ANDERSON, JOHN THOMAS
Deceased April 1988
Name: John Thomas Anderson
Rank/Branch: United States Army
Unit: AFRTS HQ MACV
Date of Birth: 08 December 1930
Home City of Record: Niagra Falls NY
Date of Loss: 03 February 1968
Country of Loss: South Vietnam/NVN
Loss Coordinates: 162932 North 1073438 East
Status (in 1973): Returnee
Category:
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: Ground
Missions:
Other Personnel in Incident: unknown, at least 2 more
Refno: 1030
Source: Compiled by P.O.W. NETWORK from one or more of the following: raw
data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA
families, published sources, interviews and CACCF = Combined Action
Combat Casualty File.  Updated 2008 with information provided by 
Michael Jones, SERE Specialist, 

Texas

 Army National Guard

REMARKS: 730305 RELEASED BY PRG
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         Subject: John Thomas Anderson
         Date: Wed, 26 Dec 2001 09:38:30 +0900
Hello.  I saw a reference to your web site in the November 2001 edition of
the VFW magazine.
I read the brief information about Army Sergeant John T. Anderson and noted
that there is not much bio available.
I knew Sergeant Anderson, but only after he retired from the Army as a
Master Sergeant and began working as a civilian for the Armed Forces Radio
and Television Service.  He was the civilian station manager at the AFN
Stuttgart affiliate from 1977 - 1982, after which he retired from federal
service and returned to Buffalo, NY.  He cthen worked for a local government
agency there until his death in (I believe) April 1993.  The Department of
the Army has named the annual Military Broadcast Journalist of the Year
(BJOY) the John T. Anderson Award, in honor of his distinguished military
service.
He was the Station NCOIC at the AFVN radio affiliate at Hue when the station
was overrun during the Tet offensive in 1968.  He and several of his staff
members were captured after holding off the enemy until they had nearly
exhausted their ammunition.  They were POWs until repatriated in 1973.
Regards.
W.R. Cornelison
Seoul, Republic of Korea

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Hell years

Ex-prisoner of war recounts horrors of North Vietnamese capture

by Renita Foster

Public Affairs Office [of Fort Monmouth NJ - No Date]

It was Jan. 31, 1968 when North Vietnam began rocketing the city of Hue in the Republic of South Vietnam

Detachment Five, a television station crew for American Forces Vietnam Network, immediately shut down operations and scrambled to their billets.

For five days they fought until water, food, and ammunition ran out. When the soldiers made a desperate attempt to reach the major compound just a mile away, the non-commissioned officer in charge, Master Sgt. John Anderson, was shot in the chest. The first thing he saw upon regaining consciousness was a North Vietnamese soldier pointing a rifle at his head.

"I had just 23 days left Ďin countryí," Anderson said in a recent interview, "and now Iíve got three bullet wounds. The first medical aid I received was at a North Vietnamese holding area outside of Hue . It was just a large cotton ball and a set of forceps. They dipped into an iodine bottle and washed out my chest."

A forced 10 to 12 mile a day road march came next, ending six weeks later in the city of Vinh , North Vietnam . Anderson was fed only two bowls of rice every day during the trek north. He knew he must persevere if he wanted to live.

"I had to walk because if I didnít they were going to shoot me," Anderson said. "So putting one foot in front of the other was a matter of doing just that. I weighed roughly 230 pounds when I was captured. I was down to 146 by the time the journey was over."

From the beginning, escape had been his foremost thought. But Anderson knew from his military escape and evasion classes that in his case, he wasnít likely to be successful.

"I broke all three of the three rules Iíd been taught." Anderson said. "That you should try and get away as soon as possible, know where you are, and make sure youíre in good enough physical condition to escape."

The first time he tried to escape he made it about a mile, then passed out because of his wounds. The second time he managed to get farther, but walked right into the middle of an enemy military camp. The last time he was nearly beaten to death with bamboo clubs by women in a North Vietnamese village.

Despite the overwhelming odds, however, there was no giving up. Anderson remembered one classic escape by another prisoner who strung his uniform up like a straw man in the bathroom one evening. He punched a hole in a one gallon water can and placed both items in a way so that when the guard arrived, all that could be seen were trousers with water spewing out.

"The guard bought it and went back to lock the other doors," Anderson said. "By the time he returned, the prisoner already had a 30 minute head start. He was gone for about a week until they caught him."

Anderson also recalled just how bad the punishment could be for foiled escapes; like the soldier who tried fleeing Hanoi and was buried up to his neck for a week. "Thereís always the probability youíre going to get caught but youíve got to remember thereís always that possibility you might make it.

" If you let that go, then you begin falling apart. There was one young man who did give up; literally. He laid down one day, turned his face to the wall, and died. He physically gave up the will to live. When you get to the point where you refuse to resist any longer, then you become an animal. Youíre just not a human being anymore."

Anderson spent his first months in a cell four feet wide by six feet long and five feet high. At daybreak he was allowed to empty the "slop bucket", then was given some food and water. After a light afternoon meal, the room was locked again until the next morning.

A few days a week he was afforded the opportunity to take a bath from a well. "Youíd dip a bucket in, splash the water over you, soap up, throw the water back over yourself and rinse," Anderson said. "And once in awhile you might go out and sweep the courtyard."

For the majority of the next five years he was required to sit at attention at the end of his bed board, forbidden to see or talk to anyone.

Punishments for infractions such as getting caught attempting to communicate with other prisoners were swift and fierce. Meals were cut down to one a day, no outside exercise was allowed. The only daylight or fresh air came from a small hole in the roomís ceiling.

Severe punishment included being locked in irons to a bed or kneeling down and keeping your thighs straight with hands up over the head. A prisoner had to stay that way until it started hurting which took about 30 minutes. "They obviously know you canít keep your arms up that long so they tie them over your head for eight to 12 hours. The pain was so great that guys would eventually pass out," Anderson said.

Endless interrogations began three months after Anderson ís capture. After giving the classic name, rank, serial number, and date of birth, he remembers his captors taunting and asking if he really thought thatís all the information he would give for the rest of his life.

"My other line," Anderson said, "was that Iím just a dumb sergeant, you donít tell your enlisted men everything do you?"

But then came the kind of interrogation Anderson could not have seen coming. To disorient him, he was put into a totally dark room; then brought out and questioned for 18 hours, only to be returned to the darkness, with the process repeated for about a month.

"This causes you to lose track of time. And then they start saying Ďwell yesterday you told meí, and you begin forgetting what youíve told them, and donít really know any more what youíve said, " Anderson explained.

"Theyíll even put a man in the room next to yours who speaks excellent English. You overhear him saying your name, the town you were captured in, your unit. And you find yourself really wondering because thereís only two or three people who could know those details" he said.

One warning Anderson insists on passing down to soldiers who may one day find themselves in the same situation is; get whatever story youíre going to tell straight in your mind and always tell it the same way.

It was a painful lesson Anderson learned when he was brought before his initial interrogator and shown three different folders containing information on three different John Andersons.

"I was absolutely speechless," Anderson said. "Not to mention scared to death. This guy had interviewed me on different occasions and not one time did he write anything down or take a single note. Now he was telling me how confused he was having three people here with the same name, rank, town where they were captured, but with all different stories. Thatís when I knew I was in trouble. "

For punishment Anderson spent six months in solitary confinement. To fill in the long, despairing hours he built a radio station from the ground up, laying the bricks, fitting the windows, even installing the wiring and equipment. He also made friends with a mouse he would talk to.

Saving little pieces of bread, Anderson would feed the rodent who would cock his head as if understanding. "I felt I was doing well when he didnít answer back," Anderson said.

Anderson even found he enjoyed watching an insect build a nest; something that almost caused him to get in a fight with a guard since thatís when his confinement was over and he wanted to see the young hatch.

Andersonís family never knew if he was alive or dead as he was listed as missing in action

After five long years he became a free man on March 5, 1973. Because he had been told so often that he was never going home, it was not until he was airborne that Anderson could really believe he was headed for America .

And while he agrees that most Vietnam veterans did not get the kind of reception they should have, he says his couldnít have been better.

"When I arrived in Niagara Falls , N.Y. , where I was raised, there were about 8,000 people at the airport to greet me. I had an escort into town by a motorcycle police honor guard. For about the first two weeks I couldnít buy a drink or anything to eat in any place I went. It was that kind of welcome," he said.

Anderson also praises various businesses that asked to him to be their guest on vacations or cruises, as well as the Ford Motor Company who gave him a free car to use the first year he was home.

And he still has a framed menu from a White House dinner honoring North Vietnam prisoners of war.

As for soldiers who become prisoners in the future, Anderson offers this advice. "You can do just about anything you have to or want to. And that includes surviving. More importantly, remember when you came in the military you took an oath. You raised your hand and said ĎI will,í" he said. "You must live up to your commitment because youíre the one whoís going to have to live with yourself. And they can break you. They can break anybody; I donít care who you are. But in the end, you are the one responsible for what youíve done. Now I get up every morning and look at myself in the mirror and shave. And while itís not the prettiest sight in the world, I smile because I am happy with the fact Iím back here and Iím the man that I am."

 


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