I am listening to the tapes my Dad made with a reporter before he died and I am shocked - there is so much that he never shared with us. His story of survival is fascinating. It is an incredible tale of courage, strength, hope, and eventually, freedom. He was twenty-five years old when he was captured. Here is an excerpt:
Welcome to the Hanoi Hilton
He saw it from quite a distance as they were driving up. It was an imposing, scary-looking compound with rows and rows of razor wire on top, and broken glass everywhere. They went through a big iron-gated door, which they unlocked for the truck. The truck drove in, and then there was another gate into a courtyard. It was right out of a movie. It was a huge, whitewashed French Colonial building with green shutters and louvered doors. Jim half expected to see some French foreign legion guy walk out. He knew exactly where he was: Hỏa Lò Prison, loosely translated, "Hell Hole," also referred to sarcastically by American military as the Hanoi Hilton. No one knew for sure who had started the nickname, but the first soldier to write it down had carved "Welcome to the Hanoi Hilton" on the handle of a pail by way of greeting the next visitor. Now it was Jim's turn to be ushered in to the infamous, and by all accounts nefarious, living quarters.
They had arrived at their destination, and the guards hoisted him off the truck and put the blindfold back on. His hands were still tightly cuffed behind his back. The guards did an excellent job of setting the scene for him, even though he was blindfolded. They wanted him scared. At every door, they made a big show of locking it behind them with heavy metal keys. Jim had the impression that they were taking him down to some basement, but he didn't know for sure. He just knew it was dark and dreary. They eventually entered a room. They set him down on a wooden stool and took the blindfold off, and then left him alone. He took a look around. The room was intimidating. It was all concrete - concrete floors, concrete walls, with just one bulb hanging down from the ceiling, providing scarcely enough light that he could see the iron bars and u-bolts against the wall. A wave of fear went through him but he pushed it aside. Surely they didn't plan to restrain him in those?
Always interested in architecture, he decided to study the walls instead. Instead of smooth concrete, it looked like someone had taken plaster and just spread it out in handfuls, giving the walls a rough, egg-carton like appearance. He found out later it was to deaden the sound.
Don't worry, it's not all doom and gloom. Much of the book is infused with humor, because that's just the type of guy he was. He was able to amuse himself in the dreariest of circumstances. I will keep you posted on the release date. I was shooting for this Christmas, but the more I dive into this epic adventure, the more I want to tell.