Tortured In Notorious ‘Hanoi Hilton,’ 11 GIs Were Unbreakable

Navy Cmdr. James Bond Stockdale was on a flying mission over North Vietnam on September 9, 1965, when his A-4 Skyhawk took fire and went down. He had only a few seconds to jump out of the plane and after he suffered several injuries, including a leg bent sideways by 60 degrees and a smashed kneecap, a dislocated shoulder and he also believed that his back was also broken.

Shortly after he was found by numerous locals, who beat him and took him on the streets of the village, before delivering him to his final destination, which was the Hoa Lo prison, better known among the prisoners as the Hanoi Hilton.

The Commander of the Air Group, Stockdale and other ten prisoners of war would be moved to Alcatraz, about 25 months later. The Vietnamese considered these eleven men as being the most dangerous and indestructible Americans they had ever met and their plan was to separate them from all the other prisoners and from each other, believing that that way they would be able to maintain control over the most dangerous American soldiers.

On Feb. 11, 1965, another American soldiers was going to join the Hanoi Hilton prisoners.  Lt. Cmdr. Bob Shumaker was the second American pilot shot down over Vietnam and he was held in isolation for 4 months before he received permission to write home, the New York Post reports.

In the meantime, Shumaker was able communicate with another prisoner of war at Hanoi Hilton, by writing a little note on a piece of toilet paper. He wrote “Welcome to the Hanoi Hilton,” and asked him to “scratch balls” when he passes by again if he sees the note. He put it into a crack in a wall and not long after, he saw the other American soldier walking through the courtyard, scratching the spot. He was able to also leave a short note, in which he wrote that he was Ron Storz, captain USAF. And that was how they communicated since.

There was also a Navy pilot, Harry Jenkins, who was about 6-foot-5. He was so cruelly tortured, he thought he would lose his hands. Whenever he passed out, they would wait for him to awake and hang him from his wrists. In fact, everybody was tortured. They were held in tiny cells, slept on concrete and had no food or just watery soup with pebbles or feces. They lived with roaches and rats and were forced to lie in their own excrement.


Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE