BRACE, ERNEST C. RIP 12/05/2014
Name: Ernest C. Brace Rank/Branch: Civilian Unit: USAID Date of Birth: 15 August 1931 Home City of Record: Date of Loss: 21 May 1965 Country of Loss: Laos Loss Coordinates: 200345 North 1012330 East Status (in 1973): Returnee Category: Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: Porter Missions: Marine Corp pilot 1951-1961. Shot down in Korea November 1952
Other Personnel in Incident: Sgt. Harnawee, Thai Special Forces, Releasee Refno:
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.
REMARKS: 03/73 Released by PL
SOURCE: WE CAME HOME copyright 1977 Captain and Mrs. Frederic A Wyatt (USNR Ret), Barbara Powers Wyatt, Editor P.O.W. Publications, 10250 Moorpark St., Toluca Lake, CA 91602 Text is reproduced as found in the original publication (including date and spelling errors).
ERNEST C. BRACE Civilian Pilot Captured: May 21, 1965 Released: March 28, 1973
I was living in Chaing Mai, Thailand with my wife, Patricia, and four sons, flying air cargo under USAID contract with Bird and Sons Air Cargo Company. It was my job to deliver staples for survival to Lao Special Forces United, that were setting up the civic action teams for hospitals and supply bases.
Boum Lao was a small village at the end of a large valley, selected by the Civic Action Team for special aid in building a hospital. I was delivering a load of supplies, along with some passengers from Chaing Mai to Boum Lao in my PC-6.
While attempting to land at the airstrip, we were riddled with AK-47 fire from North Vietnamese soldiers hidden in the nearby jungle. One Lao Sergeant who was my passenger was killed as he tried to exit the aircraft; his wife was shot in the hip, but was able to run into the nearby woods toward the village; two other men and I were captured by the NVA, to be taken through the village across several miles of rough terrain, and hidden out in jungle camps.
The next seven years were spent mostly encaged in small bamboo cages, to be beaten, starved, buried alive, and humiliated as few modern day humans have known. My tall six foot frame eventaully became paralyzed under the strain of being forced to exist inside a four foot high cage that decreased to two feet at the opposite end.
The ordeals gone through under captive conditions brought out chiefly the great necessity for the individual in similar circumstances to retain his sanity and inner strength. Above all, to maintain his self respect, human dignity, and individuality. These most precious of all faculties are the mainstay of the person who must face such deprivation of all liberties.
My later reunion with my fellow Americans in Hanoi towards the end of the war, brought me to the realization what a truly great nation and great heritage we have. I can testify to this: there was hardly a man in that camp, regardless of how he started out, who does not know and cherish our special Constitutional way of life, with free agency the supreme element, more dearly than life itself.
Indeed, we are willing to not only fight, and even die for it, if need be. But more than that, we are ready to LIVE, even through living Hell to maintain our freedom, and our Constitutional way of life. PRISONER IN A CAGE Ernest Brace I'm just a prisoner in a cage; I have no name, I have no age. The guards don't even know what I've done, All they know, I'm a captured one.
They buried me alive once, for seven days, That was supposed to mend my ways; I'd still try, but as you can see I don't have the legs to carry me.
They think I flew a 105 And bombed and strafed the countryside; There's some would like to see me dead, so to stay alive, Gotta use my head.
My feet are in stocks, my neck tied to a pole, What food I get is shoved through a hole; At night I lie down, and my hands are tied, The rope is stretched to a pole outside.
They captured me back in '65 I guess it's lucky I'm still alive; I tried to escape three times in ail, Now I'd go a fourth, but I'd have to crawl.
Now I've been sick, and almost died, I had to craw I to get outside; I wasn't helped in anyway at all, Just beaten and held against the wall.
But I'll get out of here, I know that now, Though I don't know when and I don't know how; I'll see my family once again Though I don't know how and I don't know when.
---------- The American Legion Magazine November 1978 By ERNEST C. BRACE
Under the glaring lights of a circus tent set up on the lawn of the White House, I met John Sidney McCain III face to face for the first time. President Richard Nixon had invited the returned POWs of the Vietnam War to dinner.
It was May 24, 1973. A little over four years previously I had met John under harsh circumstances. We had been confined in adjacent cells at the camp we prisoners called the "Plantation" in Hanoi, North Vietnam.
John was in solitary because he refused to cooperate with the Vietnamese. His father was Admiral John Sidney McCain, Commander in Chief, Naval Forces Europe, and his grandfather had been an admiral during WWII. Because of his family, John was considered a valuable pawn by the Vietnamese. John did not know it for several months, but during his captivity his father was to become Commander in Chief, Pacific, an even more important position relating to John's imprisonment.
I was in solitary because I was a civilian pilot, suspected of being with the CIA, and I had escaped from my captors three times over the years while in jungle camps near Dien Bien Phu. I'd been a contract pilot, flying US AID supplies to pro-government troops operating in what was ac- knowledged to be an enemy controlled area.
Three and one-half years in damp, thatched bamboo cages in the jungle had left me in poor health. Because of my escape attempts, I spent from April 1966 until October 1968 in stocks and ropes. I had been captured May 21, 1965 in Laos. When they took me to Hanoi in October 1938 1 could not walk.
I had not seen or heard an American since my capture. I had no idea of the progress of the war. On the road to Hanoi, I observed road work to restore bomb damage, and what appeared to be normal daytime traffic. I didn't know that Johnson had gone to "limited bombing." I thought the wait was over, and I was being taken to Hanoi for release.
The interrogator at the prison in Hanoi told me that the guards were preparing a room for me soon after we arrived at the camp. He would not comment on the war situation. I had visions of a hotel room.
I was carried blindfolded across large open space, and then dumpers rudely on the ground. I heard a lock snap open. What sounded like a wooden bar scraped against metal. A door banged open. I was lifted over something and dropped. It felt like a concrete floor. Someone stepped down alongside of me and jerked my blindfold off.
I was blinded by a bare electric light bulb hanging from the ceiling. T looked no at one of the cruelest faces I had seen on a Vietnamese. He kicked me in the thigh and motioned towards a wide board set up on two small sawhorses. I pulled myself over to the bedboard and managed to get up on the thing after almost knocking it over. The guard made motions that I was to remove my clothes. Another guard entered and started inspecting my body. He painted between my fingers and toes with iodine. Then he took a needle from his bag, attached a syringe, and gave me a shot of vitamin B.
There was a black bucket in the corner of the room. From the motions of the guard I assumed it was meant to be used for my body functions. The corcrete floor around the bucket was stained from years of use and bad aim. A mosquito net hung from nails driven into concrete grout between bricks. A bricked-over door separated my cell from what had been an adjoining room. I had been dropped in over a windowsill.
The guards left, slamming the heavy louvered windows closed, then dropping the bar in place and snapping the lock shut. I was in my new home.
I spread the blanket they had given me on the board. My few extra clothes became my pillow. It had been an exciting day. I had no problem going right to sleep.
I awoke to the sound of my bar being taken off the window. "Nasty," the mental nickname I'd given the guard, was back with a jug of water. It was starting to get light outside. Suddenly I heard what sounded like someone beating a piece of iron with a hammer. It started slowly and increased in cadence to a rapid crescendo and finished with a couple of solid whacks.
The guard pointed to his ear and indicated that when I heard that noise I was to get up and do some exercises. I couldn't even stand without leaning on something. He wanted me to set my bucket outside the window. I indicated that I hadn't used it yet. "Nasty" left me the jug and a chunk of bread loaf.
I had been told not to sit on the bedboard. Also, there had been dire threats indicated if I were to scratch or knock on the walls. Sitting on the floor with my back to the wall I was more comfortable than I had been for years.
I had been sitting for some time dreaming of home, when I became aware that I could hear American music off in the distance. The music stopped and was followed by an Oriental girl's voice. I couldn't make out the words, but it sounded like English.
The gong sounded, more softly this time, and I wondered if I should exercise. While I was thinking about this I heard a noise at my window. A guard was rapping his knuckles against the louvers saying "Sleep, sleep." I figured I was to take a nap.
I had no sooner laid down when I heard a tapping on the wall. It was the old "SHAVE AND A HAIRCUT" signal among prisoners, but without the "TWO BITS." I smiled and thought "That's nice, must be an American next door." A moment later the tapping was repeated. I eased off the bed and worked my way around to where the tapping was coming from. The next time he tapped "SHAVE AND A HAIRCUT" I came right back with the "TWO BITS." A rapid series of tapping started. I retreated thinking I had been tricked.
The tapping ceased and then came the "SHAVE AND A HAIRCUT" again. Whoever he was, he was persistent. After a period of silence a long, slow series of tapping started. I was confused. I started counting and then realized I should be saying the alphabet. I got the word "WALL" on the last series. I did nothing. I was getting sweaty and nervous. It started again: A B C D ---------
The message was clear. "PUT EAR TO WALL." I worked my way back to where the tapping was coming from. Pressing my ear to the wall I heard a voice say "IF YOU HEAR ME BUDDY, KNOCK THREE TIMES." I knocked three times. What had seemed a bored voice became so excited he could hardly talk. It was clearly an American on the other side of the wall.
"I'VE BEEN TRYING TO RAISE YOU ALL DAY. ARE YOU A NEW PRISONER? DO YOU KNOW THE TAP CODE? I GUESS I'D BETTER TELL YOU HOW TO ANSWER." My eyes were watering. I was smiling so hard my face hurt. This was the first American voice I had heard since leaving home so many years ago. "GIVE ME ONE TAP FOR NO, TWO TAPS FOR YES, AND THREE TAPS IF YOU DON'T KNOW." I gave two taps. "GOOD BOY." He said "MY NAME IS JOHN McCAIN. I'VE BEEN A PRISONER OVER A YEAR, HAVE YOU BEEN A PRISONER LONG?" I gave two taps, "Yes." We then went through something like the game "Twenty Questions." He found out what year I had been captured, how old I was, and that I had been a Marine Corps pilot in Korea, but was flying as a civilian during this war.
He then told me how he was talking to me. "TAKE YOUR TIN CUP, WRAP YOUR SHIRT AROUND IT, LEAVE PLENTY OF CLOTH AROUND THE MOUTH, AND PRESS THE CUP FIRMLY AGAINST THE WALL. DO YOU WANT TO TRY IT NOW?" One tap "No." I didn't have a cup. "DO YOU WANT TO COMMUNICATE?" Two taps "Yes." "DO YOU HAVE A CUP?" One tap "No."
He then explained the tap code. The "shave and a haircut" was the come up signal. The "two bits" meant go ahead. Divide the alphabet into five groups of five letters each. Drop the letter "K." The key letters of each group are A-F-L-Q-V. The letter "A" being the first letter in the first group its tap would be 1-1. The letter "B," first group, second letter, 1-2. The letter "R," fourth group, second letter, 4-2. The name "McCain," 3-2, 1-3, 1-3, 1-1, 2-4, 3-3. I was now able to tap my name to John. Several days later I was given a cup and communications were wide open.
Over the next few weeks John was to bring me back to the real world. He caught me up on the war situation; explained the politics of the upcoming elections; told me jokes, and stories of his life that be probably bad never told anyone before. The wall was like a confessional. The person on the other side existed in voice only. I wasn't to see John McCain for over a year. Then it was only a furtive glance through my louveres while he was in the wash court one day.
The music and voice I had heard my first day in the room had been the "Voice of Vietnam." John had a speaker in his room, I did not. Every morning after the voice signed off John would come up on the wall and fill me in on the music, news and lack of sports, as he put it.
John explained that we were in the camp called "Plantation." He was in Warehouse 13 west, I was in Warehouse 13 east. We remained in solitary over the next year. In addition to each other we communicated with other parts of the camp by virious inventive and roundabout methods. But that communications was not the personal-voice type contact that John and I had.
Shortly before Christmas 1969, John and I were caught up in a communications bust. I had been relaying information from the guys in the "Gunshed" to John and he had a way of getting it to the rest of the "Warehouse." I got my contact with the "Gunshed" when they were brought down to the wash court. The guards came in the middle of the night. They told me to prepare, to move to a camp where I was to be, punished for my criminal activities. I was able to walk now so they didn't have to carry me to the truck waiting in the courtyard. Before they put me in the truck, I was blindfolded.
As we were rolling through the streets of Hanoi I felt someone tapping on my thigh in soft subtle pressure. "HI, I JOHN McCAIN, WHO YOU?" My throat felt tight as I worked my hand around to squeeze his. "EB HERE."
Almost four more years of war were to keep John and me from meeting in person. As we faced each other at the White House dinner, tears filled my eyes. I thought of that year of frantic communications through the wall.
January 10, 1997 Ernie Brace and his wife Nancy reside in Oregon.
FM: Ernie Brace POW Laos/NVN 1965-1973
I was a Marine Corp pilot 1951-1961. Shot down in Korea November 1952, I managed to make it out to sea and got picked up by the USS Kidd just south of Wonson. Working with USAID/CIA in Laos, Special Operations Group in 1965 I was captured just south of the China border in company with Thai Special Forces. 3.5 years in Bamboo Cages near Dien Bein Phu, 2.5 of that in stocks and irons because of escape attempts. Another 1yr 3mo. in solitary in Hanoi in cell behind John McCain. He was solo also. Total 4yrs 8mos. solitary confinement continuous from capture. Another 3mo solo in 1971 due to camp riot. Never listed as POW, never allowed to write or receive mail. #6 captured in war, but not released until last day of releases 28 Mar 1973. Spent year in Balboa Naval Hospital recovering. Adm Jim Stockdale recommended me for Navy Cross, reduced to DoD DSM, highest DoD award for "civilians." Story is in book I wrote A CODE TO KEEP, St. Martin's Press NYC 1988. I do a lot of speaking at military reunions and for the graduating classes of the 114th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron (F16s) here at Kingsley Field in Klamaty Falls, Oregon. Have also written several books of short stories on my 7 yr. China tour as Program Manager for FMS sale of UH-60s for PLA. Spent four years working with the Russians on improving their aviation capability for UN Peace Keeping missions. Was in Kuwait in March 1991 to set up med-evac and helicopter support for the fire fighters.
From a letter shared, dated 01/10/97
Sorry to hear about your brother. Before I get started you should also check with Ed Leonard, USAF A1 pilot out of NKP captured in Laos and with Steve Long USAF "Nail" OV-10 pilot out of NKP also captured in Laos....
The only thing we 9 Americans and 1 Canadian had in common as survivors of Laos is that we were all captured by NVA regulars and not the Pathet Lao. All of us were taken by the NVA directly into NVN and never turned over to the PL. The only survivors of the PL I know of are the two Navy pilots Deter Dingler, escaped in Laos, and Klusman who escaped or was brought out by PL deserters, in 1964 before I was even captured. There are also a number of Thai Special Forces personnel that were captured in Laos, including Sgt. Harnavee who was with me. He was taken to Hanoi with me and released about a year after the Americans.
Most of us pilots captured in Laos attempted at least one escape during the transportation phase as we are taught to do. Jack Butcher got away for several days and was almost killed on re-capture. Lance Sijan was killed. Jim Bedinger's truck convoy on the Ho Chi Min trail was bombed and strafed by our own pilots as they moved him north out of Laos. My own penalty for getting untied and trying to crawl out of the camp on the trail was loss of my front teeth from a rifle butt and a smashed cheek bone. The penalty for escape was death and I am sure that many of the pilots that got on the ground safely died in that manner. The PL were not known for their soft hearts and working with the counter insurgency force before my capture I observed some of their work on their own people that cooperated with the Americans.
I don't hold much hope for those that are not out by now. These fortune hunters that have been preying on the families of those missing have not produced one piece of solid evidence. The "three amigos" picture which has been proven to be a fake taken from a Russian magazine is still being touted by some as proof that there are still Americans up there. I almost died in that cage before they took me to Hanoi in 1968. I was down to about 100 pounds and had been through many phases of sickness.
I was last in Laos in January 1991 on another project. In meetings with the PL General Staff in Vientiene I was told I could go anywhere and ask any questions I wanted to of the local people. Our military is doing just that. Some "sightings" have not been resolved I know, but they have all turned into blind leads. People will do and say anything if they think it might earn them a ticket to the USA.
Sorry to be so blunt, but I have watched the suffering of the MIA families for over twenty years now, have seen or heard most of the rumors, and have tried to follow up on some of them myself in Russia. There was no physical, or economic reason for the NV to hold back. To the contrary there have been rewards offered almost from day one for someone to bring out a live American. Not sure I have been of any help, but having lived and worked all over the world, I feel we still have the best and least corrupt government that can be found. There is certainly no grand conspiracy to withhold information.
May 17 1997
I've never checked into whether or not my debrief could be released. Since I was under contract to the CIA I guess mine would be one of the last to be released, if they ever are. I have presented my story many times in talks to military groups. The last being at the AWS school in Quantico for their Ethics Under Adversity seminar in February this year. I'm also sure that my book, A CODE TO KEEP, contains all my debrief and then some.
Regards Ernie Brace
He only received one. They are going back to find out why - he was promised 2. On 8/28/2013 wrote: http://www.mysanantonio.com/default/article/Local-Man-Ernie-Brace-to-Be-Awarded-Two-Purple-4746255.php
Ernie Brace passed away DEC 5.
His service will be in Klamath Falls on Monday Dec. 8, 2014 at 2pm at the United Evangelical Free Church, 3333 Beverly Dr. Klamath Falls, OR. His ashes will be spread at a favorite fishing spot. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Ernie Brace Flies West
True American heroes are rare. Ernie Brace was one of those, and his death 5 Dec 2014 was a loss not just to Klamath Falls and the people who knew him, but to the rest of the nation as well.
You probably know the story. Brace, 83, a civilian pilot during the Vietnam War, was captured by communist forces and held for seven years, 10 months and seven days. He spent five of those years in solitary confinement, with more than three of them in a 3-foot by 4-foot bamboo cage, chained to the ground by a steel collar around his neck.
During captivity, he communicated by tapping on the walls to fellow prisoner John McCain, at the time a captured U.S. pilot and now a U.S. senator from Arizona. McCain said in a quotation from the Marlo Thomas book, "The Right Words at the Right time": "Without his strength, I doubt I would have survived solitary confinement with my mind and self-respect intact."
Brace's strength of will and character got him through his ordeal and inspired other prisoners. He continued to inspire others who got to know him after his release in March 1973 and after he and his wife, Nancy Rusth Brace, moved to Klamath Falls.
Steve Harper, retired base commander at Kingsley Field and former state senator, said "He is a hero in every sense of the word, and I just feel very grateful at the chance to know him. If I could be like him, if my children could be like him, I think it would be a better world."
Brace was a unique individual, the longest-held civilian prisoner of war of the Vietnam era. He met horrific circumstances with an inner courage and resolve that not only allowed him to survive, but encouraged others. He was a genuine leader in the word's highest sense.