My father was an Air Force officer whose career started before World War II and ended during the Vietnam War. Several of his friends were now PoWs in North Vietnam which added to the list of those who spent time in German and North Koreans PoW camps. hew didn’t talk about them much, but both of us knew that becoming a PoW was a risk that every military aviator faces the moment he takes off on combat mission.
By the time I was a sophomore in college back in 1965/66, the Vietnam War was raging full bore while roughly at the same time – 1965 to 1971 – a popular TV sitcom called Hogan’s Heroes was on the air. I wanted to be either an Air Force pilot or a Naval Aviator and the humor in the show was lost on both my father and I. Even today, I still don’t find the show funny. To me, being a PoW is not a laughing matter.
In 1973, 591 of 1,350 men thought to be prisoners of the North Vietnamese came home in Operation Homecoming. Since then, the question has been asked over and over again, what happened to the other 759? Or the other 1,250 men who were declared missing and presumed dead?
I realize that we will never know what happened to some of these men. Many were blown to bits when their airplanes exploded. Others were killed landing in the trees in the jungles of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Some may have been shredded by an artillery shell in a special forces camp that was overrun and their bodies never found. In every war, we will always have men and women classified as missing in action, presumed dead. It is why we have monuments dedicated to their memory.
During my career, I served with men who were PoWs of the Vietnamese and read the debriefings. Trust me, they are difficult reading and will keep you up at night. The hardships that they endured were both mental and physical. Some made phony confessions when they couldn’t take the torture any longer. Yet, none gave in fully because they all knew that someday, some or all of them would get to come home and tell their story. They had hope that some day, the would come home.
So where am I going with this heavy subject? My subconscious somehow connected three unrelated events after a dinner with some friends and somehow, the discussion came around to PoWs and the question – “Did we leave men behind in 1973?”
The second was the very real threats, later carried out to behead American journalists who were for all intents and purposes prisoners of war. ISIS may know about, but clearly does not intend to abide by any of the Geneva Conventions and Protocols. Fighting terrorism or an organization like ISIS is a war in which each side is fighting by different sets of rules.
The third was a private conversation I once had with a former resident of the Hanoi Hilton who I asked “What was the worst thing that could have happened to him while he was a PoW?” His answer was simple. “Be left behind knowing that I would never return home…”
By the middle of August, I completed an detail chapter and plot outline for a future novel that has the working title FORGOTTEN POWS. The book starts with a shoot down of a Naval Aviator, a botched rescue attempt and his disappearance into captivity. His name was not on the list of given to the U.S. as having been found dead or died in captivity in Vietnam. Despite U.S. and Vietnamese government denials that there were still in captivity, six are found, rescued and brought home nearly nine years after the Vietnam War ended.
For these former PoWs, they were returning from the dead to find their wives had started new lives and families. For others, they are threat. Senior military leaders and members of Congress want to know if there more men still being held in Laos, Cambodia and/or Vietnam? And if so, why have they not been brought home? When two of former PoWs are assassinated, some in the military start asking who is doing the killing and why?
Turning the outline for FORGOTTEN POWS into a book is my next writing project. My third book – CHERUBS 2 – takes priority because it is in the editing process and should be released in late October or early November, 2014. As soon as it is out and nothing changes, I’ll start writing FORGOTTEN POWS. This one should be interesting to write because there are several characters who have an axe to grind. Stay tuned.