For many people this article will intensify the conflict regarding women serving in combat roles in the military. However when one reviews the history of wars involving the United States, one will discover many women have served not only in traditional combat roles, also in roles of espionage and infiltration traditionally held by men.
Former U.S. Army Capt. Linda L. Bray says her male superiors were incredulous upon hearing she had ably led a platoon of military police officers through a firefight during the 1989 invasion of Panama. (Operation Just Cause)
Instead of being lauded for her actions, the first woman in U.S. history to lead male troops in combat said higher-ranking officers accused her of embellishing accounts of what happened when her platoon bested an elite unit of the Panamanian Defense Force. After her story became public, Congress fiercely debated whether she and other women had any business being on the battlefield.
The Pentagon’s longstanding prohibition against women serving in ground combat ended in 2013, when then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that most combat roles jobs will now be open to female soldiers and Marines. Panetta said women are integral to the military’s success and will be required to meet the same physical standards as their male colleagues.
“I’m so thrilled, excited. I think it’s absolutely wonderful that our nation’s military is taking steps to help women break the glass ceiling,” said Bray, 54, of Clemmons, N.C. “It’s nothing new now in the military for a woman to be right beside a man in operations.”
The end of the ban on women in combat comes more than 23 years after Bray made national news and stoked intense controversy after her actions in Panama were praised as heroic by Marlin Fitzwater, the spokesman for then-President George H.W. Bush.
Bray and 45 soldiers under her command in the 988th Military Police Company, nearly all of them men, encountered a unit of Panamanian special operations soldiers holed up inside a military barracks and dog kennel.
Her troops killed three of the enemy and took one prisoner before the rest were forced to flee, leaving behind a cache of grenades, assault rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition, according to Associated Press news reports published at the time. The Americans suffered no casualties. Citing Bray’s performance under fire as an example, Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo., introduced a bill to repeal the law that barred female U.S. military personnel from serving in combat roles. But the response from the Pentagon brass was less enthusiastic. Schroder’s bill died after top generals lobbied against the measure, saying female soldiers just weren’t up to the physical rigors of combat.
“The responses of my superior officers were very degrading, like, ‘What were you doing there?'” Bray said. “A lot of people couldn’t believe what I had done, or did not want to believe it. Some of them were making excuses, saying that maybe this really didn’t happen the way it came out.”
“The routine carrying of a 120-pound rucksack day in and day out on the nexus of battle between infantrymen is that which is to be avoided and that’s what the current Army policy does,” Gen. M.R. Thurman, then the head of the U.S. Southern Command, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
For Bray, the blowback got personal.
The Army refused to grant her and other female soldiers who fought on the ground in Panama the Combat Infantryman Badge. She was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for Valor, an award for meritorious achievement in a non-combat role.
Bray was also the subject of an Army investigation over allegations by Panamanian officials that she and her soldiers had destroyed government and personal property during the invasion that toppled Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega.
Though eventually cleared of any wrongdoing, the experience soured Bray on the Army. In 1991, she resigned her commission after eight years of active duty and took a medical discharge related to a training injury.
Today’s military is much different from the one Bray knew, with women already serving as fighter pilots, aboard submarines and as field supervisors in war zones. But some can’t help but feel that few know of their contributions, said Alma Felix, 27, a former Army specialist.
“We are the support. Those are the positions we fill and that’s a big deal — we often run the show — but people don’t see that,” Felix said. “Maybe it will put more females forward and give people a sense there are women out there fighting for our country. It’s not just your typical poster boy, GI Joes doing it.”
(Information for this article was gathered from newspapers, military documents and interviews)
James Robinson Risner
Born: January 16, 1925; Mammoth Spring, Arkansas
Died: October 22, 2013 (aged 88); Bridgewater, Virginia
Place of burial: Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance: United States of America
Service/branch: United States Army Air Forces; United States Air Force
Years of service: 1943–1946 1951-1976
Rank: Brigadier General
Commands held: 832d Air Division; 67th Tactical Fighter Squadron; 34th Fighter-Day Squadron; 81st Fighter-Bomber Squadron
Battles/wars: Korean War; Vietnam War
Awards: Air Force Cross (2); Silver Star (2); Distinguished Flying Cross (3); Bronze Star with “V” (2); Air Medal (8); Joint Service Commendation Medal; Purple Heart (4)
James Robinson “Robbie” Risner (January 16, 1925 – October 22, 2013) was a general officer and professional fighter pilot in the United States Air Force.
Risner was a double recipient of the Air Force Cross, the second highest military decoration for valor that can be awarded to a member of the United States Air Force. He was the first living recipient of the medal, awarded the first for valor in aerial combat during the Vietnam War, and the second for gallantry as a prisoner of war of the North Vietnamese for more than seven years.
Commands held: 832d Air Division; 67th Tactical Fighter Squadron; 34th Fighter-Day Squadron; 81st Fighter-Bomber Squadron
Battles/wars: Korean War; Vietnam War
Awards: Air Force Cross (2); Silver Star (2); Distinguished Flying Cross (3); Bronze Star with “V” (2); Air Medal (8); Joint Service Commendation Medal; Purple Heart (4)
Risner became an ace in the Korean War, and commanded a squadron of F-105 Thunderchiefs in the first missions of Operation Rolling Thunder in 1965. He flew a combined 163 combat missions, was shot down twice, and was credited with destroying eight MiG-15s. Risner retired as a brigadier general in 1976.
At his passing, Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark A. Welsh III observed:
“Brig. Gen. James Robinson “Robbie” Risner was part of that legendary group who served in three wars, built an Air Force, and gave us an enduring example of courage and mission success…Today’s Airmen know we stand on the shoulders of giants. One of ‘em is 9 feet tall…and headed west in full afterburner.”
Risner was born in Mammoth Spring, Arkansas on 16 January 1925, but moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1931. His father was originally a sharecropper, then during the Great Depression became a day laborer for the Works Progress Administration. By the time Risner entered high school, his father was self-employed, selling used cars. Risner worked numerous part-time jobs in his youth to help the family, including newspaper delivery, errand boy and soda jerk for a drug store, for the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce at age 16, as a welder, and for his father polishing cars.
Risner had a religious upbringing as a member of the 1st Assembly of God Church. He wrestled for Tulsa Central High School, where he graduated in 1942. In addition to a love of sports, Risner’s interests were primarily in riding horses and motorcycles.
Risner enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces as an aviation cadet in April, 1943, and attended flight training at Williams Field, Arizona, where he was awarded his pilot wings and a commission as 2nd Lieutenant in May 1944. He completed transition training in P-40 Warhawk and P-39 Airacobra fighters before being assigned to the 30th Fighter Squadron in Panama.
The 30th FS was based on a primitive airstrip without permanent facilities at Aguadulce, on the Gulf of Panama. Risner noted to a biographer that his tour under these conditions amounted to as much flying as he desired but a distinct lack of discipline on the ground. When the squadron was relocated to Howard Field in the Panama Canal Zone in January 1945 to transition to P-38 Lightning fighters, its pilots were soon banned from the Officers Club for rowdiness and vandalism.
In 1946, Risner was involved in an off-duty motorcycle accident. While undergoing hospital treatment in the Army, he met his first wife Kathleen Shaw, a nurse from Ware Shoals, South Carolina. Risner and Shaw became engaged on a ship and were discharged and married the next month.
In civilian life, Risner tried a succession of jobs, training as an auto mechanic, operating a gas station, and managing a service garage. He also joined the Oklahoma Air National Guard, becoming an F-51 Mustang pilot. He flew nearly every weekend, and on one occasion, became lost in the fringes of a hurricane on a flight to Brownsville, Texas. Forced to land on a dry lakebed, he found that he was in Mexico and encountered bandits, but successfully flew his Mustang to Brownsville after the storm had passed. He received an unofficial rebuke from the American embassy for flying an armed fighter into the sovereign territory of a foreign nation, but for diplomatic reasons the flight was officially ignored.
Risner was recalled to active duty in February 1951 while assigned to the 185th Tactical Fighter Squadron of the OKANG at Will Rogers Field in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He subsequently received training in the F-80 Shooting Star at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina.
Risner’s determination to be assigned to a combat unit was nearly ended when on his last day before going overseas he broke his hand and wrist falling from a horse. Robinson deliberately concealed the injury, which would have grounded him, until able to convince a flight surgeon that the injury had healed. He actually had his cast removed to fly his first mission.
Risner arrived in Korea on May 10, 1952, assigned to the 15th Reconnaissance Squadron at Kimpo Air Base. In June, when the 336th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, also at Kimpo, sought experienced pilots, he arranged a transfer to 4th Fighter Wing through the intervention of a former OKANG associate. Risner was often assigned to fly F-86E-10, AF serial no. 51-2824, nicknamed Ohio Mike and bearing a large cartoon rendition of Bugs Bunny as nose art, in which he achieved most of his aerial victories.
His first two months of combat saw little contact with MiGs, and although a flight leader, he took a three-day leave to Japan in early August. The day after his arrival he returned to Korea when he learned that MiGs were operational. Arriving at Kimpo in the middle of the night, he joined his flight which was on alert status. The flight of four F-86 Sabres launched and encountered 14 MiG-15s. In a brief dogfight Risner shot down one to score his first aerial victory on August 5, 1952.
On September 15, Risner’s flight escorted F-84 Thunderjet fighter-bombers attacking a chemical plant on the Yalu River near the East China Sea. During their defense of the bombers, Risner’s flight overflew the MiG base at Antung Airfield, China. Fighting one MiG at nearly supersonic speeds at ground level, Risner pursued it down a dry riverbed and across low hills to an airfield 35 miles inside China. Scoring numerous hits on the MiG, shooting off its canopy, and setting it on fire, Risner chased it between hangars of the Communist airbase, where he shot it down into parked fighters.
On the return flight, Risner’s wingman, 1st Lt. Joseph Logan, was struck in his fuel tanks by anti-aircraft fire over Antung. In an effort to help him reach Kimpo, Risner attempted to push Logan’s aircraft by having him shut down his engine and inserting the nose of his own jet into the tailpipe of Logan’s, an unprecedented and untried maneuver. The object of the maneuver was to push Logan’s aircraft to the island of off the North Korean coast, where the Air Force maintained a helicopter rescue detachment. Jet fuel and hydraulic fluid spewed out from the damaged Sabre onto Risner’s canopy, obscuring his vision, and turbulence kept separating the two jets. Risner was able to re-establish contact and guide the powerless plane out over the sea until fluids threatened to stall his own engine. Near Cho Do, Logan bailed out after calling to Risner, “I’ll see you at the base tonight.” Although Logan came down close to shore and was a strong swimmer, he became entangled in his parachute shrouds and drowned. Risner shut down his own engine in an attempt to save fuel, but eventually his engine flamed out and he glided to a deadstick landing at Kimpo.
On September 21 he shot down his fifth MiG, becoming the 20th jet ace. In October 1952 Risner was promoted to major and named operations officer of the 336th FIS. Risner flew 108 missions in Korea and was credited with the destruction of eight MiG-15s, his final victory occurring January 21, 1953.
Risner was commissioned into the Regular Air Force and assigned to the 50th Fighter-Bomber Wing at Clovis Air Force Base, New Mexico, in March 1953, where he became operations officer of the 81st Fighter Bomber Squadron. He flew F-86s with the 50th Wing to activate Hahn Air Base, West Germany, where he became commander of the 81st FBS in November 1954.
In July 1956, he was transferred to George Air Force Base, California as operations officer of the 413th Fighter Wing. Subsequently he served as commander of the 34th Fighter-Day Squadron, also at George Air Force Base.
During his tour of duty at George Air Force Base, Risner was selected to fly the Charles A. Lindbergh Commemoration Flight from New York to Paris. Ferrying a two-seat F-100F Super Sabre nicknamed Spirit of St. Louis II to Europe on the same route as Lindbergh, he set a transatlantic speed record, covering the distance in 6 hours and 37 minutes.
From August 1960 to July 1961, he attended the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. He next served on the joint staff of Commander-in-Chief, Pacific (CINCPAC) in Hawaii.
In August 1964, Lieutenant Colonel Risner took command of the 67th Tactical Fighter Squadron, an F-105D Thunderchief fighter-bomber unit based at Kadena AB, Okinawa, and part of the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing. The following January he led a detachment of seven aircraft to Da Nang Air Base to fly combat strikes that included a mission in Laos on January 13 in which he and his pilots were decorated for destroying a bridge, but Risner was also verbally reprimanded for losing an aircraft while bombing a second bridge not authorized by his orders. On February 18, 1965, as part of an escalation in air attacks directed by President Lyndon B. Johnson that resulted in the commencement of Operation Rolling Thunder, the 67th TFS began a tour of temporary duty at Korat RTAFB, Thailand, under the control of the 2d Air Division.
Risner’s squadron led the first Rolling Thunder strike on March 2, bombing an ammunition dump at Xom Biang approximately ten miles north of the Demilitarized Zone. The strike force consisted of more than 100 F-105, F-100, and B-57 aircraft, and in the congested airspace, heavy anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) fire seriously disrupted its coordination and radio communications. Risner’s squadron was tasked with flak suppression, dropping CBU-2 “cluster bombs” from extremely low altitude. His wingman Capt. Robert V. “Boris” Baird was shot down on the opening pass, and the mission was in danger of collapsing when Risner took charge. After the last strike had been delivered, Risner and the two surviving members of his flight remained in the area, directing the search and rescue mission for Baird until their fuel ran low. Risner, in a battle damaged aircraft, diverted to Da Nang air base for landing.
On March 22, 1965, while leading two flights of F-105s attacking a radar site near Vinh Son, North Vietnam, Risner was hit by ground fire when he circled back over the target. He maneuvered his aircraft over the Gulf of Tonkin, ejected a mile offshore, and was rescued after fifteen minutes in the water.
On April 3 and 4, 1965, Risner led two large missions against the Thanh Hóa Bridge in North Vietnam. On the afternoon of April 3, the strike package of Rolling Thunder Mission 9 Alpha consisted of 79 aircraft, including 46 F-105s. 16 of those carried AGM-12 Bullpup missiles, while another 30 carried eight 750-pound bombs each, half of which were designated for the railroad and highway bridge. The force had clear conditions but encountered a severe glare in the target area that made the bridge difficult to acquire for attacks with the Bullpups. Only one Bullpup could be guided at a time, and on his second pass, Risner’s aircraft took a hit just as the missile struck the bridge. Fighting a serious fuel leak and a smoke-filled cockpit in addition to anti-aircraft fire from the ground, he again nursed his crippled aircraft to DaNang. The use of Bullpups against the bridge had been completely ineffectual, resulting in the scheduling of a second mission the next day with 48 F-105s attacking the bridge without destroying it. The missions saw the first interception of U.S. aircraft by North Vietnamese MiG-17 fighters, resulting in the loss of two F-105s and pilots of the last flight, struck by a hit-and-run attack while waiting for their run at the target.
Risner’s exploits earned him an awarding of the Air Force Cross and resulted in his being featured as the cover portrait of the April 23, 1965 issue of Time magazine. The 67th TFS ended its first deployment to Korat on April 26 but returned from Okinawa on August 16 for a second tour of combat duty over North Vietnam.
On August 12, 1965, U.S. Air Force and Navy air units received authorization to attack surface-to-air missile sites supplied to the North Vietnamese by the Soviet Union. Initial attempts to locate and destroy the SA-2 Guideline sites, known as Iron Hand missions, were both unsuccessful and costly. Tactics were revised in which “Hunter-Killer Teams” were created. Employed at low altitudes, the “hunters” located the missiles and attacked their radar control vans with canisters of napalm, both to knock out the SAM’s missile guidance and to mark the target for the “killers”, which followed up the initial attack using 750-pound bombs to destroy the site.
On 16 September 1965 Risner was flying this aircraft when he was shot down by anti-aircraft artillery.
On the morning of September 16, 1965, on an Iron Hand sortie, Risner scheduled himself for the mission as the “hunter” element of a Hunter-Killer Team searching for a SAM site in the vicinity of Tuong Loc, 80 miles south of Hanoi and 10 miles northeast of the Thanh Hoa Bridge. Risner’s aircraft was at very low altitude flying at approximately 600 mph, approaching a site that was likely a decoy luring aircraft into a concentration of AAA. Heavy ground fire struck Risner’s F-105 in its air intakes when he popped up over a hill to make his attack. Again he attempted to fly to the Gulf of Tonkin, but ejected when the aircraft, on fire, pitched up out of control. He was captured by North Vietnamese while still trying to extricate himself from his parachute. He was on his 55th combat mission at the time.
“We were lucky to have Risner. With (Captain James) Stockdale we had wisdom. With Risner we had spirituality.”Commander Everett Alvarez, Jr. – 1st U.S. pilot held as a Prisoner of War in Southeast Asia
After several days of travel on foot and by truck, Risner was imprisoned in Hỏa Lò Prison, known as the Hanoi Hilton to American POWs. However after two weeks he was moved to Cu Loc Prison, known as “The Zoo”, where he was confronted during interrogations with his Time magazine cover and told that his capture had been highly coveted by the North Vietnamese. Returned to Hỏa Lò Prison as punishment for disseminating behavior guidelines to the POWs under his nominal command, Risner was severely tortured for 32 days, culminating in his coerced signing of an apologetic confession for war crimes.
Risner spent more than three years in solitary confinement. Even so, as the officer of rank with the responsibility of maintaining order, from 1965 to 1973 he helped lead American resistance in the North Vietnamese prison complex through the use of improvised messaging techniques (“tap code”), endearing himself to fellow prisoners with his faith and optimism. It was largely thanks to the leadership of Risner and his Navy counterpart, Commander (later Vice Admiral) James Stockdale, that the POWs organized themselves to present maximum resistance. While held prisoner in Hỏa Lò, Risner served first as Senior Ranking Officer and later as Vice Commander of the provisional 4th Allied Prisoner of War Wing. He was a POW for seven years, four months, and 27 days. His five sons had been aged 16 to 3 when he last saw them.
His story of being imprisoned drew wide acclaim after that war’s end. His autobiography, The Passing of the Night: My Seven Years as a Prisoner of the North Vietnamese, describes seven years of torture and mistreatment by the North Vietnamese. In his book, Risner attributes faith in God and prayer as being instrumental to his surviving the Hanoi prison experience. In his words he describes how he survived a torture session in July 1967, handcuffed and in stocks after destroying two pictures of his family to prevent them from being used as propaganda by an East German film crew:
“To make it, I prayed by the hour. It was automatic, almost subconscious. I did not ask God to take me out of it. I prayed he would give me strength to endure it. When it would get so bad that I did not think I could stand it, I would ask God to ease it and somehow I would make it. He kept me.”
Publication of Risner’s book led to a flap with American author and Vietnam war critic Mary McCarthy in 1974. The two had met, apparently at McCarthy’s request, when McCarthy visited Hanoi in April 1968. The meeting, described as “stilted”, resulted in an unflattering portrait of McCarthy in Risner’s book, primarily because she failed to note scars and other evidence of torture he had made plain to her. After publication of the book, McCarthy strenuously attacked both Risner (deeming him “unlikeable” and alleging that he had “become a Vietnamese toady”) and Risner’s credibility in a review. Risner made no rebuttal at the time, but when interviewed by Frances Kiernan decades later, Risner described the review as “character assassination”, a criticism of McCarthy’s treatment supported by several of her liberal peers including Kiernan.”
Risner was promoted to colonel after his capture, with a date of rank of November 11, 1965. He was part of the first group of prisoners released in Operation Homecoming on 12 February 1973 and returned to the United States. In July 1973 USAF assigned him to the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, where he became combat ready in the F-4 Phantom II. Risner was later transferred to Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico in February 1974 to command the 832d Air Division, in which he flew the F-111 Aardvark fighter-bomber. He was promoted to brigadier general in May 1974. On 1 August 1975, he became Vice Commander of the USAF Tactical Fighter Weapons Center at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada and retired from the Air Force on 1 August 1976.
Risner’s family life during and following his imprisonment was marked by several personal tragedies. His mother and brother died while he was still a P.O.W. and his oldest son Robbie Jr. died two years after his return of a congenital heart defect. In June 1975 Risner was divorced from his wife Kathleen after 29 years of marriage. In 1976 he met his second wife Dorothy Marie (“Dot”) Williams, widow of a fighter pilot missing-in-action in 1967 and subsequently married her after her missing husband was declared dead. They remained married until the end of his life, with the two younger of his four surviving sons choosing to live with him and Risner adopting her three youngest children. After retirement he lived in Austin, Texas, where he worked with the D.A.R.E. program and raised quarter horses, and later in San Antonio. He later moved to Bridgewater, Virginia.
Risner is one of only four airmen with multiple awards of the Air Force Cross, a combat decoration second only to the Medal of Honor.
The USAF Weapons School Robbie Risner Award, created September 24, 1976, was donated by H. Ross Perot as a tribute to Risner and all Vietnam era Prisoners of War, and is administered by the Tactical Air Command (now by Air Combat Command). The award is presented annually to the outstanding graduate of the USAF Weapons School. The Risner Award is a six and one-half foot trophy consisting of a sculpture of Risner in flight suit and helmet on a marble base, weighing approximately four tons. The trophy is permanently displayed at the United States Air Force Academy, with each winner’s name inscribed. A miniature replica, also donated by Perot, is presented to each year’s recipient as a personal memento. An identical casting, measuring four feet and weighing 300 pounds, was installed in the foyer of the USAF Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base in October 1984.
A nine foot bronze statue of Risner, sculpted by Lawrence M. Ludtke and mounted on a five foot pedestal of black granite, was commissioned by Perot and dedicated in the Air Gardens at the Air Force Academy on November 16, 2001. In addition to replicating the Risner Award, the statue commemorates Risner and other POWs who were punished for holding religious services in their room at the Hanoi Hilton on February 7, 1971, in defiance of North Vietnamese authorities. The statue was made nine feet tall in memory of Risner’s statement, commenting on his comrades singing The Star Spangled Banner and God Bless America, that “I felt like I was nine feet tall and could go bear hunting with a switch.”
Perot helped Risner later become the Executive Director of the Texans’ War on Drugs, and Risner was subsequently appointed by President Ronald Reagan as a United States Delegate to the fortieth session of the United Nations General Assembly. He was also inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in November 1974 in recognition of his military service, and announced as an inductee into the Arkansas Military Veterans Hall of Fame on November 1, 2013.
On October 19, 2012, ground was broken at the Air Force Academy for its new Center for Character and Leadership Development. In February 2012 the Academy received a $3.5 million gift from The Perot Foundation to endow the General James R. Risner Senior Military Scholar at the center, who “will conduct research to advance the understanding, study and practice of the profession of arms, advise senior Academy leadership on the subject, and lead seminars, curriculum development, and classroom activities at the Academy.”
The chapter squadron of the Arnold Air Society for Southern California, based on the AFROTC detachment of California State University, San Bernardino, is named for Risner.
Risner died in his sleep October 22, 2013, at his home in Bridgewater, Virginia three days after suffering a severe stroke. Risner was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on January 23, 2014. He was eulogized by Perot and General Welsh with fellow former POWs and current members of the 336th Fighter Squadron among those in attendance.
MCKNIGHT, GEORGE GRISBY
Branch/Rank: UNITED STATES AIR FORCE/O3
Unit: 602 ACS
Home City of Record: ALBANY OR
Date of Loss: 06-November-65
Country of Loss: NORTH VIETNAM
Colonel O-6, U.S. Air Force
U.S. Air Force Reserve 1955-1956
U.S. Air Force 1956-1986
Cold War 1955-1986
Vietnam War 1964-1973 (POW)
George McKnight was born in 1933 in Albany, Oregon. He was commissioned a 2d Lt in the U.S. Air Force through the Air Force ROTC program on July 15, 1955, and went on active duty beginning January 23, 1956. Lt McKnight completed pilot training and was awarded his pilot wings at Laredo AFB, Texas, in February 1957, and then completed F-100 Super Sabre Combat Crew Training in September 1957.
His first assignment was as an F-100 pilot with the 35th Fighter-Bomber Squadron at Itazuke AB, Japan, from October 1957 to June 1961 followed by service as an F-100 pilot with the 428th and then the 430th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Cannon AFB, New Mexico, from July 1961 to January 1965.
During this time, he deployed to Southeast Asia and flew combat missions from Takhli Royal Thai AFB, Thailand, from November to December 1964. Capt McKnight next completed A-1 Skyraider training at Eglin AFB, Florida, and then served as an A-1 pilot with the 602nd Fighter Squadron at Bien Hoa AB, South Vietnam, from July 1965 until he was forced to bail out over North Vietnam and was taken as a Prisoner of War on November 6, 1965. McKnight, a captain at the time, was taken as a POW in November 1965. He was an A-1 Skyraider pilot, assigned to the 602nd Fighter Squadron at Bien Hoa Air Base, South Vietnam. After spending 2,656 days in captivity, Col McKnight was released during Operation Homecoming on February 12, 1973. He was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries at Travis AFB, California, and then attended the Air War College at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, from August 1973 to July 1974.
Speaking about his POW experience, COL McKnight states:
“I was a POW for 7 years, 3 months, 2 days, 4 hours and 3 minutes,” he said of the confinement that lasted until the end of the war. He and 10 others, including U.S. Sen. John McCain, had a name for their prison and for themselves. “We called it Alcatraz Prison and ourselves the Alcatraz 11. We were all in solitary confinement.”
McKnight said he never saw his fellow American prisoners until they were released, with the exception of one escape attempt. Prisoners were kept in individual cells and communicated with one another by tapping on the walls — a code they learned in case they were captured.
“It was exactly like text messaging,” he said with a laugh. “So we invented it. We want our money back.”
When he returned to the Air Force War College in Montgomery, Ala., he met a woman in the Nurse Corps. He and Suzanne married, and 34 years later are “living happily ever after.”
To McKnight, Veterans Day is a time to especially honor the country’s young service men and women.
“It’s amazing they can get those men and women without the threat of the draft,” he said, his voice catching with emotion. “Those guys today are volunteers. So they are very special soldiers.”
His next assignment was to flight retraining and F-4 Phantom II Combat Crew Training before serving as Special Assistant to the Deputy Chief of Operations for the 463rd Tactical Fighter Squadron at RAF Lakenheath, England, from March 1975 to April 1976.
COL McKnight then served as Deputy Commander for Operations of the 32nd Tactical Fighter Squadron at Camp New Amsterdam in the Netherlands from May 1976 to March 1978, followed by studies at the Defense Language Institute and then service as Defense Air Attaché to the Democratic Republic of the Congo from October 1978 to May 1982. His final assignment was as Commander in Chief of the U.S. Air Force/Canadian Forces Officer Exchange Program in Ottawa City, Canada, from November 1982 until his retirement from the Air Force on March 1, 1986.
His Air Force Cross Citation reads:
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Section 8742, Title 10, United States Code, awards the Air Force Cross to Lieutenant Colonel George G. McKnight for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force while a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam on 12 October 1967. On that date, he executed an escape from a solitary confinement cell by removing the door bolt brackets from his door. Colonel McKnight knew the outcome of his escape attempt could be severe reprisal or loss of his life. He succeeded in making it through a section of housing, then to the Red River and swam down river all night. The next morning he was recaptured, severely beaten, and put into solitary confinement for two and a half years. Through his extraordinary heroism and aggressiveness in the face of the enemy, Colonel McKnight reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.
Name: Robert Harper Shumaker
Rank/Branch: O4/US Navy
Unit: Fighter Squadron 154
Date of Birth: 11 May 1933
Home City of Record: La Jolla CA (USN says New Wilmington PA)
Date of Loss: 11 February 1965
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Status (in 1973): Released POW
Born in New Castle, PA, on 11 May 1933 to Alva and Eleanor Shumaker, Rear Admiral Robert Shumaker ’56, USN (Ret.), grew up attending local public schools and spent a year at Northwestern University before entering the Naval Academy. Following graduation, he completed flight training and flew the F-8 Crusader with fighter squadron VF-32. Around this time, Shumaker was considered for astronaut training by NASA, but unfortunately his selection was blocked due to a short-term physical ailment.
By early January, 1965, following two significant military defeats at the hands of North Vietnamese guerrilla forces, the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam was near collapse; U.S. options were either to leave the country or increase its military activity. President Johnson chose to escalate. Plans were authorized for a “limited war” that included a bombing campaign in North Vietnam.
The first major air strike over North Vietnam took place in reaction to Viet Cong mortaring of an American advisor’s compound at Pleiku on February 7, 1965. Eight Americans died in the attack, more than one hundred were wounded, and ten aircraft were destroyed. President Johnson immediately launched FLAMING DART I, a strike against the Vit Thu Lu staging area, fifteen miles inland and five miles north of the demilitarized zone (DMZ).
Thirty-four aircraft launched from the USS RANGER, but were prevented from carrying out that attack by poor weather, and the RANGER aircraft were not allowed to join the forty-nine planes from the USS CORAL SEA and USS HANCOCK, which struck the North Vietnamese army barracks and port facilities at Dong Hoi. The strike was judged at best an inadequate reprisal. It accounted for sixteen destroyed buildings. The cost? The loss of one A4E Skyhawk pilot from the USS CORAL SEA and eight damaged aircraft.
FLAMING DART II unfolded 11 February 1965 after the Viet Cong blew up a U.S. enlisted men’s billet at Qui Nhon, killing twenty-three men and wounded twenty-one others. Nearly one hundred aircraft from the carriers RANGER, HANCOCK and CORAL SEA bombed and strafed enemy barracks at Chanh Hoa. Damage assessments revealed twenty-three of the seventy-six buildings in the camp were damaged or destroyed. One American pilot was shot down — LCDR Robert H. Shumaker.
LCDR Robert Shumaker was flying an F-8-D Crusader (assigned to Fighter Squadron 154 on board the USS Coral Sea) when he was hit by 37 mm. cannon fire, which forced the jet out of control. He ejected and his parachute opened a mere 35 feet from the ground. The impact broke his back and he was captured immediately, placed in a jeep and transported over the rutted roads to Hanoi. Upon arrival in Hanoi a white smocked North Vietnamese gave him a cursory examination before dozens of photographers, yet did not give him any medical attention. His back healed itself, but it was six months before he could bend.
Shumaker was the second Navy aviator to be captured. For the next 8 years, Shumaker was held in various prisoner of war camps, including the infamous Hoa Lo complex in Hanoi. Shumaker, in fact, dubbed this complex the “Hanoi Hilton”.
Shumaker, as a prisoner, was known for devising all sorts of communications systems and never getting caught. Like other POWs, he was badgered to write a request for amnesty from Ho Chi Minh, which he refused to do. As punishment, the Vietnamese forced Shumaker to stay in a cell with no heat and no blankets during the winter.
In the torture sessions he continued to hold out for his beliefs. His back healed, but was reinjured two years later in a torture session because he refused to play the part of a wounded American in a propaganda movie. After beating him they used him for the part anyway.
He was known as one of the “Alcatraz Eleven” because he spent nearly three years in solitary confinement, much of the time clamped in leg irons. He would often think of his young son, Grant, who was just a baby when he was shot down. That little boy was eight years old when he saw him again.
As stated previously, Commander Shumaker originated the name “Hanoi Hilton” for the prison. The famous name was the ultimate in satire since the prisoners were tortured, starved and insulted rather than treated with hospitality. Through his entire imprisonment of over eight years, CDR Shumaker maintained himself as a military man. He states that “When we were released, we marched to the airplanes to show we were still a military organization.”
Shumaker was released in Operation Homecoming on February 12, 1973. He had been promoted to the rank of Commander during his captivity. Upon arrival at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, CDR Shumaker stated: “I simply want to say that I am happy to be home and so grateful to a nation that never did forget us. We tried to conduct ourselves so that America would be as proud of us as we are proud of her. I am very proud to have served my country and pleased that we can return with honor and dignity.”
Speaking of his time in Vietnam, RADM Shumaker stated:
“Paradoxically, I learned a lot about life from my experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Those tough lessons learned within a jail cell have application to all those who will never have to undergo that particular trauma. At some point in life everybody will be hungry, cold, lonely, extorted, sick, humiliated, or fearful in varying degrees of intensity. It is the manner in which you react to these challenges that will distinguish you.
When adversity strikes, you’ve got to fall back with the punch and do your best to get up off the mat to come back for the next round. Realize that a person is not in total control of his destiny, but you need to know what your goals are, and you have to prepare yourself in advance to take advantage of opportunity when that door opens. Some important tools on the road to success include the ability and willingness to communicate, treating those around you with respect and courtesy no matter what their station in life might be, and conducting your life with the morality and behavior that will allow you to face yourself forever, in the end, you alone must be your own harshest critic.”
Rear Admiral Shumaker retired from the U.S. Navy on 01 February 1988. After retiring from the Navy, Shumaker became an assistant dean at George Washington University and later became the associate dean of the Center for Aerospace Sciences at the University of North Dakota. He is married to the former Lorraine Shaw of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. In April 2011 he was presented with the Distinguished Graduate Award from the U.S. Naval Academy. He has one son, Grant.
Since the war ended, nearly 10,000 reports relating to Americans missing, prisoner or unaccounted for in Southeast Asia have been received by the U.S. Government. Many authorities who have examined this largely classified information are convinced that hundreds of Americans are still held captive today. These reports are the source of serious distress to many returned American prisoners. They had a code that no one could honorably return unless all of the prisoners returned. Not only that code of honor, but the honor of our country is at stake as long as even one man remains unjustly held. It’s time we brought our men home.
Name: Jon R. Cavaiani
Rank/Branch: E5/US Army Special
ForcesUnit: Task Force 1, Advisory Element, USARV TAG SUP; Headquarters USARV
Date of Birth: 02 August 1943
Home City of Record: Merced CA
Date of Loss: 05 June 1971
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Status (in 1973): Released POW
Staff Sergeant U.S. Army Jon R. Cavaiani was born in England and came to America with his parents in 1947 at the age of four. Although he was classified 4-F because of an allergy to bee stings and was married with two children, Cavaiani enlisted in the Army shortly after being naturalized in 1968.
He qualified for Special Forces and arrived in Vietnam in the summer of 1970; later he joined the Studies and Observation Group (SOG), an unconventional warfare task force, and was soon leading clandestine operations against the North Vietnamese. In the spring of 1971, SSG Cavaiani was in charge of the security platoon for an isolated radio relay site deep in the northwestern most outpost of South Vietnam near Khe Sanh. The mission of his unit, which comprised 70 indigenous troops and 13 Americans, was to provide security for this intelligence-gathering operation. On the morning of June 4, the camp came under attack by an overwhelming enemy force. Cavaiani moved through the exploding mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and automatic weapons fire to organize a defensive perimeter and direct the U.S. force’s fight for survival. When a grenade knocked him down and wounded him as he was firing a .50-caliber machine gun, he picked himself up and continued to organize the fight. By midday, it was clear that the small American contingent wouldn’t be able to fight off the North Vietnamese.
Cavaiani called in help and directed the evacuation, but the helicopters broke off the mission before the last 17 of his men could be taken out. While they remained in the camp overnight trying to fend off enemy attacks, Cavaiani again established a defensive position and concentrated his efforts on strengthening the morale of his men. The next morning, obscured by heavy ground fog, the North Vietnamese massed. Ordering his remaining men to try to escape, Cavaiani attempted to keep the enemy at bay with small arms and hand grenades. The survivors, who last saw him standing with a machine gun spraying the two columns of advancing soldiers, reported his heroic death when they got back to the American lines.
Although he had been shot in the back, Cavaiani was able to crawl into a bunker with another American, Sgt. James Jones. When two NVA soldiers entered, Cavaiani killed one with a dagger, and Jones shot the other. Then an enemy grenade exploded in the bunker. Badly wounded, Jones stepped out to surrender and was killed by rifle shots; Cavaiani played dead. When the North Vietnamese set the bunker on fire, he was severely burned but managed to escape into the jungle. He evaded capture for 11 days and had almost made it back to an American camp when he was caught by a 70-year-old peasant with an antique bolt-action rifle. Cavaiani was taken to North Vietnam by his captors and spent time in “Plantation Gardens,” a prisoner-of-war camp, and in the interrogation center known as the Zoo before winding up in the “Hanoi Hilton.”
When he was released in 1973, he heard that he had been recommended for the Medal of Honor. It was awarded to him on December 12, 1974, by President Gerald Ford, who spent an hour with the Cavaiani family after the ceremony. In 1990 Jon retired after 21 years of service as a Sergeant Major.
Years later Jon said this about time in Vietnam:
“An individual must at least attempt to keep his mind occupied, to retain his sanity otherwise, the enemy will enter. Therefore, I decided what were the things I believed in: God, America, and my family. Yes, they had always been in my mind and then when I needed them most they stood by me as a shield against the enemy. After extensive and rigorous training in the skills of the Special Forces, I went to Vietnam as a weapons man.
Upon arriving there I was immediately made Agricultural Advisor for Military Region 1 or I Corps, a job in which I had an extensive knowledge, having been District Sales Manager for a chemical company, which specialized in agricultural chemicals, prior to my military career. Also, before working for the chemical company, I had farmed for four and a half years.
I was Agricultural Advisor for four months until reassigned to run reconnaissance for four months. I was also a heavy weapons platoon leader for a month. My last assignment before being captured was as a commander of a relay site north west of Quang Tri.
On June 4, 1971 the site was attacked and overrun by the enemy. The following day, I was captured. From that day forward the enemy, in their own way, gave me the will to survive, to resist their ideas and their belief that what they were doing was right. This in turn strengthened my conviction that I was right in being in Vietnam.
As a prisoner I was to meet some of the most heroic men I have ever or will ever hope to encounter, men who never let their country or families down, when so many people in the United States were letting us, the POWs, MIAs and almost all our country, down. Well, by God, regardless of what some people said about the war, we did our jobs as men and kept the faith in our President and country. I thank God and my country for letting me come back to see my daughters again. And I say, with great pride, God Bless America.”
Name: Samuel Robert Johnson
Rank/Branch: O4/United States Air Force
Unit: 433rd TFS
Date of Birth: 11 October 1930
Home City of Record: Dallas TX
Date of Loss: 16 April 1966
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Status (in 1973): Returnee
NOTE: Flew 62 missions in Korea in F-86’s
Samuel Robert “Sam” Johnson (born October 11, 1930) is a retired career U.S. Air Force officer and fighter pilot and an American politician. He currently is a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from the 3rd District of Texas. The district includes much of Collin County, as well as Plano, where he lives.
Johnson grew up in Dallas and graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School. Johnson graduated from Southern Methodist University in his hometown in 1951, with a degree in business administration. While at SMU, Johnson joined the Delta Chi social fraternity as well as the Alpha Kappa Psi business fraternity. He served a 29-year career in the United States Air Force, where he served as director of the Air Force Fighter Weapons School and flew the F-100 Super Sabre with the Air Force Thunderbirds precision flying demonstration team. He commanded the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing at Homestead AFB, Florida and an air division at Holloman AFB, New Mexico, retiring as a Colonel.
He is a veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam Wars as a fighter pilot. During the Korean War, he flew 62 combat missions in the F-86 Sabre. During the Vietnam War, Johnson flew the F-4 Phantom II.
In 1966, while flying his 25th combat mission in Vietnam, he was shot down over North Vietnam. He was a prisoner of war for seven years, including 42 months in solitary confinement. During this period, he was repeatedly tortured.
Johnson was part of a group of 12 prisoners known as the Alcatraz Gang, a group of prisoners separated from other captives for their resistance to their captors. They were held in “Alcatraz”, a special facility about one mile away from the Hỏa Lò Prison, notably nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton”. Johnson, like the others, was kept in solitary confinement, locked nightly in irons in a 3-by-9-foot cell with the light on around the clock. Johnson recounted the details of his POW experience in his autobiography, Captive Warriors(available through amazon).
Mr. Johnson states “The nearly seven years that I spent in Hanoi but most especially the more than two years in a camp called Alcatraz engendered a close-knit bond between me and some great Americans. I count these men as true friends and their courage and ideals have brought home vividly to me what America is all about. I can only emphasize that the freedoms that most Americans take for granted are in fact, real and must be preserved. I have returned to a great nation and our sacrifices have been well worth the effort. I pledge to continue to serve and fight to protect the freedoms and ideals that the United States stands for” and he has done so.”
A decorated war hero, Johnson was awarded two Silver Stars, two Legions of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, one Bronze Star with Combat “V” for Valor, two Purple Hearts, four Air Medals, and three Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards. He was also retroactively awarded the Prisoner of War Medal following its establishment in 1985. He walks with a noticeable limp, due to an old war injury.
After his military career, he established a homebuilding business in Plano. He was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1984 and was re-elected four times. In 1990, Johnson was inducted into the Woodrow Wilson High School Hall of Fame. In October 2009, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society awarded Johnson the National Patriot Award, the Society’s highest civilian award given to Americans who exemplify patriotism and strive to better the nation.
On May 8, 1991, he was elected to the House in a special election brought about by eight-year incumbent Steve Bartlett’s resignation to become mayor of Dallas. Johnson defeated fellow conservative Republican Thomas Pauken, also of Dallas, 24,004 (52.6 percent) to 21,647 (47.4 percent). Johnson thereafter won a full term in 1992 and has been reelected nine times. The 3rd has been in Republican hands since 1968. The Democrats did not even field a candidate in 1992, 1994, 1998, or 2004.
2004: Johnson ran unopposed by the Democratic Party in his district in the 2004 election. Paul Jenkins, an independent, and James Vessels, a member of the Libertarian Party ran against Johnson. Johnson won overwhelmingly in a highly Republican district. Johnson garnered 86% of the vote (178,099), while Jenkins earned 8% (16,850) and Vessels 6% (13,204).
2006: Johnson ran for re-election in 2006, defeating his opponent Robert Edward Johnson in the Republican primary, 85 to 15 percent. In the general election, Johnson faced Democrat Dan Dodd and Libertarian Christopher J. Claytor. Both Dodd and Claytor are West Point graduates. Dodd served two tours of duty in Vietnam and Claytor served in Operation Southern Watch in Kuwait in 1992. It was only the fourth time that Johnson had faced Democratic opposition. Johnson retained his seat, taking 62.5% of the vote, while Democrat Dodd received 34.9% and Libertarian Claytor received 2.6%. However, this was far less than in years past, when Johnson won by margins of 80 percent or more.
2008: Johnson retained his seat in the House of Representatives by defeating the Democrat Tom Daley and Libertarian nominee Christopher J. Claytor in the 2008 general election. He won with 60 percent of the vote, an unusually low total for such a heavily Republican district.
2010: Johnson won re-election with 66.3% of the vote against Democrat John Lingenfelder (31.3%) and Libertarian Christopher Claytor (2.4%).
2014: Johnson handily won re-nomination to his thirteenth term, twelfth full term, in the U.S. House in the Republican primary held on March 4, 2014. He polled 30,943 votes (80.5 percent); two challengers, Josh Loveless and Harry Pierce, held the remaining combined 19.5 percent of the votes cast.
In the House, Johnson is an ardent conservative. By some views, Johnson had the most conservative record in the House for three consecutive years, opposing pork barrel projects of all kinds, voting for more IRAs and against extending unemployment benefits. The conservative watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste has consistently rated him as being friendly to taxpayers. Johnson is a signer of Americans for Tax Reform’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge. Johnson is a member of the conservative Republican Study Committee, and joined Dan Burton, Ernest Istook and John Doolittle in re-founding it in 1994 after Newt Gingrich pulled its funding. He alternated as chairman with the other three co-founders from 1994 to 1999, and served as sole chairman from 2000 to 2001.
On the Ways and Means Committee, he was an early advocate and, then, sponsor of the successful repeal in 2000 of the earnings limit for Social Security recipients. He proposed the Good Samaritan Tax Act to permit corporations to take a tax deduction for charitable giving of food. He chairs the Subcommittee on Employer-Employee Relations, where he has encouraged small business owners to expand their pension and benefits for employees. Johnson is a skeptic of calls for increased government regulation related to global warming whenever such government interference would, in his mind, restrict personal liberties or damage economic growth and American competitiveness in the market place. He also opposes calls for government intervention in the name of energy reform if such reform would hamper the market and or place undue burdens on individuals seeking to earn decent wages. He has expressed his belief that the Earth has untapped sources of fuel, and has called for allowing additional drilling for oil in Alaska. Johnson is one of two Vietnam-era POWs still serving in Congress.
COOK, DONALD GILBERT
Rank/Branch: O3/US Marine Corps
Unit: COMMCO, 3rd Marine Division
Date of Birth: 09 August 1934 (Brooklyn NY)
Home City of Record: Essex Junction VT (also listed in some places as New York NY and Burlington VT)
Date of Loss: 31 December 1964
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Status (in 1973): Prisoner of War/Died in Captivity
REMARKS: ON PRG DIC LIST 671208
Donald Cook was born in Brooklyn, New York. He attended Xavier High School in New York City and St. Michael’s College in Vermont. In 1956 he enlisted in the Marine Corps as a private but was quickly sent for officer training at the OCS in Quantico, Virginia. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1957. He held a series of assignments in the Marine Corps and was sent to Vietnam in late 1964, where he served as an advisor to the Vietnamese Marine Division until he was wounded and captured by the Viet Cong several weeks later. He was held as a prisoner of war by the Viet Cong in the Republic of Vietnam from December 31, 1964 until his death from malaria at age 33. He was posthumously promoted from Captain to Colonel.
Donald Cook was an advisor to the 4th Battalion, Vietnamese Marine Corps operating in the Delta when they engaged the enemy on New Year’s Eve, 1964. Cook was wounded in the leg during the battle and subsequently captured by the Viet Cong. Cook was then 30 years old.
During his years of captivity in camps north of Saigon, Cook set an example difficult to emulate by his fellow POWs. He jeopardized his own health and well-being by sharing his already meager supply of food and scarce medicines with other prisoners who were more ill than he. According to one released POW, Cook was so hard-nosed that he “would have stopped shitting if he had thought ‘Charlie’ was using it for fertilizer.” Cook became nearly legendary in his refusal to betray the Military Code of Conduct.
Air Force Colonel Norman Gaddis, upon his return from captivity, described the impossible task of adhering to the Code of Conduct. Gaddis said that he did not know anyone who had refused to cooperate with their captives after having been tortured to do so, and those who had refused were “not with us today.”
Cook refused to cooperate with his captors in any way. On one occasion, a pistol was put to his head as a threat to cooperate. Cook calmly recited the nomenclature of the parts of the pistol. He would give them nothing.
According to the Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG) list provided to the U.S. in Paris in 1973, Donald Cook died of malaria in South Vietnam on December 8, 1967 while being moved from one camp to another. The Vietnamese provided this information to the U.S. in 1973, but have not yet “discovered” the location of his remains.
For his extraordinary actions during his captivity, Donald Cook was awarded the Medal of Honor, and has been promoted to the rank of Colonel.
“February 26, 1999
NAVY COMMISSIONS SHIP TO HONOR POW
Aegis Guided Missile Destroyer Donald Cook (DDG 75) was commissioned in December in Philadelphia.
Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was the ceremony’s principal speaker. Laurette Cook, widow of the ship’s namesake, is the ship’s sponsor. In the time-honored Navy tradition, Mrs. Cook gave the order to “man our ship and bring her to life!” The ship honors Col. Donald G. Cook, US Marine Corps (1934-1967), who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for gallantry as a prisoner of war. While assigned to the Communications Company, Headquarters Battalion, 3rd Marine Division in Saigon, Republic of Vietnam, in Dec. 1964, Cook volunteered to conduct a search and recovery mission for a downed American helicopter. Ambushed on arrival at the site, he was wounded in the leg and captured.
Despite enduring deprivation, exposure, malnutrition and disease, Cook committed himself to providing inspiration for his fellow prisoners to endure and survive during his incarceration in a prison camp near the Cambodian border. Resisting all attempts to break his will, he never veered from the Code of Conduct. He shared food, led daily exercises, provided first aid for injured prisoners and distributed what meager quantities of medicine were available, often surrendering his own rations and medicine to aid fellow prisoners whose conditions were more serious than his own. Reports indicate Cook died in captivity after he succumbed to malaria on Dec. 8, 1967.
USS Donald Cook is the 25th of 51 Arleigh Burke class destroyers currently authorized by Congress. The destroyer carries Tomahawk cruise missiles, as well as Standard missiles to intercept hostile aircraft and missiles at extended ranges. USS Donald Cook is also equipped with the Phalanx Close-In Weapons System and Harpoon anti-ship cruise missiles, which are fired from stand-alone launchers.
USS Donald Cook is crewed by 25 officers and 350 enlisted personnel. The ship was built at Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine, is 505 feet in length, has a waterline beam of 66 feet and displaces approximately 8,580 tons when fully loaded. Four gas-turbine engines power the ship to speeds in excess of 30 knots.”
Edward Johnson was born on September 23, 1923, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on June 8, 1943, and then served with the 755th SN Company at Camp Pickett, Virginia, from June 1943 to August 1944. His next assignment was with the 31st Quartermaster Training Company at Camp Lee, Virginia, from August 1944 to October 1945, followed by service as an Admin NCO with the 453rd Quartermaster Laundry Company in Germany from October 1945 to June 1946. SFC Johnson served as an Admin NCO with Headquarters Company of the 61st Quartermaster Battalion in Germany from June to July 1946, and then with the 598th Quartermaster Laundry Company in Germany from July to December 1946.
His next assignment was with the 436th Quartermaster Company in Germany from December 1946 to June 1947, followed by service as a Platoon Sergeant with the 661st Transportation Company in Germany from June 1947 to November 1949. During this time he served as an instructor with Detachment A of the 7871st Training and Education Group in Germany from February to April 1949. He then served as an instructor with the 7744th Educational Training Group in now West Germany from November 1949 to September 1953, and with Headquarters Detachment of the 7812th Station Compliment Unit in West Germany from September 1953 to March 1954.
He was assigned as an instructor to the 44th Replacement Company of the 44th Infantry Division at Fort Lewis, Washington, from March to October 1954, and then as an instructor with the 2nd Replacement Company at Fort Lewis from October 1954 to June 1955.
MSG Johnson was next assigned as an instructor to the 90th Replacement Battalion at Fort Lewis from June 1955 to March 1956, followed by service as an instructor and then as an Operations and Intelligence Sergeant with Headquarters Company of the U.S. Army in Europe Quartermaster School in West Germany from March 1956 to March 1960.
He served as an infantry instructor with Headquarters Company of the U.S. Army Infantry Training Center at Fort Ord, California, from March to April 1960, and then with Headquarters Company of the 4th Infantry Brigade at Fort Ord from April 1960 to October 1963.
MSG Johnson attended Military Assistance Advisor training at the U.S. Army Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, from October 1963 to January 1964, and then served as an advisor with the U.S. Army Element of the Military Assistance Advisor Group in South Vietnam from January 1964 until he was captured and taken as a Prisoner of War on July 21, 1964.
After spending 1,209 days in captivity, MSG Johnson was released by his captors in Cambodia on November 11, 1967. He was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and at the U.S. Army Hospital at Fort Ord before serving as Chief Enlisted Advisor to the U.S. Army Advisory Group with the California Army National Guard in San Jose, California, from September 1968 to November 1970.
His next assignment was as 1st Sergeant of 1st Battalion of the 13th Infantry Regiment in West Germany from November 1970 to March 1971, followed by service as 1st Sergeant of 1st Battalion of the 26th Infantry Regiment in West Germany from March to August 1971. 1SG Johnson served as 1st Sergeant of the 1st Adjutant General Admin Company in West Germany from August 1971 to May 1972, and then as 1st Sergeant of Company E of the 701st Maintenance Battalion in West Germany from May to December 1972. His next assignment was as 1st Sergeant of Company A, 4th Battalion of the 4th Infantry Brigade at Fort Ord from January 1973 until his retirement from the Army on March 1, 1974.
Edward Johnson died on July 11, 2000.
His Bronze Star Medal Citation reads:
For distinguishing himself by outstanding meritorious service in connection with ground operations against a hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam during the period January 1964 to November 1967. Through his untiring efforts and professional ability, he consistently obtained outstanding results. He was quick to grasp the implications of new problems with which he was faced as a result of the ever changing situations inherent in a counterinsurgency operation and to find ways and means to solve those problems. The energetic application of his extensive knowledge has materially contributed to the efforts of the United States mission to the Republic of Vietnam to assist that country in ridding itself of the communist threat to its freedom. His initiative, zeal, sound judgment and devotion to duty have been in the highest tradition of the United States Army and reflect great credit on him and on the military service.
James Alfred Mulligan, Jr.
Captain O-6, U.S. Navy
US Navy 1944-1949, 1950-1952, 1956-1975
US Naval Reserve 1949-1950, 1953-1956
World War II 1944-1945
Cold War 1945-1975
Bay of Pigs Invasion 1961
Cuban Missile Crisis 1962
Vietnam War 1965-1973 (POW)
James A. Mulligan, Jr. was born in 27 March 1926 in Lawrence, Massachusetts. He enlisted in the Naval Aviation Cadet V-5 Program on February 6, 1944, and was commissioned an Ensign in the U.S. Navy and designated a Naval Aviator on August 16, 1947.
After completing transition training in the AD Skyraider, ENS Mulligan served as an AD-3 and AD-4 Skyraider pilot with VA-8A and VA-75 at NAS Oceana, Virginia, from April 1948 to November 1949, followed by service in the Naval Reserve with VF-913 at Squantum, Massachusetts, from November 1949 until he was reactivated in July 1950.
He then served as an AD-3W pilot with VC-12 at Quonset Point, Rhode Island, from August 1950 until leaving active duty in August 1952. LTJG Mulligan re-joined the Naval Reserve in January 1953, serving with VF-917 at South Weymouth, Massachusetts, until returning to active duty in January 1956.
LCDR Mulligan next served as a flight instructor at NAS Pensacola, Florida, from January 1956 to January 1959, followed by service as an A4D Skyhawk flight instructor with VF-21 and VA-43, the A4D Replacement Air Group, at NAS Oceana, Virginia, from January 1959 to November 1960. His next assignment was as an A-4 pilot and Operations Officer with VA-72 at NAS Oceana from November 1960 to December 1962, and then as a staff officer on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations in the Pentagon from January 1963 to July 1964.
CDR Mulligan attended Armed Forces Staff College from July 1964 to January 1965, and then was Executive Officer of VA-36 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65) deployed to Southeast Asia from January 1965 until he was forced to eject over North Vietnam and was taken as a Prisoner of War on March 20, 1966. He was to have become Commanding Officer of the Squadron on April 1 1966.
When talking about his experiences in North Vietnam, CPT Mulligan states:
I was Executive Officer of VA-36 on board USS Enterprise and scheduled to become Commanding Officer on 1 April 1966 but I was shot down near Vinh in North Vietnam on 20 March 1966. I had flown more than 80 missions over North Vietnam when my A4 was shot down. I was injured on ejection, receiving a broken shoulder and cracked ribs.
My prison itinerary was as follows: Hanoi Hilton (Heartbreak Hotel and New Guy Village) from 27 March to 23 April 1966; the Zoo from 23 April 1966 to 26 January 1967; Las Vegas from 26 January 1967 to 25 October 1967; Alcatraz from 25 October 1967 to 9 December 1969; Las Vegas from 9 December 1969 to 25 December 1970; Camp Unity (or “No OK Corral”) 25 December 1970 to 12 February 1973. I was in solitary confinement for 42 3/4 months.
I spent more than 30 months in leg irons. I was the senior officer on the 3rd plane out of Hanoi in the first release on February 12, 1973. I was lucky enough to be the 1st POW cleared for release from Clark Air Force Base to the States on February 14, 1973. I was awarded 2 Silver Stars, 8 Air Medals, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and 2 Purple Hearts, as well as the POW medal.
He has written a book regarding his time in Vietnam entitled, “The Hanoi Connection.” James and his wife Louise have 6 sons, (Jim, Kevin, Terry, Mark, Sean and Neil) and 17 grandchildren. James had a personal note on his update — “I share 6 POW grandchildren with Sam Johnson via his daughter Gini and my son Jim.”
His 2nd Silver Star Citation reads:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity while interned as a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam – In January 1969, his captors, completely ignoring international agreements, subjected him to extreme mental and physical cruelties in an attempt to obtain military information and false confessions for propaganda purposes. Through his resistance to those brutalities, he contributed significantly toward the eventual abandonment of harsh treatment by the North Vietnamese, which was attacking international attention. By his determination, courage, resourcefulness, and devotion to duty, he reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Naval Service and the United States Armed Forces.
Information contained in this article has been gleaned from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, published sources, interviews, and oral history.
Name: 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
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.