torture up to the point of permanent physical damage and give as little as possible and then bounce back. you have to stay in the battle. the one thing you couldn't do was totally go until you were totally submissive because then they would have you. you would do what they wanted. so i gave in and i filled out their three-page biography, and the only thing that was accurate of that three-page biography was my father's first and last name, and i put down the town where i went to high school. it wasn't actually our mailing
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address, but we knew the postmaster in that town, and everybody knew me because it was a little town in georgia, commerce, georgia. i just put my father's first name, leon ellis, and last name in commerce, georgia. that way i knew -- it was protecting them but at the same time i was hoping to get a letter. and that was my angle, to get a letter someday. so i'm laying on this filthy floor, my hands handcuffed and blindfolded. i was crying like a baby because i felt so ashamed that i let my country down, i let my teammates down. i wasn't able to beat them. i was just weak. weaker than i thought.
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i had played football both ways, i tackled 190-pound running backs, i never backed off of anything. combat flying, no problem. but this was something i couldn't beat. and i was so ashamed. so i get back to my cell and eventually we all get back together, and i found out -- the other guys have gone through the same thing, and we ended up in the same place. some went less time than i did, some went more time than i did before giving in, but we all did the exact same thing. we filled out the thing with a bunch of b.s. and that was it. then later they wanted me to make a -- a few months later they wanted me to make a tape. they wanted me to record the news of camp radio. which i went through the same thing again, and eventually i agreed to do it again. i went on there and said, i can't talk, i need something to drink, so they brought some hot
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tea, and i got a mouthful of that in, and i was -- we would read words, you know. one of the funny ones that one of the guys said was chica go for chicago. just messing up the language in subtle ways that they couldn't catch. but all the guys back in the cells heard it and they got a laugh out of him. the best one was one of the guys, alan bredno, who was a brilliant guy from m.i.t. and the northeast guy. he went through the same thing and he got on the radio and he was reading the news about the paris peace talks and so and so's and our beloved leader's president is supposed to be ho chi minh. and he said, our beloved leader, horseshit minh. everybody was rolling on the floor.
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they could beat us, but they couldn't beat us. we were going to fight back and not give up. that's where you had to stay in the battle. they're the enemy, we're the good guys. it's us against them. okay, you have me today but you really don't have me because i'm about to pull the string on you. one guy was tortured to say who was the commander that ordered him -- no, who are some of the people in your squadron that refuse to fly combat missions against north vietnam. finally they said, okay. it was captain ben casey and captain clark kent. well, when that got out, the peace delegation that came over told them these americans had made them look like fools balls everybody in america knew that
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was the joke, that they were basically saying, you know, something is fishy here. so those guys got tortured and put in solitary confinement for a long time. because the peace people ratted on them, basically. that was life in the p.o.w. camps. most of the time, so much of those years were hours and hours of boredom, and we had to come up with ways to keep up with time. well, your mind kept up with the days of the week. people said, how did you keep up with time? that was the easiest thing. i can tell you i was shot down on tuesday. i got to hanoi on tuesday the 21st. the days of the week, the months, there was not much noise going on so your brain kept up with all of that. but we could remember almost anything. you know, when you're sitting there hours and hours, kind of like in "unbroken" when louie
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zaparini was in that raft for 16 days, he could do i understand of remember everything. that's how we were. you take away the noise, and it's right there in your brain. i played golf courses in my head. i played apple valley country club, asperia. i learned how to play music again. i spent a long time reflecting on myself. i had a very strong ego, confident fighter pilot. in that situation, though, i was able to see my dark side and i was really ashamed of some of the things i had done. i never did anything bad, but my -- kind of being judgmental and being kind of -- it was kind
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of a hereditary thing, not hereditary, but a cultural thing in my family, and one member of my family was kind of looking down their nose at others. they were very educated. the other side wasn't, they were all farmers. but that kind of penetrated into my world of thinking, so i had to really rein myself in and realize who i was and see the dark side. i was kind of lazy. i had a lot of nightmares about the war. those were just battles. but the nightmares about going to camp, those were there. i learned to think and plan several steps ahead. eventually we got a real primitive chess set. my senior ranking officer taught me how to play chess, and that was a real gift because i
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learned how to think ahead in ways i had never done before. i spent -- one time spent several days thinking about my eighth grade class and where everyone in my eighth grade class sat just for something to do. mainly because my teacher had assigned homework and i didn't do it. i spent one month deciding, what am i going to do when i get home? i know i can go into the military, but i need to think about other things. i said, maybe i'll be a lawyer. i spent months thinking about what kind of lawyer i would be and where to go to law school. and i would think about it for hours a day, planning, and i would interrogate my teammates, and we had a way of tapping and talking through the wall in our cells. i learned a lot about law schools and things like that. at one time i farmed for two months. i started with 40 acres.
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i didn't have to pay any taxes, and i tried to be reasonable for prices for barbed wire and land and fertilizer and all that. at the end of two months, i owned the farm. and prices for barbed wire and leaned and fertilizer and all that but the end of the two months. amaretto our. i have no idea now how i could do that but i did. it is normal. it wasn't just me. all the p.o.w.'s did that, so the human mind, human body is so amazing. we got sick with flu in the winter. one time pink i went through, i don't get, that but one time 60% of the guys at the camp got that. i think that. that eventually our bodies just wore out. everything that you can get sick from eventually usually your body will wear it out.
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our diet wasn't the greatest. in fact, a lot of guys kept very very, i think at a touch of it once until i started having some aching in my thighs all the time. but some of the guys, before i got there in 1966 the camp di it was so bad that about half the camp got some loss of the vision, not there, vision but they lost their flying vision from that. but that guy became, he's the only one of us that became a four star general. our leaders, we have four that were shot up in 1965. i got there in 1967, the so they had been there for more than 20 years since i had got there and they were senior ranking officers in camp. one would be locked up an isolation. each one spent more than four
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years in solitary confinement. there were their seven and a half years. they were beaten and tortured the most of anyone in the camps because they were the senior ranking officers. they were trying to break them, trying to get them to do propaganda, scott dale, and larry green, oh amazing. then carl, whose older but tortured a lot and in very bad condition for very long time. he wasn't there as long. and he was a world war ii veteran. a marine from world war ii and then became a fighting power. so stockdale died early in 1882, -- and bobby roger were two months short of 89. marino was 92. that's how long the lived. which proves that suffering will kill you. if you make you a better person. no one wants to be a better
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person. suffering won't kill you. these guys lived very fruitful lives. general boyd is maybe -- now, in a fly by he did the missing man pull up by his t34 t34 over the monument, the air base space for a big celebration there. you can imagine being 80 and find your t34 around the country and riding this motorcycle. so our guys have done well. i think that one of the reasons that we did, well when we had great training. two we had great leadership. the rumor a little bit of a select group because they were mostly aircrews and a little bit older. i was the youngest guy in the camp and i got there when i was 20, three just turned 24 rather. the average age was 30 at capture so we were pretty mature group. if we had all been 18 years old
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we would have stood a chance because you don't have the maturity and resilience. a 18-year-old doesn't as a 30-year-old. that leadership made a difference. another thing that most people don't know that made a big difference for us was won the national league of families. the lives especially eastern eight in -- virginia beach, and phoenix, they started to get together, the p.o.w. wives, many of them didn't know if they were mia or p.o.w. wives. they just do their husbands for missing. they start to get their lives organized. then because of mutual support because they had something in common. one of them said that the government has told us to be quiet, it's in our best interests, our son's best interests, to keep quiet. so after two years some of them decided that this is not working. we need to go public. we need to get a movement going
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to get a count of, we need to find out who's a p.o.w.. we need to get the -- in to get red cross and letters. red cross packages and letters. those are the main things. accounting who is there. inhumane treatment. they knew about this time there was some information leaking out that we were not being well treated. so they committed to do that. carol hanson, who was at that time am i a life of a military helicopter pilot. she's the one who wanted to start. it commanders stockdale at the time, his wife was a senior aviation wife. -- one of the senior air force wives. they all got organized. nationally the p.o.w. mia families got going. they went to stockdale in my
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book. a talk about civil, she had 14 your age boys. she rented a house in san diego and rented a house in washington d.c. as the chairwoman of p.o.w. mia families and she started to meet with president nixon and kissinger and the department of defense and they started putting pressure. finally said here is the deal. in a nice way either you change your policy and start raising hell about our men and putting pressure on them to give accounting. or we will do it. so if you don't do it it will be up to us. you can align with us and come alongside and get on a floater you can be against us. you've got a choice. these guys are politicians. they're not stupid. the u.s. government changed its policy. the six weeks secretary of defense was beating on the podium talking about the lack
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of accounting, and so on. along comes ross perot. a man in his forties who had gone to the naval academy. graduated in 50. for got. now top salesman in ibm. left there in the start his own company. great patriot, and he knew a lot of the p.o.w. mia families in dallas and he came alongside with the money. he's a millionaire. successful businessman. when he puts his mind to something it usually happens. he funded and encouraged the wives of families in this operation of the national league of p.o.w. mia families to this group that many of them were able to fly to paris and confront the communist delegates diplomats at the p.o.w., at the paris peace talks where they were negotiating around the square table and then the roundtable for years. four years they were negotiating. and so, --
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i was chairman of the national league for the state of the union and she got more than 1 million signed letters and petitions. and she, tuck these other wives did as well, big bags of letters, this was a pr campaign, dump them out in front of the delegates in paris and had the media there and they take video and pictures of this came out around the world. the communists wanted all bad pr against the u.s. and that is what they were making many. on all of a sudden they are making bad pr. this all happened. the spring and summer of 1969. well things have a way of happening. ho chi minh died in september of 1969. it took the bureau of communist north vietnam about a month of meetings and negotiating's and tracking around for them to come up with a new chairman and leader. the new leadership in hanoi decided that they don't like the bad pr and they probably
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need to change our treatment and tried to get good pr. and so that is what happened. within a few weeks, they stopped all the torture. summer of 16 that had been. how the summer of 69 the way to combat the bad pr is they were tortured guys and i can. i was at a camp that was rated in the fall of 70 by special forces. they were torturing guys. going through our camp, torturing them asking for them to sign a statement requiring lenient treatment. think about that. that's how communist thank. the ends justify the means. we need to make them signed the statement and then we can show the world. we got it. we will blackmail them with this. or combat them with us. but when the communist changed the treatment they chop stop the torture for the most.
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part there were a few locations for the most. part one was beaten. for all practical purposes we want to live and let live. the christmas of 1969, six months later got my first letter, the summer of 70 and they started to get packages. the amazing thing is, this group of mostly women, supported by ross perot and the citizens of this country, took action but change the policy of the u.s. government. change the policy of the communist government in north vietnam. that changed our treatment. two years or more than two years before we came home. so we have time to live and let live. locked up, not great food, not
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great health care. no health care for the most part. a lot of propaganda. but we have time to decompress and get our head on straight and month by month, week by week, day by day, to get rid of our anger and our bitterness and our shame. and guilt. about being p.o.w.'s. and come home and good health, in good shape. our ptsd has been fairly minimal. i mean most of us have had a little counseling along the way. it has been helpful. i think we were control three freaks for the most part anyway, you are a fighter pilot your control freak because you're in life and death business. in a like a surgeon. you don't like a surgeon you can't tell you can tell them some but you can't tell the much, because there's a lot of truth to that we believe
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strongly who we are in being in control. but our ability to be successful after we came back, and you have good lives and good marriages. most all of us have had very successful marriages. most of the guys who are single, got married within two years. i met my wife a year after i got back. married seven months later, we've been married now going on 44 years. now some of that is because she is a marriage therapist. that helped a lot. but a lot of it was because i worked through a lot of things to become a better person. and i learned to live with somebody else 24 hours a day, seven days a week for years. i live with ken fischer for three years. the only time we didn't see each other all day long 24 hours a day, was when we are in terror geisha interrogation or torture. we learn to put up with other
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peoples idiosyncrasies that were similar or different, and you can imagine what that was like. but we learn to get along. so, i think the story of the families and of course they suffered the most, they always do. but the organization and these were not paid leaders, these are people who got together and the leadership they exerted to change our culture, to change our treatment, and enable us to come home the way we did. we have had congressman, senators, preachers, doctors, lawyers, business owners and generals we had 17 flag officers come back. generals and admiral's. and a lot of us made colonel. so you know, at our 40th anniversary we're sitting around the table in san antonio, where we had our 40th anniversary. the p.o.w. group. we used to have anniversaries every five years, them was three years, and now it's down to two years, because we are
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dying off so fast. we are starting to die off. there's still a lot of us around but we are dying off. so two years works out about right. but there's about eight or ten of us sitting around a big roundtable and talking. and one of the guy said, you know i would never volunteer to be a p.o.w. but i wouldn't change a thing. everybody, everybody at that table agreed with that. no either i would not change a thing. i would not be the person i am today if i had not gone through that. and you know i have a leadership consulting company here in atlanta for 20 years now. when i speak and when 2012 came out i became a professional speaker. so talk about being the battle, to become to be a mission focused person, and a relationship people focused
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person. because 40% of the population naturally are results oriented, mission accomplished. but 40% is born with dna for relationships. but to be a good leader you have to do both. that's where the battle is. you have to get some skills for the one you don't have, to get a bit better. you cannot change yourself much. but you can practice some skills intentionally and have a learning. the other battle is the battle between confidence and humility. nobody wants to follow a leader who is not confident. but nobody wants to follow a leader who only thinks about themselves. so there is this battle between some results, relationship, confidence and humility. to be able to fight that battle within yourself, and you have the self awareness and the commitment to fight that battle, it is an ongoing ongoing challenge. we learn to fight that battle in and paid out p.o.w. camp. and it's helped us to stay grounded, and we will tell you we are still fighting the
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battle. i will always be working to become a better listener. i will always be working to not be to controlling. and not be too strongly opinionated about my pinion's. and to be humble. not too humble, and i think that is you know people want to follow somebody, they are attracted to people who get results, and get victories. they want to be on a winning team, but they also know that they are cared about and valued. them they want to be with somebody who is confident, but not too confident self-awareness, but other awareness. when you can work on that, it makes life very challenging but fun they are always growing. i'm headed towards 75, i will be 75 in october. i don't want to ever keep growing, i always want to be growing as a person.
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some because that's the only way you can become a better leader. you can go through all the leadership workshops, you can read all the leadership work books in the world, but you will never get any better unless you change or behavior. and that is where the battle is because it's hard to change or behavior. i tell people, if i live long enough i could have a job thousand years from now, because that's human nature and it will still be the same. i think i kind of wrapped along pretty good for you, do you have another area of you have a question? >> that is an amazing story. i want to tell you this is probably one of the premier interviews we've had. at the very end of these interviews, what we like to do is just allow the veteran to editorialize about any subject they want. you've covered a lot of ground in your life, and in this interview. it but the last few minutes is just for you. and what you think and what you
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would like the message that he would like to leave with people. >> law you know i have two major themes that i like to revisit in my own life and share with others. the first one is courage. some you can't do anything that is valuable without courage. because you're doubts and fears will always take you out. doubts and fears you know you read the paper every day and you listen to the media whatever you do, you see people that behave in a way and they get in trouble and then they lie and cover-up and so on and so on or they don't come through they don't do their duty. you think about that in your own life, we all have to do that it and the reason reason usually is a lack of courage. our doubts and fears overwhelm us. and we procrastinated doing what we know we ought to be
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doing. i know this as well as anybody, yet sometimes i find myself procrastinating and doing something that seems difficult. they won't like me, this seems hard, and i just have to catch myself and i wanted to coach myself that's what i like to do is coach myself because that's the best way for. i sit down and say what are your doubts here? well yourself doubts? what are your fears here. identify and then i come up with a plan to what i call the courage channel challenge. you lean into the pain of your doubts and fears to do what's right. we know what's right. 99.9% of the time we know we ought to do. the problem is doing it. so come up with a plan and just aren't walking into it. if you are highly emotionally you know it's an emotional situation you may not be able to be objective, in those cases i go to a friend or my wife or somebody who can be objective
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and i say here is the situation and i am pretty emotionally engaged in this, i need to be objective about this help me get my arms around what is the right thing to do. i want to have integrity. what is the right thing? you know this is what i'm thinking is this unit does this pass the smell test. and then i go do it. i go over plan and then i executed. usually it's never as bad it's almost never as bad as the fear was to start with so the thing is you have to be courageous some. you have to swim across the river of courage. the other thing is mutual support. fighter pilots, navy seals, special forces, nobody fights alone. we have to be in a community. the lone rangers get taken out. when you start hiding, holding back and keeping secrets to things that you really need to get somebody to brainstorm with, or share your heart with or to
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help you and encourage you. we only encouragement. you have to have that team. i have one group of people to encourage me and help the sink through in one area, another group in my business area. i have people i can share anything with, and they can speak yell into my life. you have to have people speaking into your life to encourage you, and hold you accountable if you don't stay on course. i want to stay on course because life is better. you just sleep better, feel better and you have more energy when you don't have things nagging you down it of failure and of shame and guilt. i don't have shame and guilt it. and if i had the 200 have guilt over shame, i would rather make a mistake and apologize for not stepping out. so i think those are the two. be courageous, it's the only way that you can live and lead with honor. that's to be courageous. and number two, you cannot do
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it alone, you have to have a team. and you are in danger when you're all alone, a leader or an individual who is all alone, whether it's a veteran coming back from afghanistan, that's the biggest problem they don't have a team around them anymore. that is what the biggest issue is with ptsd. they don't have the team. we live for two and a half years or so with people who have gone through worse than we have, and we can decompress. that was the team, the support team the community that we needed back then. but we all need a community. i feel blessed to have one. my wife is a wonderful supporter, and we are very different but we compliment each other in the right ways and we are aligned on money, politics, and religion. face. so the important things that we are together on. that i have friends and others who are there for me and it makes all the difference in the world. some >> wow, this interview has
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really been very rewarding at least for us to hear your story. and we appreciate what you have done and also sharing it with us. thank you very much, and thank you for your service. >> can you tell us a little bit about coming home >> yes coming home. you know for, we knew the war was coming to an end, because we knew that they b52s were coming to hanoi. and we could see the fear in the enemies eyes. and we were cheering. he had to take some risk to cheer because we don't want them to overreact, but we knew that they could not sustain the war with what was happening. so we thought maybe this will be the end. we are going to see the end. sure enough they brought us back, and i was up at that time on the mountain camp with no electricity. upon the chinese border. they had taken half of us when
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the bombing of when it started again the bombing in the spring of 72, when the north invaded the south, the u.s. started bombing the north again. they took half of us and put us on the chinese border. like an insurance policy. like of hanoi gets wiped out we still have the prisoners here's an insurance policy. and that was a totally different trip coming back from there as it was going up. we were relaxed, no handcuffs, and no blindfolds, we are just traveling back. and we travel during the daytime. so we get back, we go to camp where all the sudden we see that we are all in that camp, we are captured between august of 1967, and february 1968. we know this is going home. can we have been there, for five days and they called us out to the courtyard, and the camp commander came out and said i am here to tell you that
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the paris peace agreement has been signed kind that you will be going home in the next. 60 days. keep in accordance with the u.s. final withdrawal from selfie and nam. you will go home in groups. so we figured it out, we are not the early group. we're not the middle group, we are probably later. and that was correct. so john mccain, who had been captured 11 days before me, we have been at the same camp a couple times, but we have never seen each other face to face. we knew each other within their, we know each other's names. of course he was famous because his father was an admiral and so i had heard about john mccain so i'm meeting him face to face. he can barely walk. he's got broken arms and. legs he's got a great sense of humor. we are out walking in the courtyard. interestingly enough, we because over the years we never wanted to get to high emotionally and be disappointed
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because we aren't going to go home. initially it could handle six months and i said i could handle six months, i'm going to go home for the july mexico olympic games. that will be my celebration. in july of 68 it was still there and i said i could make it one more year. 60. nine the number 69 it i will be home because the war is going to end. no we didn't. the summer of 69 a said that i could make it two more years. it was really more like three and a half. we really learned to flatten our emotions. we didn't want to get too far down and be. depressed get to high up and get -- emotions were flat. when they read that proclamation from the protocol from the prayer speech a court about our release we sat information and listened, we turned around. we weren't going to start hearing. we were not going to give them the photo op. we turned around and walked back into ourselves.
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we could have stayed out in the yard. we just walk back into ourselves and start talking about. it this might happen. it's not over yet. we have to wait to see. march the 14th, 1973 they came in and said ok guys, go into the room over there in the warehouse in the camp. go and pick up your clothes to go home. i went down and picked up rayshard and a pair of blue cotton trousers to. where a bag. and a pair of shoes. i didn't have a niches. i had sandals all those years. went back. put them on. about lunch time they took us out near the airport to a park and give us a sandwich and a bottle of beer and they said ok we are waiting for the call. the call came and we drove to the airport and got onto the 141 and loaded up 341's. we had 30, 40 guys in each. 120 went out that day on march the 14th and it's a third big
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group to be released. there was one on for the. 12 another breadth on february 20. eight one on march 14th and another at the end of the month. in for big groups. so that was coming home. then we flew. we did not cheer until we got airborne. you can feel the air come up. we've got airborne and then we started sharing a little bit. then we got our feet wet. that is a flying term. we've got over international waters. the international commander gets on the telecoms and says the waters. stomping. cheering. the hand out some cigarettes. i lit a big cigar. i'm not a smoker but suckers are. good eyelet up a cigar. there's a couple of. nurses we have the women. the girls that carried the pools of water, and food in. we land and there is a red carpet in reception.
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people. tearing we had no idea what's going to happen. we get out of the bus and go to the hospital. get on our hospital pajamas and gown. they say that the mail is gonna be in the 30 minutes. a man, we were ready for that. sure enough because other groups have been released a new what we wanted to. it we wanted breakfast. first then we wanted steak and ice cream and pie and cake. i went to the. line got eggs and sausage and bacon and toast. orange juice and coffee and sat down and ate a whole bunch of that. then i went back and got a steak. some potatoes. heat. that i got pie and ice cream. one guy, lee roy, it a dozen and a half eggs and then eat it steak. he was a football player from kansas, farm, boy then you have to expect by the time i got there but everything. we had not eaten anything.
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we were there to. days we got a haircut. we got a uniform. that was really neat. and then we came back in groups. 141's flu, and they put us on a 141, we were going back home to the nearest air force regional hospital. and the navy guards would go to their nearest regional hospital but in our case we were coming to montgomery. that was the nearest regional hospital, the nearest was in montgomery. my parents, my brother, -- we revealed in hawaii on the way home, st. patrick's day, this year, 20, 18 the days of the week are exactly the same as they were on the day it. so i landed on st. patrick's day was saturday, 1973, this year st. patrick's day was on saturday. and that was my anniversary of getting home.
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the navy gods from jacksonville in our group like john mccain flew back with us but they got off our plane and got on to c9 and flew to jacksonville where the families met them. so we wanted the officers. club had a great dinner. they stayed for three or four days. then they went back. they went back to athens. update to more months and had the briefs every day for two or three hours. hospital points every day for two or three hours. they had a hospital room and a room in the boq, like it was my office. stayed there for two weeks. got all of that done. then it flew to atlanta. my mom picked me up there and drove to georgia, my hometown, where most vietnam veterans got spit on and terrible reception. the war had ended. the p.o.w.'s were coming home. commerce, everyone there in the u.s. because our mom had taught,
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or brothers history and law had. thought i had friends there. everyone. u.s. they had a parade. but on the way over there you may remember, there is a song called -- by tony orlando. it reached number one that month in march, it will, may of 1973. there were yellow ribbons tied along interstate 85 from atlanta. you get off of the interstate. it wasn't, i guess it was complete. in the olden days you had to get off at -- . all the wet commerce they had yellow ribbons and that was the only one in the parade so we would drive along and i would meet people and shake hands and they are all cheering. and every membered everybody's name. we were surprised.
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they said finally. we'd stop and talk to people for a minute or two. finally somebody said i do remember his name? it said i haven't met many new people for six years. i have been thinking about you guys. it's the. truth i've been thinking about many of. them the name of kim. back went home. i stayed home. i worked on the farm at my parents home for yards and everything for about three or four days. there were some free trips and stuff and i would go off for two or three days and come back home and go for three or four days. the air force said so you're thinking about going back into flying. i said oh yeah. if that is an option that's where i want to go. we're going to start requalification for the air force pilots. they want to go back into flying and san antonio.
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the air force base in june. would you like to be in? that i said yes i. would first week of july active some vacation first week of july i showed up. right after air force base. my fine skills came back quickly. i don't have much flying. time i good skills. i requalify to became a instructor pilot. went to georgia. had been there about two months. i got there in march of 74. memorial day weekend i met this beautiful young woman. seven months later we would be married in the rest of his story. she had two children. she had been married previously. they were seven and. five i became an instant father and i knew nothing about parenting. nothing. i have apologized to my kids many times for my lack of skills at being a good parent. they turned out to be very
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excellent parents. i have congratulated them on that. then we had to. children boy, girl, boy, girl, they range in ages 50 to 38. life has been. good like everyone else we have had our ups and downs in our family but overall we are all close. our children are close. our grandchildren are close. even though we have all had to go through things that you have to go through in life we are all close and love each other and enjoy holidays together. there's not any negativity in any way. there are holidays. that's a blessing that's a very special. weeknights this month we're featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span 3. tonight and evening of programs from the university of mary washington's great lives electric series. first we look at the military career of general douglas mcarthur from his 1903 west point graduation to being
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relieved of command by president harry truman during the korean war. watch tonight beginning at 8 pm eastern. and enjoy american history tv every weekend on c-span 3. donna roe served as vietnam army nurse during the vietnam war. up next she describes her, training experiences, and interactions with the enemies people. this interviews from the veterans project and was conducted by the atlanta centers keenan research center. >> how old were you when you went to vietnam? >> i was 24. >> 24.


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