On 12 May 1967 while on a mission near Hanoi I was hit by anti-aircraft
guns. As I attempted to leave the target area, a MIG-17 pilot spotted my
disabled aircraft and had little difficulty shooting it down. My pilot, Lt.
James Jefferson, a fine young officer and a graduate of the Air Force
Academy, ejected from the aircraft and I followed a few seconds later.
Unfortunately, Jim Jefferson apparently did not survive the ejection. Later
I saw a name tag which had been cut from his flight suit and a couple of
other articles of his flying equipment.
I was captured immediately and taken directly to Hanoi-a prize catch for the
North Vietnamese, since I was the first Colonel captured. My reception at
the Hilton could not even by the most general terms be described as amicable
and my captors often called me “stupid” since I didn’t seem to know the
answers to their questions. After three weeks of very brutal treatment I was
placed in solitary confinement. At the end of 1000 days of solitary I was
allowed to live with another senior officer.
At the time, I didn’t understand why the North Vietnamese made a drastic
policy change which improved our treatment. But I do now. It was the efforts
of the American people and organizations such as the National League of
Families, VIVA and the efforts of H. Ross Perot and other private citizens
that brought about the change. This of course, is a value judgement on my
part. Perhaps this will be assessed by the historians as an event that was
caused by world opinion when the application of military force could not
bring about the desired change. In any event, our treatment improved, as did
our living conditions and our morale. Torture became less frequent and so
did harassment. The Vietnamese seemed to pursue a “live and let live” policy
As things improved we began to see the “light at the end of the tunnel”,
albeit very dim. Our faith and confidence in our leaders was enhanced.
Someday in the not too distant future we knew that America would secure our
release with honor. Our job was simple-do always what was best for our
country. We should never allow our desires to transcend the interests of our
I feel that we were fortunate to have a man such as Colonel John P. Flynn as
our leader. His perceptions and persistency caused us to constantly
re-evaluate our goals and our policies. And it is my belief that our image
at the time of the release could be attributed to John Peter Flynn.
To all of you who have made our return possible, to all who helped our
families, to all who prayed for our safe return, to all who waited
faithfully and patiently, to all who shared our woes, to all who supported
our nation, to all whose loved ones have not returned-I trust that the
Divine Providence will bless you and give you strength. God Bless you!
We honor you, Norman Gaddis.