The Vietnam War began more than 60 years ago when the United States joined forces with South Vietnam against North Vietnam and its allies in order to stop the expansion of communism. Through this long (20 years) and controversial war, over 3 million people were killed, which included about 58,000 Americans. Beyond those killed in action, many troops faced a longer, more painful fate as prisoners of war.
Vietnam Prisoners of War Statistics Discrepancies
Controversies have risen over the years about the accurate number of American troops that were POWs during the Vietnam War. The U.S. officially listed 1,350 Americans as either missing in action or prisoners of war. Excluding those who went missing in action, the number of prisoners rescued during Operation Homecoming tallied to 591. However, Stephen Morris (a scholar from Harvard) discovered a document indicating the number of POWs in Vietnam was skewed by more than 600. There has been heavy debate over the years of whether or not any of the soldiers missing in Vietnam are still alive, and this has come to be known as the Vietnam War POW/MIA Issue. Although the U.S. government has generally concluded that none remain alive, discrepancy cases are still investigated today.
Treatment of POWs
American prisoners of war received brutal treatment at the hands of their captors in Vietnam. They were often kept in isolation to prevent communication between prisoners. They were beaten with everything from bare fists to rifle butts to clubs. Their joints were twisted and stretched with rope, and they were often whipped. Due to little food, poor medical care, and severe torture, many prisoners died while in captivity.
However, these prisoners did not simply wait out their time in prison. Many resisted their captors in small and large ways. They developed secret communication methods with each other, which sent rare messages of hope when it seemed like there was none. When tortured for information on the U.S. government and military activity, many prisoners would give absurd and false confessions or else resist torture entirely. Still others successfully and unsuccessfully attempted escape.
Isaac Camacho was the first American to escape a Vietnam prison. After two years of imprisonment, Camacho escaped under the cover of other POWs and a heavy nighttime rainstorm. He successfully made it to U.S. forces. The POW held in captivity the longest was Floyd Thompson who attempted escape 6 times before finally being released in 1973. Another successful escapee was James Nick Rowe who, on his third attempt, simply walked out of the prison camp. He then dangerously walked into a VC military camp but managed to convince the troops there that he had simply gotten lost looking for firewood. He evaded other guards by explaining he was only out fishing, and he completed his escape the last day of the year in 1968.
Vietnam Prisoners of War Operation Homecoming
Over 40 years have past since Operation Homecoming. At that time, the U.S. engaged in several diplomatic negotiations with North Vietnam that eventually enabled the U.S. to recover 591 American prisoners from both North Vietnam and South Vietnam in 1973. The U.S. selected prisoners based on how long they had been imprisoned, and the first selected group of 40 had been captured for 6 to 8 years.
Americans at home watched in awe as the prisoners were released from Vietnam captivity and were either carried in stretchers or simply walked hesitantly toward the rescuing aircraft. After years and years of horrifying living conditions and constant disappointment, the profound remark that was echoed by POWs freed during Operation Homecoming was “God Bless America.”
Remembering Our Troops
Military service often comes with an incredible amount of sacrifice, bravery, and dedication. Many have given their lives for our country so that you and I can live in freedom. No matter the experience, Low VA Rates and our military mortgage center works each day to serve and educate those who have served for us. We want to thank all of the Vietnam veterans who have sacrificed everything to protect our country. Thank you!