An American veteran who lasted more than six years in a hellish Vietnamese prisoner of war (POW) camp, Murphy Neal Jones, Sr., passed away in Louisiana recently. He was 81.
Jones was a fighter pilot with the United States Air Force (USAF) during the Vietnam War. When his plane took a hit in late June 1966, Jones had to parachute out. Though he only dropped 300 feet during the incident, he was badly injured when taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese.
He was taken to the famous – or, rather, infamous – POW camp known as the “Hanoi Hilton,” considered one of the worst camps in which to be imprisoned during the war.
Jones was certain that his extensive injuries, for which he received no immediate attention, would be the death of him. He sustained fractured vertebrae, torn knee cartilage, shattered bones in one arm, and shrapnel in one leg, which became infected. Almost two weeks elapsed before he finally got medical care.
Meanwhile another inmate told him to pray to God, perhaps for comfort, perhaps for relief. Either way, it was enough to serve as a wake up call to Jones, who realized he had to steel himself for a long, difficult stay.
In 1992, he told a reporter during an interview, “I guess that was the turning point, because I think up to that point I was starting to feel sorry for myself,” he recalled. “’Why me?’” Jones continued, “But, it was like he took a bucket of water and threw it right in my face, and said, ‘wake up!’ I prayed that night, and I slept that night for the first time. It took a long time to get well, but I always knew I’d make it out afterwards.”
Jones had always wanted to be a pilot. Within one month of graduating from Tulane University in Louisiana, he was in basic training with the military. He was on his third tour of duty when his plane was shot down.
In 2015, he told an interviewer with WGNO-TV, an ABC News affiliate, that he had actual video footage of his capture by the North Vietnamese. He was marched through the streets, while they filmed the spectacle for a PR stunt.
After he was taken prisoner, he was trotted out for crowds to mock and jeer at, he said. “I ejected at about 300 feet on the outskirts of Hanoi,” he began. He then spoke of being tortured in prison, of guards playing “Russian roulette” by placing a gun barrel at his temple and pulling the trigger — but the chamber was empty.
“What do you think about when you’re going to die?” he rhetorically asked, and then added, “I really didn’t care at the time. I was hurting so bad, I would have welcomed a bullet.”
But the bullet didn’t come, and eventually Jones healed. He was released from “Hanoi Hilton” in 1973.
While he and the other POWs went their separate ways after the war, he told WGNO-TV that they never lost the brotherly connection that develops during such an ordeal. “We don’t say goodbye on the telephone,” he explained, “we say ‘I love you.’ We always say in text messages, GBA, God Bless America.”
After more than two decades with the USAF, he retired as a full colonel, and ultimately became Director of Development for Athletics at Tulane, the school he had attended on a football scholarship so many years previously. His health had been best by complications from cystic fibrosis in recent years, his brother James told the online publication The Advocate.
At the time of this writing, no date had been set for Jones’ burial at Arlington Cemetery, where many veterans in America are laid to rest.