Has it been 45 years?
I apologize. I missed an important date last month, the 45th anniversary of Feb. 12, 1973. Were you old enough to remember the big news on that day? Was your answer, “Watergate?” That’s a good guess, but incorrect.
Was your answer, “After seven plus years, that’s the day the first 200 American Prisoners of War, Naval Aviators and Air Force pilots, were released from North Vietnam’s prison, the “Hanoi Hilton.” At Hanoi’s airport they boarded one of three C-141, USAF jet transports. Their POW nightmares made Hell look like a tropical vacation.
Even as the three C-141s lifted off the runway, the newly released POWs didn’t know if their C-141 would be shot down by the North Vietnamese. When their pilot announced, “feet wet,” (over the water) the former POWs erupted with shouts, loud whistling and ear to ear smiles. It was up to seven years’ worth of holidays condensed into that precise moment!
Seven years earlier, Lt. Cdr. Ray Alcorn flew his first mission on December 2, 1965 from the deck of CVN-65, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise. Eighteen days later, Ray was catapulted off the deck on this 29th mission. The 400’ overcast didn’t cancel their mission. Ninety aircraft in “Alpha Strike” had to fly 50’ above the ground under the cloud cover. As soon as Ray released his bombs, a shell passed through his canopy and oxygen mask. He was wounded in the side of his neck. Instantly, his oxygen mask blew up blinding him for a few seconds. What do you do flying at 500 mph 50’ off the deck and unable to see? Ray had a split second to make a decision, eject.
He landed up to his knees in a rice paddy of mud and water. He tried to hide but was captured by about 200 North Vietnamese peasants. They handed a 12-year old kid a rifle and took a picture of Ray as the kid’s prisoner. “12-Year Old Captures Yankee Air Pilot,” was the newspaper headline above the picture.
During WW II most countries had signed the Geneva Convention, except Japan. Many of the Allies died in Japanese POW camps from inhumane treatment. North Vietnam hadn’t signed the Geneva Convention. They used the Japanese “playbook.” Ray only gave his interrogator, his name, rank and serial number. This upset his interrogator. Ray was on his knees. His interrogator stood behind holding a gun to the back of Ray’s head and told him, “Yankee, I going to count to ten and pull the trigger!”
What would be going through your mind if you were on your knees with a gun held against the back of your head? Similar to seconds ticking you heard, “One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine,” with a few second pause which seemed like hours, “Ten,” as the gun fired. The bullet passed within inches of your head.
Guys, have you ever told your Mom or wife after she worked to prepare a meal, “I don’t want to eat this crap!” If you were a prisoner at the Hanoi Hilton and your guard served you a “labor intensive” meal in an unclean bowl of water with a couple of small pieces of turnips and several varieties of insects moving in your bowl. Would you tell your guard, “I don’t want to eat this crap!” Psst, consider the insects protein.
As a prisoner, you received daily beatings from sticks or fists, part of the guards’ exercise program. A gift store sold this plaque, “The Beatings will continue until morale improves!”
What would be your reaction in prison when you were shown videos of anti-war demonstrations in America with protestors burning our flag and battling police?
What would be your reaction when you saw the video of a Hollywood actress as the guest of the North Vietnamese Army touring Hanoi? What thoughts would rush through your mind when you saw that actress, Jane Fonda, smiling while climbing into the gunner’s seat of a 40 mm anti-aircraft gun and look through the sight? What were your thoughts when you knew Jane Fonda was pretending to aim that anti-aircraft gun that had fired at your aircraft, the A-4C Sky Hawk? “Jane, what were you thinking???” Would you ever watch any of Jane’s films or television shows?
After February 12, 1973, Ray began his long recovery from having a 7-year hole in his life. He rose to the rank of Navy Captain to command the Fallon Naval Air Station from 1987-1989. After 30 years of service, he retired in 1992.
One of our Kiwanians, Ray Frederick, introduced his friend, Captain Ray Alcorn, Ret. as the Kiwanis Legislative Day speaker at the Kiwanis Club of Carson City, April 5, 2001 lunch at the Carson Nugget. (The Ormsby House Hotel/Casino closed January 1, 2001). Ray held the attention of every listener and received a standing ovation.
Ray Frederick was the RTO, radio-telephone-operator for B Company, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, the “Red Warriors,” the 4th Infantry Division, June 1968-June 1969 in Vietnam. The two Rays met in Carson City. They’ve been good friends for more than two decades.
“I was sustained during those long years in prison by my faith in God, faith in my government, and faith in my fellow countrymen. I knew I had not been, nor would ever be forgotten. Upon my repatriation, I was overjoyed to find that these faiths which gave me so much help and comfort were not merely figments of my imagination, but were true and real.” Captain Ray Alcorn, compiled by Homecoming II Project May 15, 1990.
Somehow, “Thank you for your service,” barely scratches the surface of all Ray has given in service to our country.