We began today with a presentation by my veteran, Dan Glenn, who was a
POW for six and a half years in the North Vietnamese prison camp system.
During his talk, Dan was open and honest about his captivity. We then
toured the Hoa Lo Prison, otherwise infamously known as “The Hanoi
Hilton,” where Dan spent more than half of his time as a POW.
Dan was commissioned as a Naval Ensign from the University of Oklahoma’s
ROTC program. He left for his first tour in Vietnam aboard the USS
Ticonderoga in March, 1965. Dan piloted the A-4 “Skyhawk” plane on 122
missions, bombing targets in both North and South Vietnam. Dan was
assigned to the the USS Kitty Hawk for his fateful second tour.
On December 21, 1966, Dan was shot down and forced to eject over a rice
field just north of the DMZ along the coast. As soon as his parachute
touched the ground, North Vietnamese from a nearby village surrounded
him, stripped him, and marched him to their village. Dan’s first night
in captivity was spent strapped to a metal bed frame in a small thatched
hut. Villagers paraded past, peering at the American POW. The next day,
Dan and an entourage of North Vietnamese military began their slow trek
north to Hanoi. They travelled at night, with Dan constantly blindfolded
After an exhausting six day journey, the group reached Hanoi, and Dan
began his imprisonment in the Hanoi Hilton. Although today the
Vietnamese claim they treated American POWs well, conditions in the
prison were far from perfect. For the first three months of his
captivity, Dan was “solo,” that is, he had no roommate. At any time,
guards would take him out for what the POWs called a “quiz,” or an
interrogation and torture session. During these “quizzes,” the
interrogators wanted to know everything, and they did whatever they
could to break the POWs, trying to elicit “confessions” from them. The
torture Dan and other POWs experienced by their hands was absolutely
horrific and inhumane.
When Dan and the other POWs weren’t in these “quizzes,” they tried to
keep their minds focused on something other than their situation. They
devised a tap code by which they communicated to each other through the
Hilton’s thick walls. The code consisted of different taps, pauses, and
thumps to communicate letters, words, and to warn if a guard was nearby.
On Dan’s first day in the interrogation room, he began to learn the
After three months of being alone in a cell, Dan received his first
roommate, Jim Stockdale, the senior Naval POW officer. Over the next six
years, Dan was moved not only from cell to cell within the Hilton,
changing roommates, but also from camp to camp. In fact, Dan spent time
at the “Zoo,” Son Tay, Camp Faith, and the “Dog Patch.”
During Dan’s last three years of imprisonment, conditions began to
improve slightly due to the dedicated and persistent actions of POW
wives on the home front, who kept their husband’s plight in the news.
Dan was finally able to send and receive an occasional six-line letter
to his wife and parents.
Dan was in a group of POWs that had just been moved from the Hanoi
Hilton prior to the 1970 Son Tay raid. In his presentation today, Dan,
with tears in his eyes, said that the men who volunteered for this
mission, knowing the staggering odds of successfully completing it, were
the POWs “true heroes.” Although the raid was ultimately unsuccessful in
its mission to free the Americans, Dan said that morale was raised
because the POWs knew that they were not forgotten, and that the US was
going to do whatever it took to bring them home.
On March 4th, 1973, Dan was finally released after six and a half years
in captivity. He and other POWs travelled south to Hanoi from the “Dog
Patch,” a camp just south of the Chinese border. They were then flown to
Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. Once Dan arrived, he eagerly
called his wife, only to hear that she was planning on divorcing him
once he returned home, which she did. After a brief hospital stay at
Clark, Dan was flown home to Jacksonville, Florida, ready to began the
rest of his new life.
When I asked Dan if any good had come from his time as a POW, he
promptly replied, “Most everything.” Dan said that if he hadn’t been
shot down, he wouldn’t be married to his wonderful wife, and he wouldn’t
have the children and grandchildren he dearly loves.
Prior to this trip, Dan had travelled back to Vietnam three times, so he
had already faced the ghosts of his past. Today, as I followed Dan
through the narrow hallways of the Hanoi Hilton, he remained remarkably
composed. When we visited the exact location of Dan’s first cell, I had
chills, thinking about the horrible, indescribable pain he suffered
there, and yet Dan remained calm and relaxed. He is truly the strongest
man I know, and I am infinitely privileged to have been his student
these past two weeks.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to accompany Dan Glenn on this
amazing odyssey. We have formed a bond that will not be easily broken.
He has taught me countless life lessons, the most important of which is
to always make the best of any situation I am in. Dan certainly did.