17 February 2016

Standard Arm Finds a Bar Lock

The Hunter

One day in December 1971 I was working at my additional duty as a "fragger" at Fort Apache, i.e., the 388th  TFW headquarters building.  The secure telephone started its distinctive tinkling sound around 0900 and I walked over to answer it.  The voice on the other end of the line said, "This is general Slay.  I want (some place name I have long forgotten)."  After I took a bit more information I hung up and went over to the Intel shop to find out what that place was that Brigadier General Alton Slay, 7th Air Force Director of Operations, was so interested in.  The young intel lieutenant I talked to pulled out the TMCAT, aka Tom Cat.  The location turned out to be a Bar Lock site in North Vietnam.  After a bit of discussion I walked over to the mission planning room and found JD Cutter and three other Wild Weasel aircrew getting ready for a sortie.  I told them that Brigadier General Slay has authorized a strike on the Bar Lock site.  However, they were at that time getting some similar, but not the same, information from a young Intel officer who also came into the room about the same time I did.  Since I was otherwise busy, I left them to sort out what they were going to do next and went back to the Frag Shop.

JD Cutter was a pilot I had first met in the 28th Air Refueling Squadron when he was a new arrival copilot.  He wanted to fly fighters in the worst way, but SAC kept a tight rein on air crew and on pilots especially.  The Palace Cobra program allowed him to achieve his dream of being a fighter pilot.  This is his story.

JD:  Our flight was planning a mission that had a scheduled takeoff about three hours away when a lieutenant from ‘Intel’ interrupted us.  We had just been cleared by 7th Air Force in Saigon to hit GCI…Y – E – S!!!  About damn time!!!  We went about identifying active GCI in a generally broad area of our target and where we were going to do some trolling.  When we finished doing that, the lieutenant from Intel was back with an update.  We could only hit certain types of GCI.  Okay!  It was still good!  We went back to updates to see what we couldn’t hit before we had our general brief, then went into Weasel ops for our flight briefing.  As we broke up to head to the aircraft, that same lieutenant was there to tell us exactly which GCI sites we could hit. YGBSM! (You Gotta Be Shit'n Me!  A famous Wild Weasel expression that was created at the start of the SAM Hunter/Killer program and suitable for all occasions.  Reportedly, it was first uttered by an electronic warfare officer upon first hearing of what they were going to be doing.)

We took off and headed for our pre-strike tanker.  We covered the first TOT and headed for the Gorilla’s Head north of the Fishes Mouth and Barthelmy Pass.  I was headed generally in an East-Northeasterly direction when a Bar Lock started looking at us.  We got excited because it was one on our “hit list” and was a relatively new Russian surveillance radar.  The radar site was about 10 degrees off to the right of our nose and my Bear wanted me to turn right to put it on the nose.  I nixed the idea because I didn’t want to alert the GCI controller to any evil intentions we might have.  I believe initial contact was in the 60+ NM range with a largely fluctuating range meter.

We continued on our present heading driving the GCI site to maybe 20 degrees right of our nose at approximately 50 NM…range meter was still fluctuating, but starting to settle down some.  My Bear was encouraging me to shoot (“SHOOT!  SHOOT! SHOOT!”), but I didn’t like the range.  We went through the same drill all the way down through 40 NM and approaching 30 NM, the range meter was pretty steady.  I had a green missile ready light and was ready to shoot the AGM-78 Standard Arm missile.   A quick double check of my weapons switches and confirmed with the Bear we had a valid GCI site, and I mashed down on the “pickle button”.  The AGM dropped off the right inboard pylon and seconds later came out from under the nose trailing a plume of white smoke and began a climb.
We had estimated a one minute time-of-flight for missile impact, so when we lost the missile BDA (Bomb Damage Assessment) tone after less than 30 seconds, we were disappointed.  After maybe five seconds we reacquired the BDA tone and were reassured.  Just after a minute the BDA tone quit and the Barlock went off the air!!!  YES!  Meanwhile we had begun a gentle turn away from the site.  All was very quiet after missile impact. 

 During debrief we filled out all the necessary paperwork and signal data to go off to Kelly AFB, San Antonio, TX for analysis.  About two months later we received word through our intelligence folks that they had received a Comfy Coat message confirming a kill of the Barlock.  The message further stated that there had been an indigenous team monitoring the site when our missile came in over their heads and blew up the radar.  The indigenous team had been watching the site for a couple days collecting data.  After the explosion they walked into the site and collected equipment, etc for analysis.  They also counted four KIA – all Russians – no North Vietnamese.  “Shit Hot!”  

We got bagged a short time after that so there was never any additional info on the kill.

The Hunted

The story of my shoot down actually began on 16 Feb 72 when we got the “frag” order late in the afternoon.  I was on the schedule to lead a 2-ship Ironhand or “Wild Weasel” mission departing Korat RTAB in support of an RF-4C, call sign “Falcon 21” and four strike F-4Ds from Udorn RTAB.  We would accomplish join up with the F-4s on a Cherry tanker over northeastern Thailand and take on a full load of fuel…roughly 4,000 to 5,000#s (750 gal) each.  We would then proceed across Laos to northern South Vietnam, turn north crossing the DMZ into North Vietnam (Route Pack I) where the F-4Ds would drop 500# Mk-82 GP (general-purpose) bombs and CBU-48 cluster bombs on a SA-2 site that was responsible for shooting down an F-4E Fast FAC the day before.  The RF-4C would lead the strike flight using LORAN navigation and would follow-up with a photo recce run over the destroyed site.  

Riiiight!  At least that was the plan.

First, just a little more background.  The 17 WWS had ‘lost’ a couple IPs (Instructor Pilots) due to rotations and a shootdown, and I knew Rich Freienmuth was a good choice as a replacement IP.  I talked to the Operations Officer about it and suggested I give Rich a no-notice evaluation and IP check the next day by swapping positions in the formation, with Rich leading.  Paperwork for the evaluation could wait.  I had talked to Rich about this and he was all for it.  We worked the schedule change through our schedulers and had the info passed on to the Wing Command Post.  

There was a call time set up to co-ordinate with the strike flight lead utilizing a secure phone in the COMMAND POST.  That turned into a “goat rope”, with me finally taking over the phone conversation from Rich when the F-4 flight lead told us he didn’t need our support.  I finally informed him that we would be in the target area to provide Ironhand support if and when needed, and that we would follow-up the after action report that the “heroes” from Udorn wouldn’t coordinate with us and that ‘they could win the war all by themselves’.  That changed his attitude, but the phone call didn’t end on a friendly note.

While in the COMMAND POST I noticed that the next days sortie schedule was up on the board, and that our flight line-up had not been changed.  I called it to the attention of the NCO on duty and he said he’d take care of it.  I also noticed that our flight, call sign “Junior 1 and Junior 2” was at the top of the schedule board, which required a rolling/sliding ladder to get to it for any changes…I thought, “no big deal!”

Take-off time was scheduled around 0800 local with me as #2 with Ken Fraser as my “Bear” and Rich Freienmuth and Rich McCubbins leading.  We met in combat ops to finish up our mission planning and make one more call to Udorn and the flight lead to iron out any last minute changes.  While in the COMMAND POST I noticed our flight line-up on the board had not been changed but that an arrow had been placed to “reflect” the swap in flight lead.  I thought at the time that a quick look at the board by anyone and they probably wouldn’t pick up on the change.

We finished our flight planning and the mass wing flight briefing…weather, enemy AAA and SAM activity, Rules of Engagement, Escape and Evasion, and anything else, but nothing unusual came up.  We briefed our flight and how we’d handle things with “Falcon 76” (5-ship) pertaining to the formation on the KC-135 tanker, enroute across Laos to the target area and our weasel formation to protect them and cover one another.  As we departed PE (Personal Equipment) where I got my survival vest, helmet, weapon (.38 caliber Combat Special) that went in a shoulder holster as part of the vest, water bottles and parachute…I’d leave my wallet and any valuables in an individual lockable container. 

About that time the COMMAND POST hotline phone started ringing.  I answered it and was told our flight was on a weather hold.  We (including the “spare” crew) wandered over to the squadron with all our gear anticipating a short wait.  The squadron was dead quiet due to the early hour so we lay around the lounge and grabbed 30 winks.  As the activity increased we decided we should get some breakfast at the O’Club.  I alerted the COMMAND POST as to our intentions, and borrowed the squadron jeep.  I remember dutifully to call the COMMAND POST when we got to the club and when we departed.  I also remember paying for at least one of the guy’s breakfast because he didn’t have any money…left his wallet at PE.  I carried a plastic tobacco pouch with me that had my USAF ID card, Geneva Convention Card, International Shot Record, a blank check and some US and Thai money just in the event of diversions or emergencies.  It had already come in handy a couple times.

As we walked back into the squadron the COMMAND POST hotline phone started ringing.  I grabbed it and the voice on the other end said: “Junior, launch ASAP”.  We grabbed our gear and headed out to the jets (which we hadn’t been to yet).  I grabbed one last pee and headed out to my Thud thinking I wish I’d gone out and dropped my gear off earlier.  I hooked up my parachute, checked the aircraft forms, and told my “bear” to get strapped in, that I would pre-flight the ordnance and the jet.  I accomplished a quick pre-flight and was strapped in by the time my “Bear” was ready.  I got the battery switch on and checked the lights; etc…gave a signal to the crew chief standing in front of the revetment to pass on to the flight lead’s crew chief that we were ready.  I acknowledged check-in right after that and we went to ground control for start.  We got through the ‘Before Taxi’ checks and taxied out without any delays, through “last chance” and arming…visual signal between aircraft to tower frequency approaching RWY 08.  We were cleared “On and Hold RWY 08”, then cleared for takeoff as we finished lining up on the active,.  We got the canopies closed and ran the throttle up to MIL.  As the engine came up to 104% RPM I made one last check of “Speed brakes – In, Flaps - Takeoff setting, Ejection seat pins- Removed, Canopy - Down and Locked with a visual check of “Hooks Over Rollers”, Engine instruments looked good and in the Green; thumbs up to #1 that I was good to go.  I heard his engine sound change as he selected burner and released brakes.  I had started my countdown to brake release…usually 15 or 20 second spacing for single-ship takeoffs.  As the 15 to 20 seconds approached, I selected A/B, held the brakes to a count of three and released brakes…got an instantaneous bump with the burner light...engine instruments in the ‘green’ with EPR in the bug, EGT was good, selected water injection with a subsequent green light and slight rise in EGT.  Yes!  We’re on our way…good line speed check at the 2000-foot marker – somewhere in the 100-knot area.  Takeoff speed was around 185 knots with takeoff distance 8000 feet plus, gear up with a positive rate of climb and engine instruments looking good, flaps up at 240 knots minimum…leave the burner in until around 450 to 500 knots to expedite join-up.

I had a technique to expedite join-up by leaving the burner in with a very slow rate of climb.  As I got to my 450 to 500 knots I’d climb at a rate that would hold that speed; then as the lead aircraft got just about directly overhead, I’d pull the nose up to keep lead in that same spot using the “Mark one eyeball,” MIL power while keeping an eye on airspeed because I knew lead was at 350 knots; and pop up in “Route Formation” (2 to 4 ship widths), then into close formation.  I loved it!

We joined with Cherry tanker, but held off topping off the tanks.  Once we were in a rendezvous with Falcon 76 we’d top off so Falcon could get on the boom right off…but nothing from Falcon.  I finally asked Rich about checking with GCI on Falcon…tanker said they’d check for us.  We finally found out from GCI that Falcon 76 was still on the ground at Udorn with a maintenance problem.  We were on Cherry tanker for an hour before we heard Falcon was airborne.  Fifteen minutes later we’re still wondering where they were.  Another check with GCI and we discover they’re on a Peach tanker 50 miles north of us.  We topped off again and headed for Peach tanker and Falcon.  I distinctly remember going straight over to “Invert Control” (GCI at Nakhon Phanom) and requesting heading and distance to Peach tanker and Falcon 76.  Invert came back with “Do you want Peach tanker or Falcon 76???”  Lead asked if they weren’t “Holding Hands” (in formation together)?  Invert said Falcon 76 was across the “Fence” (Mekong River) inbound!  YGBSM!!!

My eyeballs went out to around one o’clock and I spotted a black smoke trail that I figured should be Falcon 76.  Lead was in a right turn and I was able to get his eyes on Falcon.  We were in MIL power, descending slowly while accelerating to 500 knots chasing Falcon 76 across Laos.  We finally closed on Falcon heading southeasterly as they approached the now abandoned Khe Sanh MCAF.  I could see we were really ‘eating’ Falcon, and when I couldn’t stand it any more, I asked Falcon what their speed was…300 knots… we were doing 450 knots; that’s over 200 knots True Airspeed overtake.  Talk about “Eating them like a grape!”  I know what Rich is doing and my power is in idle already with the “boards” (speed brakes) coming out in stages to maintain my position on #1 as we come up on either side of Falcon flight…a 5-ship in “V” route formation.  I felt like a bird slowing down with its wings flapping and its head back, while standing on its tail.  It was almost comical, but I was pissed at the same time… stupid mistake, and in front of Phantom pukes.  Most of it occurred behind them so it wasn’t as bad since they couldn’t see us very well.  Thuds/Weasels had a lot of pride!

We pressed on like this for maybe a minute, and when I couldn’t stand it any more I said “Falcon 76, Junior, ‘Push It Up! We don’t fly this slow in a threat environment!’”  We did NOT fly this slow in a SAM threat area.  Dumb!  So they pushed it up to 350 knots…YGBSM!  We made a slow turn to the left, circumnavigating Khe Sanh.  As we rolled out northbound…I was on the left looking across the flight, and could see what appeared to be a SAM cloud that couldn’t have been very old.  It didn’t appear to have hit anything because of its color…light tan/yellow.  I checked my radio to see if I had Guard channel (243.0 UHF) receiver selected…I did.  Nobody had heard any SAM calls…so what happened?  The SAM cloud was just hanging there and was mostly intact with only light winds.  The F-4s had spread to a loose route but as we crossed over the DMZ northbound, I called for Falcon 76 to “Push It Up”, I don’t fly this slow up here!  Rich and I spread out into our weasel formation to protect the strike flight as we got to 400 knots…minimum speed for us up here.  I liked at least 450 knots…permits instant maneuvering and ‘G’ available.

Falcon 77 had briefed to release their ordnance from the RF-4C LORAN coordinates, and then make a hard turn to the east, egressing RP-1 “feet wet” over the Gulf of Tonkin.  Flight Lead, Junior 01, would come back around and we’d weasel our way westbound across North Vietnam to Laos.  I watched Falcon go into a slight descent, but didn’t see any bombs come off their aircraft, and then suddenly they started a climbing left turn to the west.  Rich had already turned east and was going to buttonhook back around, but about halfway through the Phantoms left turn, a Fansong radar came up with me in its cross-hairs. I had a “3-ringer” at 11:30 on my APR-36 scope; an E/F band light and blinking launch light on my APR-37; an “AS” (Azimuth-Sector) light, that we called the “Aw Shit” light, which meant we were in the crosshairs of his “track-while scan” Fansong radar; an E/F light and launch light on the ALR-42 receiver; and a screaming receiver from the AGM-45 Shrike Missile warhead/antennae I had selected.  I was outboard into burner (on the throttle) before I even had time to absorb the lights and what was going on. 

On the ground there’s a 3-5 second delay before the burner lights, but airborne there’s a 5-7 second delay in the sequencing of the speed brake petals, engine nozzles and hot streak ignition of the fuel as it’s pumped into the AB section.

I push the nose over to negative G since the missile is coming up under the left side of the aircraft nose as I anticipate the burner light.  I can’t see the missile but start a hard break down and to the right.  Unfortunately, as I start the roll/break turn I see the detonation flash of the missile in front of the right wing.  I feel this tremendous concussion as the explosion tries to tear off my head.  I can’t see anything but feel like the control stick has gone limp in my right hand…as if I can pull the stick out and throw it away.  I have the sensation of being able to see through the right side of the cockpit over the right console to the outside.  I am aware of losing consciousness and try to say “Get Out Ken!”  I don’t think my mouth was still connected to my brain, so nothing came out.  My brain feels like a switchboard operator pulling all the plugs out of an old time switchboard.  I reach down with both hands, pull up the ejection seat handles and squeeze both triggers.  I never heard or felt Ken’s canopy or ejection seat fire, or my canopy or ejection seat fire.  Note: If Ken initiates ejection, only his canopy and seat go.  If I initiate ejection the ejection is sequenced with his canopy and seat going, followed by my canopy and seat going.  This prevents the seats/canopies from colliding.  Fortunately for the both of us everything worked automatically after I squeezed the triggers.  Ken doesn’t think he ever pulled the handles or squeezed the triggers.  I’m unconscious when I leave the aircraft and estimate my speed at over 500 knots indicated airspeed.  That’s definitely over 550 knots true airspeed, and it rips me a new one.  I’m sure I flail badly since I dislocate both my shoulders…can’t raise my arms above shoulder level for a week.  I have shrapnel wounds to the right side of my face and scalp, and powder burns down to my upper chest.  I have five broken teeth to start that I know of.


I regain consciousness roughly 2 - 4 hours later in the bottom of a fishing boat on what I think is a river out of the coastal fishing village of Dong Hoi, North Vietnam.  There’s “almost a medic” working on the right side of my face and scalp…“almost a doctor” is in a white smock at my feet.  It’s like coming out of a deep sleep.  “Almost a doc” sees me coming around and says something to me in Vietnamese, which I don’t understand.  He then asks me if I speak French.  Something like “Parlez vous Francais?”  I shake my head no and he responds with “Je sui le doctor!”  I nod my understanding!  “Almost a medic” is picking shrapnel out of my face and scalp, then applying a couple bandages when “almost a doctor says “Novocain!”, but with a French accent.   I open my eyes as “almost a medic” plunges what seemed like a gigantic syringe into my check bone.  That’s the first pain I remember feeling…

The fishing boat, which is more like a large row boat, seems to meander around, stopping (hiding) under trees occasionally.  I don’t hear any aircraft, but the “V” are obviously playing it safe.  I’m in and out of consciousness, but am aware of the boat eventually sliding ashore.  I can hear this rumbling like sound but have no idea what it is.  One of the “V” motions for me to get up from on my back in the bottom of the boat, but I’m unable to without help.  The guard sees my dilemma and jerks me to an upright position, forces me over and ties my elbows behind my back, which in turn forces me further forward at the hips.  The noise I’d heard previously intensifies before I realize it’s a 500 - 1,000 peasant workforce on the riverbank and dike system.  I walk down this narrow board held up by crossed bamboo poles to the shore.  The crowd is getting noisier and threatening, but I’m in a state of shock and not totally into it.  The crowd throws what I believe is rocks so I keep my head down with my face protected as much as possible.  There’s a guard in front of and another behind me, and eventually the guard in front of me gets hit with a rock/dirt clod… he threatens the crowd by brandishing his rifle in the air.  The threat doesn’t seem to have any effect on them.

We press on to the very steep embankment of the dike and the guards push and pull me to the top.  I really have no recollection of that part of the “event” other than just that.  We are now standing on top of the dike at the lowered tailgate of this large military truck where the truck bed is above my eye level. The guard motions me to get in!  YGBSM!  I make a very weak and futile attempt to raise my leg up to the stirrup and the guard sees the futility of it.  One guard grabs my leg out from under me and puts it in the stirrup while the other one catches my back and they literally throw me up and into the bed of the truck.  They tie me to the back of the cab and somewhere after that I untie myself.  They find me like that asleep/unconscious and they get physical with me.  I remember getting hit with a rifle across the chest/arm, but not much else.  I was pretty much out of it and numb.  Is that the same thing???  Probably ‘shock’.

It’s after dark now and I’m conscious of walking down a trail with what seem to be thousands of fireflies…turns out to be flashlights.  There are two other POWs that I eventually identify as my ‘Bear’, Ken Fraser and an F-4D WSO named Ed Hawley out of Udorn RTAB.  I don’t know where or what has happened to Ed’s pilot…discover later that he’s KIA, but don’t know the circumstances.  We are separated and taken to underground concrete bunkers.  I have no idea how I’ve gotten here or what has happened in the interim.

I climbed down through a hole in the corner of a bunker and am ordered to stand in front of a small desk with two Vietnamese in uniform without rank.  I have no idea if they are officers or NCOs.  I was asked in separate questions my name, rank and serial number, and then they got into specifics about type aircraft, base, wing, mission, etc.  I kept giving them name, rank and serial number until I got bored and realized the idiocy of the whole thing…and just shut up.  I forgot all about Date Of Birth.  I may really sound brave but I was scared shitless.  I estimated that I had been unconscious for up to 4 - 6 hours and had no idea what had happened to me between being tied to the back of the truck cab and walking down the trail in the dark.

After a few minutes the interrogator gets pissed at my silence and says:  “You are in very serious trouble for violating the airspace of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam!”  I couldn’t believe it.  I remember it very clearly to this day.  My eyes rolled up into my head in disbelief.  His reaction was to be instantly really pissed…gave me a really hard stare and ordered me to stand against the back wall of the bunker.  I felt that I was in really deep shit now, but I’m half numb and in shock.  While I was standing against the back wall (maybe 8 ft away) there wondering what was next…what are they going to do to me now.  I suddenly realize I really have to take a whiz!!!  So how am I going to tell this guy I just pissed off that I ‘gotta’ take a whiz?  I could see his anger as he jabbered with the other guy, so do I say: “I need to go to the bathroom.”  Or “I gotta take a leak.” or I need to pee.”  I didn’t have a clue and didn’t want to piss him off any more than I already had.  He was really ranting and raving there for a minute.  Later on I realized I had beaten him at his own game and that he had really lost face when he got so upset and pissed.  Believe me when I say that I had no intention of pissing him off and that I had no clue as to what I was doing.  I was just taking one step at a time and not trying to be a smart-ass.  I was really terrified, but tried to put up a ‘do-nothing, say-nothing’ front.  I could honestly see them taking me out and shooting me because the guy was so pissed off.  But, I still gotta piss.  After what seemed like an eternity he pointed at the corner where we’d come in and said something I didn’t understand.  I stepped over to the corner and a guard stepped up on dirt piled in the corner and climbed up through the opening.  Another guard followed, both with bolt-action rifles, and not ‘AK’s.  I got maybe 10 steps away and start peeing.  I looked around and neither guard was watching me…not that I could get away.  They just don’t appear to want to watch me while I’m peeing.  I feel like I peed forever before we go back into the bunker.  Eventually the guy I thought was in charge gets tired of this and needs to press on so we leave via the truck.  I remember very little after that.

As it turns out Ed Hawley had first seen me and my Bear on stretchers with a blanket over us in what we think was the fishing village of Dong Hoi.  Ed was looking for his pilot and didn’t recognize us.  Ed was burned about the wrists, neck and face from sitting in a pool of burning jet fuel in the RCP while trying to eject.  The Phantom was in a violent flat spin and Ed was having a hard time getting to the lower ejection ring.  He doesn’t have any idea how he ejected, but thinks his pilot initiated ejection right before the jet hit the ground.  Ed doesn’t believe his pilot ever got out because of the close proximity to the ground.  Ed remembers having a good chute and a couple swings before hitting the ground.  Neither Ken nor I have any recollection of the event where Ed saw us on the stretchers.

I have no recollection of what happened after this until we crossed what I think was the Vinh or Thanh Hoa Bridge.  I had no idea how we got across other than I believe we walked, but now we’re riding in a jeep…with a driver, NCO/Officer, 2 guards and 3 POWs…all in one small jeep.  We were sitting on some of our survival gear/parachutes and the two guards were hanging on the outside/rear of the jeep in a standing position.  The two guards rode that way for the remaining 200 or so miles to Hanoi.  During this delay and transfer, I remember being very thirsty and having to pee again.  Then Ken, who’s totally out of it, says “water, water!”  That’s all Ken said on our journey to Hanoi.  I pee and the guard gives us some water and a “cereal bar” which the three of us share.  I really don’t remember anything more except being in severe pain all 400 miles to Hanoi.  We were sitting on the metal bed of the jeep with our legs out in front of us.  I had Ken’s legs draped over mine at a 90-degree angle and they were heavy.  I remember Ken was in some kind of a body cast with his left arm sticking out to the front as if pointing.  As it turns out he had a fractured left elbow from hitting the canopy rail after I punched him out.  He had no recollection of anything including our mission and the first week of solitary.  He told me that one day he found himself wandering around his cell and momentarily wondered where he was.  I told him later that I wished I’d been there to tell him.

After our roughly 1600 arrival at the Hanoi Hilton, we were separated and put into individual cells in New Guy Village where we spent the next month.  To my knowledge I was never in Heartbreak, but next to it.  During this time I was initially interrogated on a regular basis, but not daily; received a minimal amount of medical attention and constantly but subtly threatened.  I had no contact with any outside guards or other POWs other than the interrogators and “Smiley” who I believe was one of the higher ups at the Hilton.  The guards put my food on the floor just inside my cell door, but behind a curtain.  I never saw them during this time because of the curtain and a hood…and always handcuffed.  I was unable to eat except for some sugar, warm sweet milk and the inside of what I called French bread.  This was due to my broken teeth and cut up mouth, but I just wasn’t hungry and had no desire to eat.  The body just shuts down.  I believe a Chinese officer that spoke no English interrogated me one time.  While in solitary I virtually had no sleep, but catnapped.  I had injuries to my head, face, tailbone, five broken teeth, both shoulders dislocated and sore hips, mostly from the shootdown, ejection and capture.  I had extensive bruising from head to toe and was very stiff and sore.  I did empty Ken and Ed’s buckets and washed their clothing a couple times a week when I was taken to the wash area.

After a month the three of us were transferred with hoods over our head and handcuffed in the front, to the Zoo in southwest Hanoi.  Whenever a POW was moved around in the prison system they were always hooded and cuffed, especially if you were outside the prison camp.  That’s the way all POW’s were moved.  Whenever you were interrogated or quizzed, you had to have on long clothing…no bare arms or legs.


James Dickenson Cutter was repatriated in March of 1973, having spent a little over thirteen months as a prisoner of war in Hanoi.  After medical treatment he went back on flying status of completed his Air Force career flying fighters.  He flew his final mission last September, 2015.

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