KNUTSON, RODNEY ALLEN

Name: Rodney Allen Knutson
Rank/Branch: O2/US Navy/Radar Intercept Officer
Unit: Fighter Squadron 84, USS INDEPENDENCE (CVA 62)
Date of Birth: 29 September 1938 (Billings MT)
Home City of Record: Billings MT
Date of Loss: 17 October 1965
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 215400N 1065900E (YK048228)
Status (in 1973): Released POW
Category:
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4B
Missions: 77

Other Personnel In Incident: Ralph E. Gaither (released POW); At nearby
coordinates, all F4 aircraft from USS Independence and US Navy personnel;
Stanley E. Olmstead (missing) and Porter A. Halyburton (released POW);
Roderick L. Mayer (missing - died of severe wounds) and David R. Wheat
(released POW)

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 01 April 1990 from one or more of
the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence
with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W.
NETWORK March 1997.

REMARKS: 730212 RLSD BY DRV - INJURED

SYNOPSIS: LT Roderick Mayer was a pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier USS
INDEPENDENCE (CVA-62). On October 17, 1965 he and his Radar Intercept
Officer (RIO), LTJG David Wheat launched in their F4B Phantom fighter jet
for a day strike mission on the Thai Nguyen bridge northeast of Hanoi.

On the same day, a second Phantom flown by LCDR Stanley E. Olmstead, with
LTJG Porter A. Halyburton as his RIO, and a third Phantom flown by LTJG
Ralph Gaither and LTJG Rodney A. Knutson also launched from the USS
INDEPENCENCE. These four pilots were part of Fighter Squadron 84, the "Jolly
Rogers". Mayer and Wheat were part of the carriers Fighter Squadron 41. All
were dispatched to the same general mission area near the city of Thai
Nguyen.

The three Phantoms were all shot down within a few miles of each other.
Knutson and Gaither were shot down in Long Song Province, North Vietnam,
near the border of China, or about 75 miles northeast of the city of Thai
Nguyen. Olmstead and Halyburton were shot down in Long Son Province about 40
miles east of the city of Thai Nguyen. Mayer and Wheat were shot down about
55 miles east-northeast of the city of Thai Nguyen, in Long Son Province.

Mayer and Wheat's aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire. Both men were seen
to eject from the aircraft. Search and rescue (SAR) efforts were hampered
due to enemy small arms fire. Lt. Mayer was observed over a period of two
hours in a prone position, still in his parachute. Before rescue helicopters
could reach the scene, both Mayer and Wheat had disappeared from sight and
enemy troops were seen in the area. David R. Wheat was confirmed to be a
prisoner of war, and when released in 1973, made statements which suggest
that Mayer was killed during the ejection or that he died later of injuries
resulting from the ejection. He stated that Lt. Mayer did not move, even
when he was found by ground troops. Mayer was classified Prisoner of War.

LCDR Olmstead's aircraft was hit by hostile fire and crashed while on a
bombing mission. No transmissions were heard, nor was there any sign of
ejection by either crewmember. Other U.S. aircraft passed over the crash
site and deterimed that there was no possibility of survival. However, it
was later learned that Halyburton had survived, and was captured. Being the
RIO, Halyburton would eject first. It was believed that Olmstead had
probably died in the crash of the aircraft, but there was no proof of this
theory. Olmstead was classified Missing in Action.

Gaither and Knutson were captured by the North Vietnamese, spent nearly 8
years as prisoners and were both released on February 12, 1973 in Operation
Homecoming. Knutson had been injured, and was not fully recovered at the
time of his release.

The fates of these six men from the USS INDEPENDENCE was not clear at the
time they were shot down. Their status changed from Reported Dead to
Prisoner of War or Missing in Action. At the end of the war, only Olmstead
and Mayer remained missing. Ultimately, they were declared dead for lack of
evidence that they were still alive.

When the war ended, refugees from the communist-overrun countries of
Southeast Asia began to flood the world, bringing with them stories of live
GI's still in captivity in their homelands. Since 1975, nearly 10,000
reports relating to Americans missing in Southeast Asia have been received.
Many authorities believe that hundreds of Americans are still held in the
countries in Southeast Asia.

The U.S. Government operates on the "assumption" that one or more men are
being held, but that it cannot "prove" that this is the case, allowing
action to be taken. Meanwhile, low-level talks between the U.S. and Vietnam
proceed, yielding a few sets of remains when it seems politically expedient
to return them, but as yet, no living American has returned.

Roderick L. Mayer was promoted to the rank of Commander during the period he
was maintained missing and David R. Wheat was promoted to the rank of
Lieutenant Commander.

Rodney A. Knutson and Ralph E. Gaither were promoted to the rank of
Lieutenant Commander during the period they were maintained as prisoner of
war.

Stanley E. Olmstead was promoted to the rank of Commander during the period
he was maintained missing. Porter A. Halyburton was promoted to the rank of
Lieutenant Commander during the period he was maintained as a prisoner of
war.


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).

RODNEY ALLEN KNUTSON
Lieutenant Commander - United States Navy
Shot Down: October 17, 1965
Released: February 12, 1973

I was born in Billings, Montana, 29 September 1938, the oldest of three
children to Mr. and Mrs. Arwin M. Knutson. In 1956 I graduated from Billings
High School and attended Eastern Montana College of Education, but decided to
join the Marines in January 1957. However, in January 1959 I again entered
Eastern Montana College to graduate in 1962. I was very active in Eastern's
social activities; Who's Who in American Colleges and Universities, President
of Kappa Phi Kappa, Student Body vice president, etc. In October 1962 I
entered the Navy Aviation Officer Candidate Program, graduating as Cadet
Regimental Commander in February 1963, receiving a commission as an ensign in
the U.S. Navy.

In the Navy my career has taken me to Basic Naval Flight Officer School in
Pensacola; Advanced Navigator School, Corpus Christi, Texas; Heavy Attack
Squadron Three, Sanford; Florida; Radar Intercept Officer Training, Glynco,
Georgia; F-4 training, Key West, Florida; and finally Fighter Squadron Eighty
Four, the famous "Jolly Rogers" in Oceana, Virginia, deploying aboard the
aircraft carrier INDEPENDENCE in May 1965.

I flew my first combat missions in Vietnam in June 1965 and was shot down
near Hanoi on 17 October 1965 on my 76th mission. I was captured that same
day and became a resident of the now famous (or infamous) Hanoi Hilton. I
had been flying with Ensign Ralph Gaither from Miami. He was released on 12
February 1973, the same day as I.

Due to my low altitude ejection at over 500 kts, I suffered a fractured neck
and back. During my capture I was fired upon by enemy soldiers and to
protect myself I killed two of them before I was knocked unconscious by the
muzzle blast of a rifle being fired at point blank range. I had a laceration
over my right eye and an abrasion down my face along my nose, powder burns
on my face and a swollen knee.

While in captivity I suffered some other injuries due to maltreatment by the
Vietnamese. I was the first POW to be tortured by the North Vietnamese. I
was tortured many times - with ropes on my arms, leg irons, hand cuffs,
manacles and beatings. I was suspended by ropes, and also suffered a broken
nose, broken wrist, broken teeth, and multiple other minor injuries. One
thing they could never take away from me, though, was my character which
included my pride, personal self respect, love for my family and country and
my devotion to these things.

I was a prisoner just under 2800 days and when released on the first C-141
out of Hanoi I was a man who was so happy I couldn't even speak.

My health is fine and I have requested to go to pilot training when I go
back to work. I want to fly fighters again, but first some relaxation with
my family in Billings; then a 100 day trip around the world with a POW
friend, Lt. Irv Willians, USN.

Let me say my most gratifying experience is coming home to my family, my
government and my country.

=======================
Rodney Knutson retired from the United States Navy as a Captain in 1993
after 37 years of total service (6 years USMC, 31 years USN). His awards and
decorations include 2 Silver Stars, 4 Legions of Merit, the Distinguished
flying Cross and 4 Bronze Stars. Since January of 1994, he and his wife
Shelle have resided aboard their sailing vessel "Ragtime" cruising Mexico,
with one of their two daughters.

========================
Reprinted with permission of Ted Ballard 12/29/96
Date: Tue, 24 Dec 1996

Christmases In the Dungeons of North Vietnam
by Ted Ballard

Christmas, 1966

        On December 24th, 1966, I was living in a small twelve feet by
twelve feet cell.  My roommate was Navy Ensign George McSwain.  We had no
contact with other American POWs.  For seven weeks George had been
undergoing a torture that was called "holding up the wall"-standing facing
the wall with his arms straight over his head.  Periodically the guards
would come in and beat him up.  The Vietnamese were torturing George in an
attempt to get me to sign a war crimes confession.  I will not go into any
details, but earlier they had  tortured me for the same thing and failed.

        I had spent two months in a cast, from my left ankle to my chest,
and was now using crutches to hobble around the room.

        As evening approached, a guard came and took George to be
interviewed by some Vietnamese officers.  While he was gone I suddenly felt
the urge to walk without the crutches.  I carried them with me but did not
use them and made it all the way around the room.  I had given myself a
Christmas present and waited impatiently for George to come back so I could
share it with him.

        When George returned he had a few pieces of sugar candy and a
cigarette for each of us.  This was a pleasant surprise since I never
thought the Vietnamese would recognize Christmas.  George said the quiz room
was full of oranges and bananas and we would receive some later.  We never
did.

        Later some Christmas music was played over the camp radio.  A POW
sang two or three songs.   I wondered who he was but never did find out.  It
was a sad Christmas Eve for me.  As we went to bed, George was silent and
despondent.  We did not talk as we normally did.  I could only imagine his
thoughts.  Mine were of my family and Christmases past.

        The gong did not clang as usual Christmas morning.  However, a guard
came by and told George to get "on the wall."  About three hours later he
was taken to quiz and the officer (whom we called Dum-dum) told him that the
Camp Commander had forgiven him of his "crimes"  and he must obey the camp
regulations.  We were both jubilant at this news.

        George's long ordeal was over.  In a way we felt it was a victory
for us since I did not have to write a confession or condemn the United
States government.  Several times I came close to calling a halt to the
torture and writing the statement, but George was a tough man and he took it
as he said he could.

        The Vietnamese gave us a good Christmas dinner-a piece of meat, lots
of rice, and, for the first time, cabbage soup.

Christmas 1967

        The summer and fall of 1967 was a bad time for the POWs.  Many men
were tortured for propaganda purposes, and harassment by the guards was
continuous.
	
        There were about thirty men in our building, three to each room.  My
cellmates were Captain Bob Sandvick and Captain Tom Pyle.

        On Christmas Eve we were taken to view a tree the Vietnamese had
decorated.  We were given some candy and extra cigarettes to take back to
our rooms.  Later in the evening we heard a guard opening the hatches to
each of the cells.  When he came to our cell he asked, "Protestant or
Catholic?"  We told him we were Protestants and he gave us each a small bag
which contained an orange, several cookies. and small pieces of candy. This
was our first "Gift from the Priest."  We found out later that the Catholics
got  a tangerine instead of and orange.  (Only the Lord knows why!) One POW
who was living by himself  told the guard he was neither Protestant nor
Catholic.  The guard closed the hatch without giving him anything!  Next
Christmas he decided to be a Protestant!
	
        Some Christmas music was played over the camp radio.  We also had to
listen to a tape recording by a Vietnamese Catholic Priest.  He allowed that
we should pray to God for forgiveness of our crimes against the Vietnamese
people.

        Bob, Tom, and I reminisced about our families and other Christmases.
It was a quiet evening for us.  Our prayers were for those POWs who were
still suffering from wounds.

        Christmas Day we had a good dinner of meat, vegetables, and rice.
In quantity it was about the size of an average American meal, but about six
times our normal ration.

        The senior ranking officer of our building initiated a "Home for
Christmas" prayer.  Each day at noon a signal was passed to all rooms.  We
would then recite the Lord's Prayer.

Christmas, 1968

        In the spring of 1968, I was moved to another camp.  Living
conditions were somewhat improved.  There were nine of us in a twenty-one by
twenty foot room.  Even though harassment and treatment by the guards was
about the same,  it was great to have more Americans to talk to.  Peace
negotiations had begun in Paris, but by the time Christmas came around our
high hopes for an early settlement had vanished.

        We had continued our daily "Home for Christmas" prayer.  One day one
of the men said, "What will we do if we don't make it home for Christmas?"
Someone answered, "We will continue to pray for next Christmas."

As the season grew nearer the men began writing down the words for holiday
songs.  We used toilet paper, pens made form strips of bamboo, and ink from
a mixture of cigarette ashes and water.  Of course we kept these carefully
hidden from the Vietnamese.

        One of the men received a package from home.  He shared everything
he had with the rest of us.  What a wonderful treat!  Actual goodies from
home!

	Again we received a "gift from the Priest."

        I shall never forget that Christmas Eve.  A group of men quietly
singing such carols as "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" and "Silent Night."

        Before retiring, Jim Hivner  said, "Everybody who believes in Santa
Claus, hang a sock on your mosquito net.  Remember, those who believe will
receive!"

        I did not hang up a sock because I needed to wear them to try to
keep warm.  We each had two thin blankets but I had to use one of mine as
cushion for my bad hip.

        In the quiet of the night, as I had done the two previous Christmas
Eves, I mentally shopped for, bought, and wrapped gifts for Ruth and Kevin.
How are they?  Are they well?  Please, God, let them live normal and happy
lives, and know that my thoughts are with them.  May God bless and keep
them, as well as the other members of the great Ballard family.

        When I awakened the next morning I found a Christmas card inside my
net. The other men had one in their stockings.  Jim Hivner had made them
without any of us knowing about it!

Christmas, 1969

        The first ten months of 1969 were the worst for the POWs. An attempt
to escape had failed and the Vietnamese had retaliated with extreme
brutality.

        In late October, however, a marked improvement in our living
conditions came about. We did not know the reason, but the death of Ho Chi
Minh may have had something to do with it. I believe now that it was the
outstanding support of the American people and the pressure they put upon
the North Vietnamese government that brought about the changes.

        In December we were allowed to write our first letters home. I had
about 800 million things to say to Ruth and questions to ask, but of course
this was impossible in a six-line letter.

        Several of us received packages from home, which we shared. In mine
was a set of thermal underwear for which I was most grateful. One of my
cellmates, Jim Sehorn, had given me one of his blankets. Finally, I could at
least stay warm during those long, sleepless, miserable nights.

        We made Christmas cards for the men in the other buildings. These
were "air-mailed" by tying a rock to the paper and throwing them from our
courtyard to theirs.

        For a Christmas tree, we decorated a small swiss-type broom with
strips of cloth and paper with various designs. Mike McGrath was quite a
good artist and enjoyed doing things with his hands. He used one of his
black pajama tops as a background and drew a tree on it. From paper and
cloth he made stars and other ornaments and attached them to the tree. Small
packages with each of our names were also attached. This was kept hidden
during the day but was hung on the wall in the evenings for our enjoyment.

        We exchanged gifts that Christmas, both real and imaginary. I gave
away gift certificates and treated everyone to a dinner at the Fireside Inn
in Las Vegas. One man, who had lost most of his hair, was given a wooden
comb. I was given ear plugs and a nose clip so I would not be disturbed at
night by nearby neighbors!

        Christmas Eve the guards came around and gave us the "gift from the
priest," also cookies and cigarettes. We were in a good mood and talked and
quietly sang carols til fairly late.

Before retiring we each tied a stocking to our nets. I had saved some peanut
butter candy from my package Ruth had sent and planned to put some in each
man's stocking while they were asleep.  I lay awake for about an hour and
was just about ready to get up when I heard a noise and looked up. A POW was
putting something in my stocking. He moved quickly from net to net and then
sneaked back under his own. Ten minutes later another man got up and did the
same thing. It took almost two hours for all eight of us to play Santa
Claus.

Early Christmas morning I was awakened by a loud shout from Jim Sehorn:
"Merry Christmas, everybody! Get up!. He did it! Santa Claus came! Get up!
Get up!" What a sight - Jim running from net to net pulling everybody out of
bed. Our stockings were full of candy, gifts, and greeting cards.

Later that day the guards came in and removed Mike's shirt with the
decorations on it. He was taken to Quiz and the officers told him they were
impressed with his art and were going to take it to the museum. Mike told
them, "No, you are not." He jerked it off the table and tore it up!

Christmas 1970

In November, 1970, there was an unsuccessful attempt by the United States to
rescue some POWs from a camp at Son Tay. Within the next few days all of the
POWs were moved to downtown Hanoi to a large complex of jails named Hoalo
Prison. We called it the Hanoi Hilton. Finally, after so many years, we were
all in the same camp, with 25 to 56 men per cell. We became better organized
militarily, academically, and religiously.

That Christmas season was a fairly good one for us. Many men had received
packages from home and were allowed to keep the items in their cells.
However, a few days before Christmas, the guards removed everything from the
cells except for what they had given us. In October I had received my first
letter from home, after more than four years as a prisoner. Included in the
letter was a picture of Ruth and Kevin. I prized that picture more than
anything in the world and I cannot describe my feelings when the guard took
it away.

We began again to scrounge materials for academic purposes, etc. We drew
names for gifts. Jim Sehorn gave me a wand and a pendulum to use with my
course in hypnotism. I gave him the use of my services for a whole week to
hold his legs while he did sit-ups and other exercises.

Christmas Eve the men put on an outstanding play. It was the POW version of
Charles Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Scrooge was played by Dave Ford with
Jerry Venanzi directing.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Christmas carols sung by a 15-man choir. The
singing was disrupted once when a Vietnamese attempted to take pictures
through the barred windows.

Again we received a "gift from the priest."

That night was a sad one for me. I was reminiscing over past Christmases
when I had a strong feeling that my Mother had died. (She passed away in
August 1969, but I was not notified until our release.)

Christmas morning I was again awakened by Jim Sehorn - with the same
enthusiasm and excitement. About this time a most fascinating event occurred
- big Tom McNish (six feet, two inches tall) was running up and down the
long room with a large bag slung over his shoulder. Tom was dressed in white
long-handled underwear and continued his prancing until everyone was up.
Then he set down his bag, opened it, and out jumped Santa Claus! Rod Knutson
had on a red suit, black "boots", stocking cap, and a white beard and
mustache! I never found out where or how they scrounged all that material.
Rod then proceeded to give out hilariously funny imaginary gifts to
everyone.

We had an exceptionally good meal Christmas Day, and everyone was becoming
optimistic about going home soon.

Christmas 1971

        Our optimism suffered a setback in early 1971 due to the torturing
of many individuals and especially the senior ranking officers. This was in
retaliation for our attempts to conduct religious services and to gain
improvements in living conditions. The United States had resumed the bombing
of North Vietnam.

        Ten of us had been removed to another large cell along with thirty
four other POWs, all considered to be "die-hards" or trouble makers by the
Vietnamese.

        Christmas, 1971, was about the same as the year before. The choir
sang carols which I thoroughly enjoyed. Six of us non-singers put on a skit
imitating the choir.

        Ed Davis sang a lovely song, one I had never heard before, having to
do with Mary and her unborn child, Jesus.

        I'll never forget Gobel James and his beautiful rendition of "O Holy
Night."

        One man entertained us with his version of "How the Grinch Stole
Christmas."

        Tom McNish and Rod Knutson did their Santa Claus number again. Rod
gave me some silver oak leaves indicating my promotion to Lieutenant
Colonel. Ruth had written me that it was Autumn in Carolina and the silver
oak leaves were falling!

        Dwight Sullivan presented me with a small poker table which he had
made from bread and sticks. It even had ash trays. I kept the table for
almost a year until the guards finally found it and took it away. I gave my
friend Leroy Stutz an imaginary book, "How to Play Winning Poker" and
allowed him to "pin" me at his discretion once per week for a whole month.

Christmas 1972

        The bombing of North Vietnam continued into 1972, and many targets
near our camp were being attacked. In May over 200 of us were moved to a
camp within a few miles of China, in mountainous terrain. Our food and
living conditions greatly improved. We were permitted more time outside,
given canned meat and various types of vegetable soup to eat with the
ever-present rice. Periodically the Vietnamese would go to a nearby village
and kill a buffalo and cook it for us. We conducted weekly bridge and chess
tournaments.

        I spent one week in solitary confinement due to a minor disagreement
with the Vietnamese officers. During this time my thoughts were mostly with
my wife and son. Kevin is now thirteen years old. Graduating from high
school soon. Hard to believe. I had missed so much of his growing up. One of
these days he will come to me and ask for an automobile.

        Most of us were given letters and packages from home that Christmas.
There was a picture of Ruth and Kevin on a motorcycle. A black dog lay
nearby. I could imagine the companionship that the dog provided for Kevin. I
mentally composed a letter to "Blackie." I was both thankful for him and
envious of him. He knew more about my son than I did - his habits, stomping
grounds, and hiding places.

        One of the men heard from the guards that the United States was
bombing targets in Hanoi with big bombers night and day. We were jubilant at
this news and felt that the attacks would continue until the Vietnamese
agreed to release all prisoners.

        Christmas Eve, 1972, was a quiet one for us. The choir sang some
carols and that was about it. Our thoughts and prayers were about the
future.

        In January 1973, we were taken back to the "Hanoi Hilton" and were
told that the war was over and we would all be going home soon. What would
it be like? How have things changed after six and one-half years of
isolation from the real world?

        I was among the group of prisoners that was released on March 4,
1973. I did not look back at the camp. I said a prayer that went something
like this:

        Dear God,
        We thank you for taking care of us for such a long time.
        We now ask that you give us the courage to face the future
        and to accept the changes that have taken place.


                                                                Ted Ballard
tedballard@teleplex.net


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