Archive for the ‘prisoner’ Category

Vietnam Vet looks Back

February 9, 2008
By Rick Maze – Staff writer
Saturday Feb 9, 2008

As he faces the 35th anniversary of his release from a prisoner of war camp in Vietnam, Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, says he is humbled by the attention he continues to receive.

The anniversary comes Feb. 12, a day Johnson said he will spend collecting Valentines from school children to be delivered to wounded war veterans. There also will be a dedication of a memorial named for Johnson, a 29-year Air Force veteran, in a Dallas suburb.

Shot down over Vietnam in 1966 on his second tour of duty, Johnson spent seven years as a prisoner of war, including 42 months of solitary confinement. He suffered injuries that included a broken back, dislocated left shoulder and a broken right arm.

Talking of the day in 1973 when he was freed, Johnson said in an interview on Friday that he and other POWs — who had carefully memorized the names of hundreds of other prisoners in case anyone got out — were not sure they were ever coming home.

“It was a date we all waited for over there,” Johnson said. “The Vietnamese tried to make us think they weren’t going to let us out, right up to the last minute. It wasn’t until we saw those airplanes land to pick us up that we knew it was for real.

“Most of us had a hard time going from Vietnamese to U.S control,” he said, talking of breaking protocol by hugging another colonel when it was clear they were being released.

Johnson also recalls that there were four or five nurses on each of the airplanes sent to carry them back to the U.S.

“They were the first American girls we had seen, in seven years for me, and they wore short skirts for us,” he recalled with a laugh.

“We really didn’t relax until we got out over the water headed to the Philippines because we knew then we were home free,” he said. He also recalled the “thrill” of landing at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. “I don’t think there was a dry eye,” he said.

Another memory of the release was receiving dental care for the first time in seven years, repairing and replacing a mouth of broken teeth. The work, he said, was great.

“I go to the dentist today and those fillings are still in my teeth,” he said.

Johnson, who joined the Air Force at age 20 and flew 62 combat missions during the Korean War, remained in the service. He said he could have retired but “flying was in my blood. I wanted to fly again.”

After surgery to repair a damaged hand, Johnson ended up re-qualifying to fly F-4 Phantoms, the type of aircraft in which he was shot down on his 25th combat mission over Vietnam. He went on to several command assignments, including serving four years as wing commander of the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing at Homestead Air Force Base, Fla., which recently named its new fitness center for him.

Johnson’s autobiography, “Captive Warriors,” talks about his experience in solitary confinement and about some of the other prisoners held along with him.

Johnson, now 77, was elected to Congress in 1991 to represent a Texas congressional district that includes part of Dallas.

He is running for re-election to a ninth term and said he has no plans to retire.

Vietnam veteran McCain back from the dead … again

January 9, 2008

MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (AFP) – Vietnam veteran Senator John McCain, who triumphed in Tuesday’s Republican New Hampshire primaries, was a proven survivor long before he entered the cut-throat world of politics. 

Shot down as a naval aviator over North Vietnam in 1967, McCain spent more than five years in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp, including two years in solitary confinement in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.”

Polls show that while McCain has never led among the Republican field nationally, voters see him as the Republican presidential candidate most capable of defeating a Democratic rival to win the White House in 2008.

The 71-year-old was leading in the vote for the Republican nomination, on 37 percent, with 91 percent of precincts reporting late Tuesday, with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney second on 32 percent.

“My friends, you know, I’m past the age when I can claim the noun ‘kid,’ no matter what adjective precedes it. But tonight, we sure showed them what a comeback looks like,” McCain told his cheering supporters.

“Tonight we have taken a step, but only the first step toward repairing the broken politics of the past and restoring the trust of the American people in their government,” he said, to chants from the crowd of “The Mac Is Back!”

But McCain knows from bitter experience that the game is not over yet as he chases the Republican nomination to stand in the elections and succeed President George W. Bush.

In 2000, he was poised for victory, having won over Republicans here only to fall at the next hurdle to Bush in South Carolina, crashing out of the race.

This time, McCain has already been forced to strip back his campaign after he was left trailing in the summer in the crucial fund-raising battle.

But he won an important boost in Iowa last week, coming in third even though he had not campaigned heavily in the state, which helped re-energize his campaign and propel him to first place in New Hampshire.

Perhaps the biggest handicap he now faces is his age. If he wins the election, he would become the nation’s oldest ever president, entering the White House in January 2009 at the age of 72.

John Sidney McCain was born August 29, 1936 in the Panama Canal Zone — formerly under US jurisdiction — and was raised moving from one military post to another.

Both his grandfather and father were naval officers, so it was no surprise that at 17 he enrolled in the naval academy.

The brutal treatment he suffered as a prisoner of war — his injuries from being tortured still prevent him from raising his arms high enough to comb his hair — marked him for life.

His wartime experiences forged a man of unshakeable convictions, who remains a maverick at heart, criticized at times for a quick temper and a tendency to make unfortunate, off-the-cuff remarks.

“I didn’t go to Washington … to get along or to play it safe to serve my own interests,” he said in his speech Tuesday evening. “I went there to serve my country.”

“I learned long ago that serving only one’s self is a petty and unsatisfying ambition,” added McCain, who won his first race for the House of Representatives in 1982 and captured a Senate seat in 1986.

Despite his long-term loyalty to Bush, McCain was one of the first Republicans to attack the White House policy on Iraq, saying not enough troops had been committed to the 2003 invasion.

And despite the wave of anger at the war here, he was one of the first to call for more troops to be deployed there.

He is also one of the rare Republicans to favor reforming the immigration system, and for years has campaigned for fiscal reform and spoken out on global warming.

He is fiercely opposed to any use of torture by the United States in its “war on terror.” But in many other areas, he remains a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, opposing abortion, gay marriage and stricter gun control laws.

In his 1999 autobiography “Faith of My Fathers,” McCain listed what he considers the three greatest mistakes in his life: a forced confession under torture when he was a prisoner, his role in a banking scandal and his infidelity in his marriage to his first wife.

She was disabled in a car accident and McCain admits that his “wandering” led to their divorce. He re-married in 1980 and now has seven sons.

McCain Resurects Vietnam POW Experience With Video