BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Stuart Rochester, co-author of "Honor Bound: American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia." Someone buys your book, what do they get?
Mr. STUART ROCHESTER, AUTHOR, "HONOR BOUND": Well, they get a 700-page book that is both a--I think, a--a novel, a--a story, a narrative of the experience of the prisoners of war in the--in Southeast Asia, and they also get an analysis--a documented analysis of what that experience was like and how well the POWs performed, not according to memoir renditions, but according to records, according to debriefings and reports and a good deal of research material that we went through over a period of almost 10 years.
So it's both a--I think a fascinating story as well as a comprehensive, scholarly analysis and record of the performance of the POWs and their experience as well as, to some extent, getting into the problem of the MIAs, but mainly the POW issue there.
LAMB: Where do you work?
Mr. ROCHESTER: I work at the Pentagon. I'm in the--the History Office, in the office of the secretary of Defense, which is a small office of about three full-time professional historians. And we do histories such as this, although normally not this type of history; more often a history of the--the--an administrative history of the work and the policies of the secretary of Defense. And we also have an archival function, and we do papers and analyses for the secretaries and for other officials in--in the building.
LAMB: As a way of getting into some of the many stories--you tell about torture in here; I want to read Air Force Captain Conrad Troutman, 1967, an interview he gave after the homecoming. Did he give it to you-all?
Mr. ROCHESTER: No. Troutman's--the quote from Troutman probably was in an after-action report that we had received, although Troutman was interviewed by my co-author, Fred Kiley, who knows Tr--who knew Troutman personally. Troutman was one of the seniors a--and one of the senior ranking officers at the Zoo, one of the camps that was located about three miles southwest of--of Hanoi.
And the passage that you're referring to is one in which I think Troutman used a good summary of the--what--of the--the torture experience, particularly the rope torture, in which he describes how they were literally strung with their--strung up from the ceiling with their arms kind of behind their back and cinched up to the point where their arms al--where they almost--their shoulders were almost dislocated; in some cases they would be. And they would be put through this periodically in two or three sessions, and it was one of the worst of the--of the tortures. Some were maimed in the process. Few got through it without giving up some information, without in some ways giving the enemy what he wanted.
LAMB: How many prisoners of war were there during the Vietnam War?
Mr. ROCHESTER: Altogether, about 800. There were 800 at least documented cases of--of POWs. There are a number of discrepancy cases where we're not sure if a guy was perhaps captured for--for a few hours and escaped. He may have been held just very briefly; caught in an ambush and got away immediately. Some of those are--are counted on certain lists. But, basically, about 800 altogether.
LAMB: Let me read Captain Conrad Troutman, 1967: `Let me try to tell you what it really feels like when they tightly bind your wrists and elbows behind your back with nylon straps, then take the strap and pull the arms up, up your back, to the back of your head. If you can remember when you were a little boy the fooling around you did and someone grabs your hand and just twists your arm up to your back and says, `Say uncle,' he does it with just one hand. And this, as you remember, is a very severe pain. Well, imagine this with both arms tied tight together, elbow to elbow, wrist to wrist, and then using the leverage of his feet planted between your shoulder blades, with both hands, he pulls with all his might till your arms are up and back over your head, forcing your head down between your feet, where your legs are between iron bars. The pain is literally beyond description.'
One more little point here: `Besides the pain itself, you are tied up so tight that your windpipe becomes pinched, and you breathe in gasps. You're trying to gulp in air because your wind passage is being shrunken. Your throat, in a matter of 30 seconds, becomes completely dry. After about 10 or 15 minutes in this position, tied up so tightly, your nerves in your arms are pinched off, and then your whole upper torso becomes numb. It's a relief to feel no more pain. The breathing is still difficult, but the pain is gone. You've been anesthetized. However, when they release the ropes, the procedure works completely in reverse. It's almost like double jeopardy. You go through the same pain coming out of the ropes as you did going in.'
Mr. ROCHESTER: Right. Right. They all describe it very similarly, the double-jeopardy aspect. The--coming out of it, you experience the same thing as you're going in it. Fred Kiley, the co-author, actually went through a version of that at Ft. Belvoir, at their survival school here in the Washington area. I declined to do it, but Fred had heard so much about the rope torture that--just to get the feel of it he--as he said, actually underwent--underwent it and had very much the
same sensation that--that Troutman describes.
By all accounts, it was the worst of the many kinds of torture that they were--were subm--subjected to. But, curiously, some managed to get through the--as with all things with the POWs, what some found to be the--the worst case, others found to be more tolerable. And there were some who found other tortures to be more vicious and more difficult to tolerate.
LAMB: How many do you think went through the rope torture?
Mr. ROCHESTER: Between 19 six--the so-called middle years, which were the most difficult ones, when the torture program was fairly regularly practiced to extract information and, also, for punishment purposes, most of the POWs had at least one session in--in the ropes. And later on, as you get toward the end of the--the captivity period closer to homecoming, fewer and fewer of them would be subjected to--to the--the rope torture.
But there were many others. Bud Day, who is--who won the Congressional Medal of Honor and who was as tough a nut as anyone over there, as tough a resister, and had as much fortitude and strength as anyone--Bud Day had the most problem with what was called a kneeling torture, where they would simply have to kneel for long periods of time, often on a pebble or a stone. And as he said in his memoir, `Try that sometime for--for four or five hours and see what it feels like.' And Day had more problems with that than with the ropes.
LAMB: We're showing a little bit of this picture. This was not Bud Day. It was Ed Alvarez. Where is this picture, and who is he?
Mr. ROCHESTER: Alvarez, of course, is famous as the--the so-called Old Man of the North. He was the first pilot captured over North Vietnam in August of 1964. So Alvarez would have been there almost a decade altogether. He came out in 1973. At this point, I think we're--it's probably around 1966 or '67. Alvarez is being taken through a--through the town. They often would take prisoners through a--on kind of a tour of either bomb--bombed-out sites as part of the indoctrination process. They would take prisoners, quote, "out on the town." Many of the POWs actually welcomed this as at least a change of pace from the monotony of being in their cell for all but 20, 22 hours a day. But Alvarez, in that--in that photo shot, is out on a--a--one of those, I think, tours around the city.
LAMB: Let me ask you about people that we know of because they've been in the public spotlight since then. Jeremiah Denton was a senator from Alabama for a while.
Mr. ROCHESTER: Right. Denton was one of the top-ranking seniors. He was captured early in the war in, I believe, 1965. Denton had a reputation, even among the seniors, as being one of the strictest and one of the staunchest in terms of his adherence to the Code of Conduct and requiring that the others adhere to it. And every now and then Denton will get into some conflicts with Stockdale and Gareno and some of the others who had a slightly different interpretation of--of--of the code.
But Denton was one of the toughest resisters. He was certainly one of the most admired POWs. He's the one who gives--he's the first one off the--first senior off the aircraft at homecoming. He gives the address on the tarmac at Clark Air Base, where he says, `God bless America. Thank God.'
LAMB: What did he--what did he have to do with the tapping code?
Mr. ROCHESTER: Denton's contribution to so-called tap code--tap code was a system whereby the POWs communicated, and--and Denton contributed an important new nuance or aspect, a so-called vocal tap code, whereby prisoners would be able to communicate not just by a--a tapping on the wall, but through coughing or sneezing and--which was very important because it was very easy to disguise that form of communication in a climate--in an environment in which everyone had either a--a--some form of malaria or some kind of coughing, some kind of lung disease from the chill of winter or the dampness. And so these places sounded like tuberculosis wards anyway, the--the various compounds, but they were often co--coughing in a certain code that Denton had--had developed.
LAMB: There is a current Federal Trade commissioner by the name of Orson Swindle, who used to run the Ross Perot campaign at one point.
Mr. ROCHESTER: Right.
LAMB: What was his role?
Mr. ROCHESTER: Swindle was a--another one who was--would be considered a hardliner. He was a Marine. There were not as many Marines who were captured as Naval aviators, of course, or--or Air Force airmen. But Swindle was one of the more--more prominent POWs in this middle period, underwent a good deal of torture. He's one of those who was a master of what was called the `fuck you' look that he would give the Vietnamese. He took absolutely no quarter from their guards. He would be--again, we use a--he'd have to rate, I think, as one of the toughest resisters. And, of course, when he came out, became active in politics and eventually in the Perot campaign.
LAMB: Congressman Sam Johnson of Texas.
Mr. ROCHESTER: Yeah. Johnson, another one--you're--you're--you're going through what are considered many of the toughest POWs, most courageous and ones who would--were able to withstand torture and interrogation as well as anyone. Johnson was a Air Force major and one of those who ended up at Alcatraz. Alcatraz was considered the place where the worst offenders, worst resisters were put. There were 11 of them that were placed in Alcatraz altogether. Sam Johnson would have been one of them. To get a ticket to Alcatraz, you had to be a difficult prisoner and a strong resister.
LAMB: Current ambassador from the United States to Vietnam, Pete Peterson...
Mr. ROCHESTER: Yeah.
LAMB: ...former congressman.
Mr. ROCHESTER: Interestingly, Peterson does not play a prominent part in the book. We don't mention him to any large extent, and for some reason you don't get a lot of reading on him in the after-action reports. But in interviews, we know that Peterson was very much respected and admired by Sam Johnson and by the other tough resisters. So he, too, had a very strong record, although he's n--he's one of those who's not mentioned nearly as prominently as Sam Johnson or Swindle or--or some of the others you mentioned in--in the book.
LAMB: Former vice presidential candidate on the Ross Perot ticket, James Stockdale.
Mr. ROCHESTER: Right. Well, Stockdale, by all accounts, I think, even when compared with Denton and the other leaders, probably the most respected of the POWs: Congressional Medal of Honor winner who was willing to slash his wrists and kill himself before giving information on the communications system at--at Wawa, at the--at the Hilton and--in this particular compound called Vegas at the Hilton. Stockdale, who also was very important in terms of developing a version of the Code of Conduct, a rendering of it, an interpretation of it that would be conveyed and communicated throughout the whole prison system that was considered a reasonable, commonsensical approach to how much torture they would be--the men, the POWs, could be expected to take; attitudes about, you know, `Do you have to escape--do you have to try to escape, even if it means risking your life and the lives of others?'
LAMB: How long is the code?
Mr. ROCHESTER: Well, th--the--the Code of Conduct, of course, which is what--what Stockdale's and--and, for that matter, others--other leader--other senior leaders' instructions were based on, is--is a--is a rather short Code of Conduct based on the--it came at--after the Korean experience. The basic concept was stick to the--stick to the--the big four: your name, your rank, serial number, date of birth. Stockdale developed something. It was a system called--he used the acronym BACKUS, which dealt with some of the main experiences that the POWs would face and--and--and how they should--should deal with those experiences.
The B stood for bow. Don't bow, at least not in public, in any kind of a televised, public display where the Vietnamese--North Vietnamese would be trying to show the Americans to be obsequious and sub--and submitted in a s--in a submissive pose.
The A stood for air. Don't go on the air. Don't tape. Don't go on the radio. At least try your utmost not to. Take torture up to a certain point. If--if you can no longer withstand it without feeling you were losing a limb or your life, give something, but give something that would not be significant. Certainly don't betray any comrades. Don't betray the organization system in the prisons or the communications system.
The C stood for crime in this BACKUS acronym. Don't admit to any crimes.
The--the K stood for kiss, which was don't kiss the ring if they offer you early release. If they appear to be magnanimous and are trying to pose as humane and lenient, don't a--don't thank them for that. And the important US, the unity over self, which was the basis of the whole system.
And I should say that Stockdale was not the only one who contributed to this code. Denton contributed as well. At certain points Stockdale would be out of commission, and Denton or--or Robinson Rizner would be the--the senior in a particular situation at a certain time. And they'd also developed certain incremental additions to this Code of Conduct as to what was expected of--of prisoners.
And at the end, I should mention, John Flynn, who was the--the--the top-ranking senior Air Force colonel. He was very important toward, at a--at a later point in the captivity, in kind of consolidating this guidance and this code of behavior.
LAMB: In the back you have a chart that shows that there were 4,100 POWs in World War I, 130,000 in World War II, 7,100 in Korea, 771 in Vietnam, 23 in the Persian Gulf. How were the prisoners of war in Vietnam treated compared to those other wars?
Mr. ROCHESTER: Right. Well, in terms of the treatment, we make the point that--we don't get into a lot of comparison, but we do make the point in the beginning, where we try to put this in context, that no wars have been hospitable to the prisoners of war. And in some cases, the Korean treatment was--and even during World War II--was as brutal or more brutal than what was experienced by the prisoners in Vietnam.
However, I think what was really significant here is the longevity. This is the--these guys were the longest-held POWs in American history. So they were--this was over a decade or--or--or during the course of a decade--for some who were POWs almost a decade: Alvarez, Floyd Thompson, Jim Thompson from the South--called the Old Man of the South. He was captured in '64 and he came out in '73. These were guys who--who--POWs that ha--that underwent repeated instances of--of--of torture and, of course, just having to withstand some very difficult conditions in terms of the climate, in terms of sanitation, hygiene, malnutrition over a period of time.
So, certainly, they have to--to rank right up there with the guys who survived the worst abuses and--and, in particular, the most difficult conditions over a long period of time.
LAMB: I counted in the back, in the appendix, 215 prisons in North Vietnam, if I've got--I--I may be off one or two. How many were there in South Vietnam?
Mr. ROCHESTER: In South Vietnam, there were not so many prisons as simply locations, often jungle stockades. These--the captivity in the South was more of an itinerant, nomadic kind of captivity where often just one or two prisoners in a cluster, later on in the war, would be brought on--brought together. But during much of the--the period of captivity in the South, you did not have formal enclosed prison structures as such, as much as you had camps that would be moved every few days and stockades would be set up with--with--with cages.
And we make the point in the book--and I think one of the real contributions to the book is that we discuss not only the--the stories of the--the--the pilots at the Hanoi Hilton, but the experience of these, in many cases, lower-ranking enlisted men, Marines and Army enlisted, that were captured in the South and who had to go endure this itinerant captivity--it isn't discussed in any other books, to our knowledge--and, in many cases, had a--had, in some ways, a lonelier, certainly, but also a more challenging experience because they had to deal more with the elements; being outdoors and often in the jungle or--mountainous jungle location, where there would be leeches and scorpions and snakes, and having to deal with probably a more precarious food and water situation as well.
So the guys in the South also withs--withstood, the ones who survived it, tremendous ad--adversity as well as the better-known cases of the Dentons and the Stockdales in the North.
LAMB: Who is Dieter Dengler, and what's his story?
Mr. ROCHESTER: Dengler was a Naval aviator who was captured, I believe, in '65, somewhere in the--fairly ear--might have--it might have been '64--I think in '65 probably--in Laos. And Dengler is an interesting case becau--there were very few--very few POWs who got out of Laos alive, even at the end of the war, at homecoming; I mean, nine POWs came out of...
LAMB: Out of...
Mr. ROCHESTER: ...out of Laos.
LAMB: I mean, out--out of the total number.
Mr. ROCHESTER: Oh, out of a total number--well, we don't know. See, th--there--the--the big question about MIAs and--and--and the big mystery about how many were ever in the prison system really is in the case of Laos. We just don't know because they were held singly and very isolated cases. They would be--one or two would be held in a c--in a cave. And we know a lot of guys went down in good parachutes when--or at least 300 cases where guys who were downed in Laos appeared to be in a position to survive and to become prisoner. But we only know of nine that--that came out in 1973 and several who escaped, including Dengler, along the way.
Dengler is--had a phenomenal story, and it's told in a book that he's--he's written. It's so phenomenal a lot of the analysts who reviewed it were not sure of its accuracy, and he--it--partly because Dengler had been so dehydrated and may had been hallucinating and was not sure himself of exactly what he experienced. In any case, he did manage to get out. He managed to escape, along with several others who were in this one group. He was the only one. Deway Martin was an Army helicopter pilot who joined Dengler in this escape, and we know d--that Martin died along the way when they encountered some--literally, it was villagers with machetes, and Martin was killed along the way.
Very interesting case and what remains a discrepancy case is the case of Gene DeBrune, who went out with Dengler and who has never been--his--his body's never been recovered. We don't know what happened to him. We just know that he didn't make it out. There were reports along the way that DeBrune would be spotted in certain sites, certain area in Laos, but he did not come out in 1973. And he was--he's one of the remaining really intriguing discrepancy cases. DeBrune's brother, J--Jerome DeBrune, is a professor at the University of Toledo, who has made it his life's work to--for the remainder of his life to try to find--get more information on DeBrune. But we--we don't know what happened.
DeBrune didn't make it out, but Dengler did. And just apparently as he was--he was on a mountaintop and had just about run out of food, he was eating frogs, he was eating leaves and finally he was spotted by a rescue aircraft and taken out.
LAMB: How many people did you talk to for this book?
Mr. ROCHESTER: We talked to pr--over 100 over of the POWs, as well as many analysts with the Defense Intelligence Agency. We talked with family of the POWs, including some who did not come back, and also one interesting case, the brother of Al Brudnow, who was one of two who committed suicide. Al Brudnow killed himself after coming back, very tragic case, one of the great heroes of the resistance and a fine person who was unable to adapt to a broken marriage and a--some difficultly after he came back. So we talked to family members, we talked to many of the POWs.
My co-author, Fred Kiley, did most of the interviews, and I should say that Kiley is--is, I--you know, I--I believe, the foremost authority in this country on US POWs. Fred did most of the research for the work and has encyclopedic knowledge based on his interviews with the prisoners as well as his review of the--of the literature.
LAMB: How did you divide your responsibilities for the book?
Mr. ROCHESTER: Fred did most of the research, in fact, over a period of almost 10 years when we started this project. I came along later in the game, after Fred had actually started the project. Fred had gotten sidetracked by some other responsibilities at the National Defense University, where he heads--heads up their--headed up their publication program and their research program. I picked up the book from Fred. Fred had drafted a number of chapters, had done this massive research. And I did a good deal of the writing of the later chapters and worked with Fred to fin--complete the drafts of the early chapters.
LAMB: What do you say to someone listening who says, `This man works for the Defense Department. We're getting the Pentagon version of the POW'?
Mr. ROCHESTER: Well, we hear that from time to time, and all I can say is that there was absolutely no--there were no constraints, no inhibitions on us at--at all, aside from the normal security review of sensitive issues that any author would have to s--be subjected to before that information could be published. I work in a--the History Office, really, largely of academics, and fortunately we do have free rein pretty much to interpret things as we want to i--with regard to our other books as well as--as this one.
LAMB: Published by the Naval Institute Press. What is that? Is that connected with the government?
Mr. ROCHESTER: No. Naval Institute Press is a--is a private press and in no way connected with the government. There absolutely is no official imprimatur. In fact, we've alienated as many of the members of the military as we've--as we've pleased with this book. We--I think it's a good test of the candor and the balance and the objectivity of it, is that some of the POWs like it and some don't. Some of the government officials think it's a terrific paean to the success and performance of the military, and others think we were too harsh on the...
LAMB: What would the--what would the POWs not like about the book, the ones that have complained?
Mr. ROCHESTER: The ones that complained feel that--there are a couple instances where they say we got a fact wrong, a date wrong, although to--to an amazing extent most of them say we g--we nailed it right on the head, we got it right. But there are some who will say, `You know, you didn't get this exactly right.' There are some who feel that we were maybe a little bit too critical of their--of their individual performance, didn't give them enough credit. I don't want to betray any confidences, but there were--there were a couple who believed that we were not--not fair to them. We feel we were. We feel the memoirs sometimes are a little too self-serving, so we were careful to use the memoirs advisedly and to always base our conclusions on--on--on corroborated statements and testimony.
LAMB: How many books have been written by POWs?
Mr. ROCHESTER: Probably about two dozen good memoirs. Many of them are superficial, but there are some excellent, excellent ones out there. Alvarez has a--has a memoir that's--that's pretty good. The best one, to my knowledge, is Jerry Koffey's memoir. Denton has one called "When Hell Was In Session." Nick Rowe, who was another case of a--someone who escaped from the South--in--in Rowe's case--has an excellent memoir called "Five Years To Freedom." There are about two dozen of them out there. There are very few books about the POWs, very few books such as this, with--which deal with the POWs of a non-memoir type and in any kind of a comprehensive way and that deal with the South and Laos as well as with--with the North and with civilians. We also deal with about 60 civilians who were captured in this book.
LAMB: Th--there--there are sentences like this that--that jump out throughout the entire book, and I'll just read it so you can explain how much of this went on. This is in a chapter on Dirty Bird and Alcatraz, a couple of prisons: `Food consisted of pumpkin or cabbage soup, sometimes with a piece of pig fat floating in it. The lack of protein and poor sanitation left the PWs'--that's short for POW--`vulnerable to the usual infections, parasites and diarrhea. Typical was the incident described in Rutledge's memoir where Jenkins awoke one night with what he thought was a piece of string in his mouth. It turned out to be a six-inch worm.'
Mr. ROCHESTER: Correct. They--they were routinely afflicted with dysentery, with--with worms. In the South, again, even worst conditions because of the lack of fruit and vegetables altogether, beriberi, scurvy type of diseases. In the North, they did have at least occasional access to, even if it was rotten, some fruits and vegetables, pumpkin. W--one new arrival came and was delighted to see that there was actually some rye bread on his plate, until he noticed that the seeds were starting to move. There was very--very little in the way of--of palatable food, except during holidays and--and toward the end, when they were being fattened up so that at the time of release they would--would look better and would reflect the--the quo--the--the so-called, alleged, humane and lenient treatment that the Vietnamese had maintained that they had always extended to the POWs.
LAMB: Here's a--just a--you have a lot of pictures like this where you have six former POWs and the fellow up there in the left-hand corner is Harlen Chapman. I just noticed--'cause you had 100 interviews, he wasn't interviewed and it led me to ask you whether or not some of the POWs wouldn't be interviewed for this book.
Mr. ROCHESTER: Right.
LAMB: Or how did you pick the ones that you interviewed?
Mr. ROCHESTER: Well, Fred Kiley, again, did most of the interviewing and he would know better than I whether there were those who--who objected or--or rejected the opportunity to be interviewed. As far as I know, there was no one who turned down the opportunity. Fred was trusted because he was Air Force and had served in Vietnam. He had been an adviser there for the Vietnamese air force in 1968, '69. Kiley knew a lot of the POWs. In some ways, Fred and I had a certain--there was a dynamic and a certain tension between us, where Fred was usually--in some of these cases where we were wondering how--how effective the guys were at resistance or to how--how staunch they were in their resistance. Fred would be sort of willing to give the guy the benefit of the doubt. I think I brought some detachment to the process of--of evaluating the POWs, some academic detachments. I think it was a good balance between Fred's insider knowledge of these guys and my--my detachment. And I think that helped to s--come up with a pretty good balance and objective view of them.
LAMB: Here's another line in the book and it just--I was taking these out of context. `I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but the atmosphere was changing for the worse. By November, for starters, food rations at the Zoo were cut drastically and kitchen staff were no longer washing off the human fertilizer the Vietnamese used for their crops.' A lot of reference to human feces being in--in rice, you know, all over these cells. How much--explain the human fertilizer business.
Mr. ROCHESTER: Right. Well, it was a fact of life. And in the South, in fact, you know, the conditions--the food was so bad that oftentimes the--you know, the Vietnamese themselves were eating this--this tainted stuff. The--Denton makes the point that at one point, one of the--I think it's Cat, who is the head of the prison system--North Vietnamese prison system, says, `Do you know you're eating shit?' And Denton s--and Denton, who was as tough as they come, would say, `Does it have any protein in it?' Somehow they adapted. They were able to do this. They were able to down this stuff and eat it. With--problems with disease. Some of--some of them died from disease. In fact, most of the--there were about 100 POWs who died during the course of the captivity, during the course of a decade, and most of them from disease--dysentery, malaria, beriberi, food problems and so--stomach problems--rather than from torture.
But--yeah, this was--this was the condition. This was--was--was the--there was--I'm trying to think of another instance where, in fact, they would use fertilizer for their own garden. And they would later eat the food--they didn't have access to clean water and oftentimes no water at all. So it was one of the elements that they had to deal with.
LAMB: Did the names David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Jane Fonda, Mary McCarthy, others, th--strike--Women Strike for Peace come up when they visited over there. In retrospect, from all these years, what impact did those people have on the prisoners only over there when they would go visit?
Mr. ROCHESTER: Right. Well, the impact would--would vary. Usually the--when the Dellingers or the--the Haydens would come over there, the prisoners, on the one hand, would often be trotted our with trays of cookies and in a fairly nice circumstance or so--might get a break in terms of some decent food and a break from--from monotony. But at the same time, they were being exploited for the purposes of showing the humane and lenient side of the Vietnamese, and the Haydens and the others would go back to the United States and then say that these guys were being treated fine. There's no reason for concern. So it was a--I mean, the effect of them being over there was to really enhance the propaganda campaign of the North Vietnamese. And it angered the POWs tremendously. Also, when they would hear Jane Fonda or Hayden on the radio spouting about the, you know, American imperialists and the Vietnamese being so humane and lenient in the treatment of their prisoners, giving the wrong--wrong impression. Risner had a real pro--problem with Mary McCarthy when she was over there.
LAMB: Who--who is Risner?
Mr. ROCHESTER: Robinson Risner, who was the Air Force lieutenant colonel and--along with Denton and Stockdale, one of the leaders of the--the POWs, one of the senior--the senior ranking officers. R--Risner's an interesting case because he was exploited probably as much as any of the senior officers. He would be trotted out for these interviews with the visiting journalists and he would be asked to tape on the radio because he was well-known. He had been the subject of a Time magazine article. He was an ace--Korean War ace. And they exploited him mercilessly. They even would trot Risner out for these early release ceremonies where they would release some of the POWs and he became a part of the pageant. And of course, it frustrated him greatly. And he underwent a tremendous, I think, psychological suffering, as well as spending a lot of time in solitary also during portions of his captivity. So Risner endured a--a--an awful lot, along with Stockdale and the other--other seniors.
LAMB: Ed--Edward Alvarez, you mentioned earlier, who was the longest serving in the North, wrote things like this: `The pain was excruciating. They--I--it felt like a hacksaw had stuck deep in my flesh. The cuff seemed to cut off to the bone. My head was pushed forward and all I could do was yell and scream to ride out the pain. They left me alone for quarter hour spells and then returned, yanking my arms up and squeezing the cuffs tighter yet. The worse it got the louder I shrieked. The more I howled the more they slapped and punched. J.C. preferred to strike from behind, but when he came from--in front of it, it was always the underside of his closed fist. My eyes felt like popping. My veins wanted to explode in a gush of boiling blood. J.C. was joined by Icabod Crane, a spindly 6'2" turnkey with a drooping head, blazing dr--draconian eyes and clothes that were too short and tight-fitting. Together, they worked me over heartlessly like a couple of kids pulling wings off flies.' Later on he says, `It would be two years before they would regain their natural color,' meaning his hands.
Mr. ROCHESTER: Many guys came out with injuries that never healed--back injuries, leg injuries, of course, all kinds of scars and other--other effects. The--the ratchet cuffs were--were another very difficult thing for them to handle, along with the rope torture. Sometimes the--the degree or the severity of the torture would be inadvertent. The Vietnamese didn't realize that at times they were using small--they were used to--they were using some cuffs and manacles that had been used on Vietnamese prisoners; tended to be a lot--had smaller wrists and so these things tended to be a lot s--of smaller dimension. And so the Americans, even when these things would be clamped on and were not ratcheted, they caused tremendous pain that the Vietnamese didn't even realize. So using manacles and shackles, that were often very c--constricted to begin with because they were downsized to--originally, to suit their--the smaller Viet--the dimensions of the Vietnamese prisoners, created pain from the beginning and then these things would be ratcheted. D...
LAMB: What's this?
Mr. ROCHESTER: That's a picture of--it's a matrix of what was called the--the--the tap code, which was the--probably the primary form of communication. It's a five-by-five matrix of the alphabet containing all the letters except the letter K, for which they substituted the letter C. And they used this matrix and they could rotate the letters in a way that--in which they were able to tap almost any kind of a message, often using an abbreviated form. For example, one of the early sign-offs that appears in almost all the messages was, `God bless you,' 'cause they're talking t--messaging to one another. And the--the G would be in the second line, A-B-C-D-E-F-G--it's--it's second row and the second vertical column. So it would be a two-two. The B would be--would be one-two, second row--first row across, second row down. And they--they got to the point where they could do this with almost kind of a--a blinding kind of a speed and they were able to use this system of--of--of tapping either through the wall or they could apply it, as Denton did, to sneezes and coughs or even sweeping with a broom.
LAMB: Go back to the sneeze just a second because you--you point out in here that when they would sneeze, they would also say some rather strong things...
Mr. ROCHESTER: Yeah.
LAMB: ...signaling the entire camp that--What?--they had a sense of humor or they were--what was their reason?
Mr. ROCHESTER: There's a lot of humor. There's a lot of humor in the book. It's black humor often, but they were sustained by humor and they each would have kind of a signature sneeze in which they would, you know, go (sneezes) `bullshit,' you know, or--or you know, or--or worse, you know, obscenities in their sneezes.
LAMB: They had some strong things to say about Ho Chi Minh.
Mr. ROCHESTER: Right. They would typically garble the name Ho Chi Minh and it would come out `horse shit Minh.' One of their real nemeses was an Australian journalist named Wilfred Burchet, Communist journalist, who would g--was writing pieces around the world about how terrific the Vietnamese were and how evil and imperialistic the POWs and the American military was. And whenever they would be forced to read on the radio--I mentioned Al Brudnow, he was one of those who would garble the sound of--of--of Wilfred Burchet's name. It would come out `well-fed bullshit.' There was a lot of that sort of thing. Kyle Berg was n--he was a Navy--not sure if Berg was Navy or Air Force, but he was noted for his humor and oftentimes would entertain the other POWs with various kinds of shtick or things that he would do.
There was a guard who--on one occasion, a guard who wanted to learn some English and--an English expression and so Kyle Berg decided to teach him an English expression. He said whenever you get up in the morning and you want to say `hello,' you know--and he knew some Vietnamese. He was explaining that hello is--is `I'm queer.' You say, `I'm queer.' So this one guard was very proud of this English that he had learned, would get up in the--every morning for weeks, he would go from cell to cell and say, `I'm queer. I'm queer.' So i--it was a kind of hijinks, the kind of light touch that occasionally, in between torture, would--w--would lighten the mood and--and sustain them over a period of time. Yeah.
LAMB: Who was tortured or--doesn't have to be one, but the most though, that they--you know, we read just a little bit of this, but they went beyond what we've read.
Mr. ROCHESTER: Well, probably the two worst torture cases would be the case of Edward At--Edwin Atterbury, and the case of Kobiel. These are two Air Force POWs. Atterbury made a mistake of trying to escape with John Germeesi, another Air Force air--I think Germeesi was an Air Force major. This would have been in 1969, spring of 1969. Atterbury and Germeesi had an elaborate escape plan, a good plan, actually, although, no one ended up successfully escaping from the North. You could escape from the prison maybe, but they would--would usually be able to find you after a short while. And--and Atterbury and Germeesi were captured soon after getting out of the Zoo annex in the spring of '69, which turned out to be a terrible thing for the other prisoners, who took tremendous punishment in retaliation. But the worst case was Atterbury, who was put in a torture cell and we say in the book--description of the--of what he underwent, the shrieks that were heard from b--the equivalent of blocks--several blocks--city blocks away. And he died in that torture cell. One of the very few cases where a man was tortured to death. And that was in direct retaliation for the escape effort.
Germeesi also took terrible punishment, but survived and some of the other POWs took--took awful punishment. Gene McDaniel--Red McDaniel took 700 lashes. There was even some electroshock treatment that--which they didn't usually resort to.
LAMB: This is the same Red McDaniel that we have seen since then, very active in the POW issue.
Mr. ROCHESTER: Right. Yes, who--Red is--continues to be very active on the MIA and the POW issue. McDaniel took tremendous punishment because he was a senior in the Zoo area, in that complex. And the POWs assumed that all this had been orchestrated--that the Germeesi-Atterbury escape had been organized and directed by the seniors, which really wasn't the case. Germeesi pretty much went on his own. And--and although he finally got the order that it was OK to go, there was a lot of reluctance on the part of--actually, it was Conrad Troutman, who you mentioned earlier, who was the senior who said `OK, you wanna try it? Go ahead.' But there was--would always be the concern that if the guy didn't make it, or--or for that matter, even if he did make it, the repercussions for the guys that were left--left behind would be punished in--in retaliation for that. The other case was...
LAMB: And that came true.
Mr. ROCHESTER: And it came true. There were--in every camp, for--for two months, there was--it was probably the worst sustained torture period, would have been in the spring and summer of '69 at every one of the camps in the North. I think there were at least four or five main prisons. So not only the Zoo and the Zoo annex, but at--at Wahlod, Hanoi Hilton, at Plantation, Sunta and all the other camps in the North. The other case--severe torture case would have been Earl Kobiel, who was a victim of what was called the Cuban program. And...
Mr. ROCHESTER: The Fidel program, yeah.
LAMB: I mean, Fidel was--te--explain who he was.
Mr. ROCHESTER: OK. Well, we still don't know exactly who Fidel was. It's one of the remaining mysteries of the POW story. We think that Fidel was a Cuban, a Spaniard of some type, probably Cuban from his appearance, from the language. Shows up one day along with an entourage of a few other Cubans, some of them came a little bit later, showed up at the Zoo in--this would have been in 1967, '68, somewhere in there. Fidel shows up rather suddenly and he's given all kinds of special deferential treatment by the Vietnamese. It's--it's hard to tell whether he is a super--considered a Communist superior to the Vietnamese or the Vietnamese are just indulging this foreign visitor.
But he's given kind of free rein for about two months--actually, the Cuban program would extend almost--almost the course of a year--with about 20 POWs, two groups of, I think, 10 each who were taken out of the Zoo annex and put in a special part of the compound and Fidel was able to--it's hard to know exactly what the purpose of the program was. It appears that it was a program that kind of turned out Manchurian candidates for early release, to punish guys so severely and indoctrinate them to the extent that they could be prepped for early release and then would just be--just recite the Vietnamese--the Communist line when they got out. We're not sure exactly again--we don't know the details of this program because no one has ever determined Fidel's identity or the Cubans' identity because they left after a year. And DIA analysts have been trying to track this guy for years, trying to locate him.
All we know is that several of the P--of the POWs in this program, in particular Kobiel, were viciously tortured in kind of an alternation of the carrot-and-stick over a period of time. Kobiel's mistake--this is Earl Kobiel, Air Force major, I believe, was to be in bad shape to begin with and Fidel assumed that he was--that Kobiel was faking insanity. And he said, `We've got a faker here.' And he just continued to beat the hell out of the guy in session after session until Kobiel was mindless, was--was just completely numb. Didn't know where he was, who he was, could not eat. He had to be force-fed by some of the others at the Zoo. And he would die sometime later, about a year or two later, from what was one of the severest torture episodes.
LAMB: You say that the average age of the 800 was 39, that their rank was 0-4, meaning major or lieutenant commander, that they were fathers of three children on average. They spent 45 months in confinement and six to 12 months in solitary confinement. What--what was the solitary confinement like and who served the longest in solitary?
Mr. ROCHESTER: Right. Well, solitary was the worst kind of solitary with darkness in a small cell, often with vermin and rats and things that you could hear but could not see. Occasionally, you might be let out for a half-hour a day. The only break would be get--receiving food, usually two meals a day around 10:00 and 3:00. The longest that were held in solitary would have been probably the seniors, Denton, Stockdale and Risner. Ben Bercell, who was an Army major in the South, spent a long time in solitary. Ernie Brace, a civilian captured in Laos, also spent a lot of time in solitary. Solitary required as much as anything, obviously, the ability to cope, to distract yourself, to kill time, to not to--learn some way to survive, what Red McDaniel called the inner--the inner struggle, the mental struggle that all the POWs really had to go through. Torture h--occurred fairly regularly, but there were long periods in between where the real challenge was to just--to mentally stay together and survive just the--the monotony of the routine and the boredom, and particularly, in solitary. You used that time in solitary either to restore yourself physically by just kind of walking and pacing back and forth.
LAMB: Who's on the cover?
Mr. ROCHESTER: Good question. I don't know. This is the cover that the Naval Institute Press chose to use. It is a photograph or a rendering of a photograph that appeared at the--at an exhibit at the Capitol in--Capitol Building, I believe, in 1970, that Ross Perot had organized. And I am not sure myself who that is. It's--it is a worst-case scenario of, obviously, the prisoner who had undergone tremendous punishment and malnutrition.
LAMB: What does this book cost?
Mr. ROCHESTER: The book costs $36.50, I believe--yeah, 700 pages, lots of illustrations, 50 pages of documentation and a good read, as well as, we think, a--an expert analysis …
LAMB: Where is this photograph from?
Mr. ROCHESTER: That's a photograph of the POWs on one of the aircraft finally taking off from--from Hanoi in, probably, February or March 1973. They were stoic almost up to that point. They were told not to show any emotion until they got on the plane, not to give the Vietnamese any--any satisfaction and they were also pretty enervated by that time. But that's a group that--finally when they realized they were--were--were leaving captivity, some of them perhaps after seven or eight years, just let it all out and--in--in absolute joy and
LAMB: You say in the book that the returnee debriefings had been kept confidential. Did you see them and did you use any of that--that information in the book?
Mr. ROCHESTER: Yeah. We--we did see the debriefings--not all of them, but--but many of them. We could not quote directly from them. Even in paraphrasing, we had to be very careful what we used. But we--the real value of the debriefings was in--just kind of informing us and giving us a sense of what a Stockdale or--or a Risner had experienced so that we could better judge their memoirs and the published literature. But the debriefings are considered confidential and we respected that confidence, as well as--even other POWs who want to see others' debriefings are not--not really allowed to get--to get to use those.
LAMB: Senator John McCain. What kind of a prisoner was he?
Mr. ROCHESTER: McCain was unquestionably a hard resistor, hard-line, courageous, tremendous fortitude, just to have survived his initial injuries on his shootdown. McCain landed up in pri--landed in prison, landed in Hanoi after a shootdown in as probably bad a condition as any prisoner who--who survived a crash or a shootdown, a bailout. He had a bad back. He had broken legs, arms. Would be in casts for much of his--his captivity, in fact. He almost drowned, in fact, on landing in Hanoi--landed in a lake in the city and with his equipment on. Somehow, despite his injuries, got out of the lake, ended up at the Plantation and would resist indoctrination and resisted interrogation. The Vietnamese knew that he was the son of an admiral, Admiral McCain in the s--in the Pacific. They knew they had a prize. They tried desperately to get him to tape or to write something that they could use for propaganda purposes. He refused. He was punished repeatedly. Somehow recovered from his injuries with the--the help of a couple cell mates who--who nursed him along and would become one of the leaders in the resistance.
LAMB: And last question. Do you--where did you get the title, "Honor Bound"?
Mr. ROCHESTER: We decided on "Honor Bound" just because it had a--captured both concepts of the captivity, their being bound, but also the importance of honor. That was the key thing, to retain your honor and to observe the Code of Conduct. And as the--the--their symbolic phrase was to return with honor, so...
LAMB: Stuart Rochester along with your co-author, Frederick Kiley. Thank you very much for joining us.
Mr. ROCHESTER: Yeah. Thank you for having me.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1999. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.