Have We Forgotten Our Heroes? Chapter 13

81211921_138143219640 StorzName: Ronald Edward Storz
Branch/Rank: United States Air Force/O3
Date of Birth: 21 October 1933
Home City of Record: SOUTH OZONE PARK NY
Date of Loss: 28 April 1965
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Status (in 1973): Prisoner of War/Died in Captivity
Category: 1
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: O1A

The following is QUOTED directly from THE PASSING OF THE NIGHT, by Brigadier Gen Robinson Risner, Copyright 1973, Ballantine Books. Pages 63 – 71.

“One day they replaced Shumaker with Air Force Captain Ron Storz.  I tapped on the wall to him, got his name, and so forth.  He said that up until this move, he had been living with Captain Scotty Morgan.  “I leaned on the door and broke the lock.  Now I am over here alone being punished.” Ron told me he had been shot down in an L 1 9, one of those little planes called grasshoppers.  Since he, as a forward air controller, normally worked with Vietnamese ground forces, he would carry a Vietnamese officer in the back seat.  His mission was to circle and spot enemy positions or helps the artillery batteries adjust for accuracy. “One afternoon I decided to go up and buzz around by myself.  I was just looking the area over, and I circled real close to the Ben Hi River.  I knew that was the seventeenth parallel, but I didn’t mean to get over the river. When I did, a Vietnamese gun got me, and tries as I might, I could not keep from crashing on the north side.  I thought they were going to kill me when I got out of the airplane.  They made me get down on my knees.  One of the officers took my gun, cocked it and put it against my head.  I figured I was a goner.” He had been in prison for some time and really wanted to talk.  I could hear him moving around in the other cell.  He hollered out the back vent as Bob before him had done, but I could never understand him.  We tapped on the wall, but it was too slow and unsatisfactory.

There were a lot of things we wanted to tell each other.  Finally he asked, by tapping, “Have you tried boring a hole through the wall yet?” I told him I had tried several places but could not get through.  “Each time I try, I hit a brick after I’ve gone in maybe eight to twelve inches.” I had several partial holes; in fact, the wall looked like a piece of Swiss cheese. “Well, I’ll try, too.” Pretty soon I heard some scraping and grinding.  By that afternoon he was through. His hands were blistered, but he had made it.  That gave me some incentive to try to go through the other wall.  I really went to work, and I punched through there, too.  We passed our tools through and let them work in the next room.  In a few days, every room was connected up and down the hall.

Once we got the holes bored through, Ron said, “I’m really down in the mouth.” I asked what the matter was.  “Well, just the fact that I have nothing.  They have taken everything away from me. They took my shoes, my flying suit, and everything I possessed.  They even took my glasses.  I don’t have a single thing.  They took everything.” Ron had indicated to me that he planned to become a minister when he got back to America. Consequently we talked about religion quite a bit, as all of us did.  When he said he was depressed because they had taken everything, I told him, “Ron, I don’t think we really have lost everything.” “What do you mean?” “According to the Bible, we are sons of God.  Everything out there in the courtyard, all the buildings and the whole shooting match belong to God. Since we are children of God, you might say that all belongs to us, too.” There was a long pause.  “Let me think about it, and I’ll call you back.” After a while he called back, “I really feel a lot better.  In fact, every time I get to thinking about it, I have to laugh.” “What do you mean?” “I am just loaning it to them.” I will never forget the day he called me and told me, “They’re trying to make me come to attention for the guards and I will not do it.  What do you think I ought to do?” “What do they do?” “They cut my legs with a bayonet, trying to make me put my feet together.  I am just not going to do it.” I knew he meant it.  He was an extremely strong man.  I thought about it for a while, then I called back, “Ron, I’m afraid we don’t have the power to combat them by physical force.  I believe I would reconsider.  Then, if we decide differently, we all should resist simultaneously.  With only you resisting while everybody else is doing it means you are bound to lose.” He said, “Okay.” I knew, though, that if I had said, “Ron, hang tough! Refuse to snap to,” he would have done it without batting an eye.  He was just that kind of man and he proved it a short time later.

It happened after we had begun to set up a covert communications system throughout the Zoo.  By means of the holes in the walls, special hiding places in the latrine and other ways, we could pass a message through the entire camp within two days.  I had put out directives establishing committees and worked out a staff.  Certain people had been assigned specific jobs.  One man was heading up our communications section.  We had a committee working on escape.  And we kept a current list of all the POWs and their shoot-down date. I then decided to put out a bulletin.  It was not too large, but it contained directives, policies and suggestions.  Since Ron was next door to me, I dictated it to him, and he wrote it down.  Despite the Vietnamese’s denying us our dues as POWs, I still felt that we could outsmart them by using tactics such as these.  We had only been at the Zoo around four weeks; given time, I reasoned, we could begin to effect some changes. I could not have been more wrong. One day during this period, a guard came in and made me stand at attention with my back to the wall. In a few minutes the Dog came in with another Vietnamese in a white shirt. The Dog did not say who the civilian was, but he paid him a lot of deference.  Using the Dog as an interpreter, the civilian made a statement: “I understand you are also a Korean hero.” I was still standing braced against the Wall.  “That is military information and I cannot answer.  I can give you only my name, rank, serial number and date of birth.” When he heard the translation, the cords in his neck swelled up and he tamed red in the face. “We know how to handle your kind.  We are preparing for you now.” He turned and stomped out. The Dog came back in a little while.  He was either so scared or mad that he was still trembling “You have made the gravest mistake in your life.  You will really suffer for this.”

With that threat he left. A few days later a guard caught the men two cells above me talking through the hole in the wall to Ron.  He also found some written material.  Then he went into Ron’s room and caught him by surprise.  He took two pieces of written work Ron had prepared; one was a list of all the POW names, the other was one of the bulletins I had put out.  To make matters worse, Ron had put my real name on the newssheet instead of my code name, “Cochise.” While still in the cell, one of the guards began reading the two sheets.  Ron reached over, snatched one and ate it while holding them off with one hand.  Unfortunately he had grabbed the wrong one.  He ate the list of names which was not too important, but they kept the list of directives. They also found the hole in the wall.  This so excited them that they stepped out in the hall yelling for reinforcements. While they were out, Ron ran over to my wall and beat out an emergency signal to come to our hole in the wall. They searched and found everything. I ate the list of names, but they got the policies. Get rid of anything you don’t want them to find.” I told him to deny everything, and I would do the same.

He just had time enough to stuff the plug back in the hole when they came and took him away. I passed the warning down to the other two rooms and they began to clean house.  As fast as possible I began to try and dispose of anything incriminating.  The steel rods that we had been using to bore the holes in the walls I put under the floor through the grate.  I destroyed lots of paperwork, but the fat was in the fire.  A big shakedown was on.  One thing I had not destroyed was a sheet of toilet paper that had the Morse code on it.  I didn’t think it was any big deal or I would have gotten rid of it. This was one of the pieces of evidence they would use to accuse me of running a communications system.  The irony of it was that I actually was relearning the Morse code with the knowledge of my turnkey.  He had even written his name on it for me.

They put Ron in another room for three days and nights without anything at all – no food, water, bedding, blankets or mosquito net.  They just shoved him in and left him there.  He not only got cold, but the mosquitoes chewed on him all night. They took me before the camp commander for interrogation.  He had the piece of paper Ron had not been able to destroy and started reading the fourteen items it listed, such as: gather all string, nails and wire; save whatever soap or medicine you get; familiarize yourself with any possible escape routes; become acquainted with the guards, and in general follow the policy that “you can catch more flies with sugar than, with vinegar.” I denied the paper was mine.  “Storz has already admitted everything and said you were responsible.” I knew that was a lie.

They would have had to kill Ron before he did that.  He might admit to his having done it, but he would never say that somebody else had.  They, of course, told him the same thing and said that I had admitted everything, and all he had to do was confirm it. After making the usual number of threats, they took me back to a different room at the end of the building.  They left me a pencil and paper and told me to write out a confession that I had violated prison rules.  “If you do not, you will be severely punished.” The first thing I knew, I heard a tap. It was Ron Storz in the next room.  We exchanged what had happened in interrogation. I said, “Remember, I’ll never confess to anything.” “Roger, I won’t either.” He then tapped, “God bless you.” I sent back a GBU. I later heard that Ron was put in Alcatraz, a harsh punishment camp.  Though he was an extremely strong man, the torture began to get through to him. The North Vietnamese hated him so that even when they moved out all the other POWs, they left Ron there alone. I later saw one of the postage stamps put out by the North Vietnamese.  It was typical North Vietnamese propaganda.  On it is a picture of an American POW.  He is big and tall.  Behind him is a teen-age girl, very small, holding a rifle on him.  The American was Ron Storz. When making their report on the POWs in 1973, the North Vietnamese said that Ron Storz “died in captivity.” Ron Storz died as he lived – a brave American fighting man who considered his principles more valuable than his life.”

Ron Storz was beaten unconscious and died on 23 April 1970. His remains were recovered and returned on March 6, 1974.

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