RIP July 19, 2017

Name: James Otis Hivner
Rank/Branch: O3/US Air Force, pilot
Unit: 43rd TFS
Date of Birth: 20 February 1931
Home City of Record: Elizabethtown PA
Date of Loss: 05 October 1965
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 213200N 1062100E (XJ397815)
Status (in 1973): Released POW
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: F4C
Incident # 0161
Missions: 35

Other Personnel in Incident: Thomas J. Barrett Incident #0161 (released POW); From F105D nearby: Bruce G. Seeber (released POW) Incident #0160; From F105D nearby: Dean A. Pogreba Incident # 0162 (missing); Phillip E. Smith Incident #0149 (released POW) captured from an F104C downed over Chinese territory on September 20.

Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 June 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 2023.

Official pre-capture photo

Phyllis Hivner places the original wedding band on the left ring finger of retired Col. James Hivner Nov. 11, 2009, at the Cavanaugh Flight Museum in Addison, Texas. It was the first time the colonel had seen, or worn, the ring since Oct. 5, 1965, when he was shot down and captured in North Vietnam and the ring was taken. The colonel's ring was found recently and eventually passed to retired Navy Cmdr. Rick Tolley who searched for its owner until he found Colonel Hivner. (U.S. Air Force photo/LouAnne Sledge)

Ring returned to Vietnam POW 44 years after imprisonment



SYNOPSIS: On September 20, 1965 an American pilot named Capt. Phillip E.
Smith was shot down over the Chinese island of Hai Nan Tao. The case of
Capt. Smith ultimately became entwined with those of other American pilots
lost in North Vietnam the following month. Capt. Smith was flying an Air
Force F104C and his loss over Hai Nan island is perplexing.

The Lockheed F104 Starfighter was an unusual aircraft created in the
mid-1950's to fill a need for a more maneuverable, faster fighter aircraft.
The result was a Mach 2-speed aircraft thrust into a combat-aircraft world
of Mach 1 and below. The aircraft itself is spared looking like a rocket by
its thin and extremely short wings set far back on the long fuselage, and a
comparatively large tailplane carried almost at the top of an equally
enormous fin. One less apparent peculiarity was an ejection seat which shot
the pilot out downwards from under the fuselage rather than out the canopy
of the cockpit. The Starfighter was primarily a low-level attack aircraft
capable of flying all-weather electronically-guided missions at supersonic

Why Capt. Smith was flying a strike aircraft over 40 miles inland in Chinese
territory is a matter for speculation. While the flight path to certain
Pacific points from Vietnam may take a pilot in the general vicinity of the
island, China was denied territory. According to one pilot, "Hai Nan was on
the way to nowhere we were supposed to be, and on the way back from the same
place." Either Smith was unbelievably lost or was on a mission whose purpose
will never see the light of day. Capt. Smith was captured by the Chinese.

Lieutenant Colonel Dean A. Pogreba was an F105D pilot attached to the 49th
Tactical Fighter Squadron at Yakota, Japan. In the fall of 1965, Pogreba was
given a temporary duty assignment to fly combat missions out of Takhli (Ta
Khli) Airbase, Thailand.

The aircraft flown by Pogreba, the F105 Thunderchief ("Thud") flew more
missions against North Vietnam than any other U.S. aircraft. It also
suffered more losses, partially due to its vulnerability, which caused the
aircraft to be constantly under revision.

On October 5, 1965, Pogreba departed Takhli as part of a five-plane combat
section on a bridge strike mission north of Hanoi in North Vietnam. Capt.
Bruce G. Seeber was Pogreba's wingman on the mission. At a point near the
borders of Lang Son and Ha Bac provinces, both Seeber's and Pogreba's
aircraft were hit by enemy fire and crashed. The location of loss given by
the Defense Department is approximately 40 miles southwest of the city of
Dong Dang, which sits on the border of North Vietnam and China. The area was
"hot" with MiGs, surface-to-air missiles (SAM) and anti-aircraft fire.

On the same day, an Air Force F4C Phantom fighter/bomber was shot down
approximately 5 miles from the city of Kep, and about 10 miles south of the
official loss location of Pogreba and Seeber. The crew of this aircraft
consisted of Major James O. Hivner and 1Lt. Thomas J. Barrett.

Curiously, Radio Peking announced the capture of an American pilot that day,
giving the pilot's name and serial number. It was Dean Pogreba that had been
captured. The U.S. never received separate confirmation of the capture,
however, and Pogreba was listed Missing in Action.

Gradually, it became known that the crew of the F4, Barrett and Hivner had
been captured by the North Vietnamese. Likewise, Bruce Seeber was also
identified as a prisoner of war of the Vietnamese. Dean Pogreba's fate was
still unknown.

When American involvement in Vietnam ended, 591 Americans were released from
prisoner of war camps in Southeast Asia. Among them were Hivner, Barrett,
Seeber and Smith. Smith was released by the Chinese. Pogreba was still
missing. None of the returnees had any information regarding his fate, and
all believed he had died in the crash of his plane.

Reports of an American POW held in China that had fueled hopes for the
Pogreba family were correlated to Phillip Smith upon his release. The
Pogreba family thought this was hastily and summarily done. According to
others in the flight with Pogreba, Dean's plane had actually strayed into
Chinese territory. Although no information at all was forthcoming from the
Chinese, the Pogrebas still believed there was a good chance Dean had been

Years passed, and no word of Pogreba was heard. Under the Carter
Administration, most of the men still listed prisoner, missing or
unaccounted for were administratively declared dead because of the lack of
specific information that they were alive. The Pogrebas, although haunted by
the mystery of Dean's disappearance, finally resigned themselves to the fact
that he was most probably dead, and went on with their lives. Dean's wife,
Maxine, with children to raise alone, ultimately remarried.

Then in 1989, Maxine Pogreba Barrell received some shocking news. Through an
acquaintance, she learned of a "high-ranking friend" of Dean's who claimed
to have visited Vietnam and spoken with her former husband. When she
contacted this retired Air Force Brigadier General, he told her a story
quite different from the official account given to Dean's family.

According to the General, Dean had indeed been shot down in China, but had
been brought back across the border into North Vietnam in 1965 by
"friendlies." Several attempts to rescue him had failed; two helicopters had
crashed in the effort. Then food and supplies were dropped to Dean and his
rescuers; recovery efforts were deemed impractical because of the hostile

The General stated that he had never given up on Dean, and had made it his
mission to find the "gray-haired colonel" which he claimed he did in 1988
and 1989, traveling to Vietnam on a diplomatic passport. He told Dean's
family that Dean was alive and well and had adjusted to his "situation,"
which was a solitary life in a village. Dean, he said, leaves the village
daily to work.

Mrs. Barrell does not know how much credence to give the story. On one hand,
she says, the General asked nothing from them. He did not seek them out. On
the contrary, she and her family sought him out. Shortly after they spoke,
the man told her that he was in "trouble" with the U.S. Government and would
not speak with her again.

On the other hand, there is absolutely no way Dean's family can verify or
discount the General's story. A family, at relative peace for over a decade,
is once again suffering the uncertainty that comes with not knowing. The
U.S. Government simply isn't talking to them about it. One cannot simply fly
to Hanoi and beg permission to visit one's relative when Hanoi denies he
even exists.

Unfortunately, the Pogreba story is not an aberration. Many cases of
Americans missing in Southeast Asia are fraught with inconsistencies, some
to the point of outright deception. Still others are hidden under the cloak
of "national security" classification; some cannot be revealed until after
the year 2000. These families will have to wait almost half a century to
know the truth about what happened to their men.

Since the war ended, U.S. intelligence agencies have conducted over 250,000
interviews and perused "several million documents" related to Americans
still missing, prisoner or unaccounted for in Southeast Asia. Many
authorities, including a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency,
having reviewed this largely classified information, have concluded that
scores of Americans are still alive in captivity today.

As long as even one American remains held against his will, we must do
everything in our power to bring him home. How can we afford to abandon our
best men?


November 1996
James Hivner retired from the United States Air Force as a Colonel. He and
his wife Phyllis reside in Texas.

Reprinted with permission of Ted Ballard 12/29/96
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

        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

        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

        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

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

        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

        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

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

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

        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

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

        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

        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

        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


Hi All,
   Please excuse this 'generic form letter' approach, but since I'm already
   behind in answering queries about the flight, I hope this format will do
   the job.  I wrote this as I thought over the events of last week, so it
   may be a little ragged, disjointed and probably way too long.  Hope it's
   not too boring.

First, the "Freedom Flights" (FF's) were initiated back in 1973, after all
the POW's came home to FREEDOM in the USA.  Randolph AFB in San Antonio,
TX is a training base for "Instructor Pilots" (IP's - those who teach new guys
how to fly).  The FF's had a dual purpose.  Primarily it was a 'welcome back
to the cockpit and the USAF' orientation ride. Secondarily, it was a last
flight as the pilot of a jet fighter aircraft, for those who would NOT go
back onto flight status due to disabilities and/or physical problems. All
POW's who were pilots had one thing in common:  We took off on what turned
out to be our last mission, but never landed.  Now we'd have the chance to
do both once again.  Our 'fini' flight.  I was unable to get back on flight
status, primarily due to 'blind spots' in my vision, from beriberi, caused
by severe malnutrition.

After "Operation Homecoming" our family, like most, was busy trying to get
our lives back together and 'catching up' for all the lost time.  At the
time, 7-1/2 years to me seemed comparable to Rip Van Winkle's famous sleep.
In the early years after returning, the FF's were primarily filled with
pilots eager to get back into flying once again, as well they should be.

In the early 80's the folks at Randolph AFB contacted me about getting my
FF.  I was very interested in getting back in a flight suit one more time,
but about that time I began having an inner ear problem (a left over from
Vietnam) that affected me with periodic sieges of vertigo. (uncontrollable
dizziness)  This problem continued for many years, even though we explored
every medical avenue available, military and civilian. So, FF's were out of
the picture for quite a while.  Finally found a specialist in Dallas who
said he could 'repair' the problem.  In 1992 had the operation and have not
been dizzy since.  After that comment I KNOW what some of you are thinking.

After that I got this crazy idea that I'd wait until I was 70 to get my FF,
hoping they would continue to be available, since there were still quite a
few pilots who had NOT yet had their flight.  My thinking was ... there were
older X-POW's than me, but none were 70 when they had their FF - at least to
my knowledge.

OK, so now the big plan is set in motion.  Myself and a buddy Dave Hatcher
are scheduled to get our flights last March.  The wheels are in motion and
we're (Phyl and me) raring to go.  In mid-March we both came down with
pneumonia and couldn't shake it for weeks, so I had to 'cancel' a few days
before the event.  Dave got his flight and everything went well, without us.
I had been coordinating with Major Charlie "Lips" Listak who was going to be
my IP on the flight.  I called him after Dave's FF and asked how it went.
He said all went well and he had me on the schedule for next years FF, on
March 22, 2002.

One little detail needs to be added before I continue.  The f-4C "Phantom
II" is/was a twin engine jet fighter-bomber, with a crew of two.  I was the
Aircraft Commander in the front seat and a really great guy whom I had been
flying with for almost a year, Lt. Tom Barrett, was the pilot in the rear
seat.  (Our less than kind nickname for backseaters was "GIB" - Guy in Back)
Of course, they had names for us too. Anyway, Tom had his FF way back in
1974 and then became and IP in the T-38 until retiring and becoming a very
successful financial planner.  We are still very good friends and stay in
contact through email and occasional reunions, etc.  He took a few days off
from work to be there with us when I finally got my FF.

Tom flew into Dallas/Ft. Worth last Wednesday, March 20th and spent the
night here so we could drive to San Antonio early Thursday morning.  Phyl
and Bonnie drove over to Glen Rose, Texas to pick up Cindy and they drove to
S.A., stopping for only a couple of hours at the "Outlet Mall" north of San

As Tom and I arrived At RAFB, we were warmly greeted by a 'programmed moving
sign' that said, "Randolph welcomes Jim & Phyllis Hivner" followed by,
"Colonel James Hivner - Freedom flyer #191."  After securing quarters for
our 'family' we proceeded to the flight line and were treated like long-lost
brothers.  We met everyone in the squadron, including my IP, Major "Lips."
He was 41, had a beautiful wife, two children and seemed like a mere child

From there I went to the Flight Surgeon's office to get clearance to fly the
next day.  Most of the health details had been worked out between the 'Doc'
and I weeks earlier, via phone. Once I passed this hurdle with 'flying'
colors (little humor there) I was escorted to the Egress trainer in the
Squadron.  This is where you become familiar with the cockpit controls,
parachute harness, seat belt/shoulder harness procedures.  In a nutshell,
you quickly learn how to get out of the aircraft in a hurry, if something
bad happens on the ground or even worse, in the air - ejecting.  Keep in
mind here that the T-38 "Talon" is a twin engine, jet trainer with a crew of
two.  I had NEVER flown in a T-38 before, so EVERYTHING was completely
different from what I had flown so many years earlier.  Allow me one short
'old man brag' here.  After the egress people showed me what to do and how,
they had me do it on my own, as quickly as I could, while one of them timed
me.  I guess the adrenaline was flowing as I moved as quickly as I could. It
took me 35 seconds.  I didn't know if that was good or bad, until he told me
most of the 'youngsters' take 30 seconds.  I felt much better after that.
Next to 'Personal Equipment' where I was fitted with all the flight gear.
Flight suit, boots, G-suit, gloves, helmet, oxygen mask, parachute, etc. The
next day all my equipment had "Hiv" on it. Met several of the x-cons (fellow
former POW's) who came down for my flight and all the festivities, so we
swapped a few war stories and then headed back to the quarters and met Phyl
and the girls when they finally arrived.  I still had over 18 hours until I
get to fly again, but I was ready to go and really excited about it all.  We
all had dinner at the club, talked for hours and finally turned in for the
night. Next morning (Friday, 22 March) up early.  Putting on the flight suit
and boots seemed just like the good old days.  We headed for the flight line
and had a simple breakfast provided by the squadron wives. (just coffee for
me - I'm already excited)   The wives also had a 'grand' spread of food for
all of us at the reception AFTER the flight.  We all got on buses and
arrived at the Base Theater, already packed with people from the base and
local area, for a 'Symposium' consisting of short talks by some former POW
buddies. Subjects ranged from "The Early Days" (as POW's - a subject I know
a lot about), Communication, Escapes, Humor as a POW, Wives in Waiting (by
one of the POW wives) and "The Cuban Program" (by Tom Barrett - who was
actually in the program for months). Phyl, Cindy, Bonnie, Tom, Lips and I
left at the intermission to get ready for the flight. The flight was
scheduled, briefed and flown as a 4 ship formation flight.  Briefly, the
'flight briefing' was as follows. (only in MUCH more detail of course)  We
would start engines at 1135 hrs, taxi out to the number one position and be
set for an 1145 take off. We took off in 2 two ship elements and joined
after take off.  Maj. Listak offered me the chance to 'fly' almost
immediately after TO, which I accepted 'gladly, but also hesitantly, since I
was STILL not familiar with the aircraft.  Of course, he was right there if
I screwed up, but fortunately that didn't happen.

(A side comment here:  At the briefing, since we were going to be in the #3
aircraft, I mentioned to the pilots in #1, #2 & #4 that I hoped the fact
that I had NOT flown an aircraft in 37 years would not be a problem to them.
I thought they took it well - since they laughed, at least on the outside)
We were to fly over the center of the base, where a "Wreath Laying" ceremony
would take place adjacent to the large "Missing Man" statue, at exactly 1220
hours where the #3 aircraft (ours) would pull sharply up and out of the
formation, symbolizing the man who is 'missing' (KIA, MIA, POW) from the
flight as the result of combat.  Due to someone's speech running a little
long, we received a call to delay our TOT (Time Over Target) 2 minutes,
which we did - exactly! We all flew over the 'target' at 1500 feet, doing
400 knots, at 1222 hours and "Lips" made the pull-up, putting 5-1/2 G's (5.5
times normal Gravity) on the aircraft - and our butts.   WOW!  That was fun.
It had been a long time, but I LOVED it!  We leveled out at about 13,000
feet, rolled over on our back and chased the rest of the flight until we
eventually rejoined it in the #3 position.  To symbolize that many missing
men have once again become part of the squadrons, when we rejoined the
flight I called the tower and transmitted, "Freedom Three's In" and received
the response from tower, "Welcome home sir." We flew around for about 15
more minutes (lots more fun for me) and finally headed for Randolph and
landed, 1, 2, 3 and 4, in perfect spacing. I say that because I did NOT land
the aircraft.  :) After we touched down the tower called me again,
"Congratulations Freedom Flyer 191."   I can't tell you how great I felt by
now. As we taxied back to our start engines spots, there was a large crowd
waiting to greet us. Lips suggested I let the chute in the seat when I
unbuckle everything, rather than climb out with it on. I undid everything
and the maintenance people were there to take the helmet, mask, etc. When I
climbed down the ladder I was hit with champagne and fire extinguishers
shooting water.  Glad it was a warm day, because I got fairly well soaked.
Two of the champagne 'squirters' were Phyl and Tom. It was really wonderful!
Even after I was on the concrete ramp, I was still about 6 inches off the
ground, partly from the 'flying' and partly from the excitement of it all.
What a fun ride!   I didn't even notice earlier that the Maintenance
personnel had painted "Col. James 'Hiv' Hivner" on the canopy rail.  A very
neat treat for me. Lots of hugs, kisses, handshakes, even a few tears from
Phyl and the girls (and maybe me too, unless that was still champagne in my
eyes). Lots of pictures, the press and general all around euphoria was the
order of the day for the next half hour or so.  We then headed back to the
sqdn. building for the outstanding reception I mentioned above. I did
(eventually) get to take off the wet G-suit and change into a dry flight
suit for the rest of the afternoon. I was still too excited and thrilled to
eat, but I did have a drink or two. Everyone ate, talked, laughed, joked,
and had a ball until we finally left to get ready for the evening affair.
Phyl and the girls left for home late Friday afternoon and Tom and I got all
'cleaned up' for the formal "Dining In" Friday night at the O-club. I won't
go into detail about that (by now you're saying, "Oh thank you - thank you")
except to say it was a fun night. After the speech and excellent dinner, (by
now I was REALLY hungry) they showed slides of all the x-POW's in
attendance, who had already flown their FF's and ended the event with a
short video of my FF #191, put together nicely by the base photo lab

Afterwards, we all spent another couple of hours reminiscing about the
"good" and the "bad" old days.  Sometime after midnight, my long and
exciting day, that simply 'flew' by, finally caught up with me so I headed
back to my room and 'crashed.'

Next morning Tom and I drove back to Plano.  We talked all the way to San
Antonio and all the way home!  Out for dinner Saturday night and took Tom to
D/FW airport Sunday noon.

In conclusion, my "Freedom Flight" ranks way up there on my list, as one of
the most exciting days of my life.  I've always known I missed flying, but I
honestly didn't realize just how much until I got back in that cockpit
again.  I'm still on a 'high' and it's been a week!

   GBU, GBA & cul,






Howdy all ....
    Just a tad behind in email - trying to catch up today.   HAPPY WEEKEND  !

Phyl and I had
a very exciting 'Veteran's Day' event this past Wednesday.  

    About a month ago, I received a call, out of the blue, from Rick Tolley, a retired Navy L/Cdr in San Antonio, TX.   He had found me on the internet and asked if I would be interested in getting my 'wedding ring' back, after having it taken from me 44 years ago, when I was shot down over North Vietnam.    Of course he immediately got my attention.
    Rick's former son-in-law, John, is now living and working in Hanoi and had been approached by a Vietnamese man who asked if he would return two items to an American pilot.   John said he would do his best.   So John called Rick.  Rick called me and the upcoming transaction was immediately underway. 
    Initially Rick, his wife and daughter planned to meet with Phyl, me and our daughters 'somewhere' and give me the ring (and one dog tag) and that would be it.
    Rick said he had a friend at the Cavanaugh Flight Museum, about 10 miles from where we live, so he thought possibly he could turn the ring over to us there, adjacent to an F-4C aircraft that's in the museum - take a few pictures - go out to dinner - visit a while - and that would be it.   Of course that sounded great to Phyl and me.
    Somehow the USAF, at Sheppard AFB, got involved and suddenly on Tuesday, we found out the 82nd Training Wing Commander, B/Gen. Mannon would be at the presentation.   No problem with us, but it sounded like it was turning into much more than we ever expected.   As it turned out, on Wednesday morning a large Air Force van shows up at our home, with the general and a couple colonels aboard, to take Phyl, Cindy, Bonnie, Philip, Steven and me to the museum.
    When we arrived at the museum, we were all completely overwhelmed.   There were about 200 people there, complete with military officers, airmen, student pilot trainees, lots of civilians, and the local media.   WOW!   What a surprise to us.   Something we thought was going to be small and simple turned out to be a very special event in our lives.
    Everything went very well and, as I said, we were totally blown away by it all.
    The general presented a beautiful plaque to Rick for all his efforts and a very nice box to Phyl and me, containing my ring, dog tag, rat fink, and some decorative coins from Sheppard AFB.   After taking the ring out of the box, I gave it to Phyl and she slipped it onto my finger and happiness ensued.   The 'rat fink' did not return from N. Vn, but was added by Rick after I told him that Cindy had given one to me, that she retrieved from a bubble gum machine, just before I left for Thailand in 1965.
    Time slipped by quickly on Wednesday and we didn't get to spend much time with Rick and his family, but are planning on getting together in the near future and catch up on all the details of the 'ring' and learn more about each other's families and lives. 
    That's about it for now .....
    Attached are a couple links with short blurbs from the local TV broadcasts.   At least 2 of them have 'ads' at the beginning, but pick up after that.   Also one picture.
    Hope this note doesn't sound 'self serving' because all we wanted was to simply share with you,
a very special day in our lives.
                 GBU & GBA,
                 the Hivner family

Subject: Phyl Hivner Obit ...
Date: Fri, 16 Sep 2016 14:45:41 -0500
From: James Hivner <jimhiv@VERIZON.NET>
    For any of you .... who knew my wonderful wife, Phyl :
( if you did know her, you had to love her )  here is the URL
to her obituary, and a link to a video of the "love of my life".
              GB,   Hiv



1931 - 2017 Obituary Condolences Flowers

HIVNER, USAF, Col. James O. Passed away July 19, 2017 surrounded by his loving family.
He was preceded in death by his loving wife Phyllis, only 10 short months ago. They were
married for 61 wonderful years. He was a highly decorated war veteran and survived 7 1/2
years as a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam. He was a true American hero, God Bless America!
For a complete obituary, service information and to leave condolences, please visit


Jim Hivner, RIP

Col. James 0. Hivner, USAF, Retired, beloved husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather, passed away July 19, 2017 surrounded by his family in Plano, TX at the age of 86. He was preceded in death by his loving wife, Phyllis, only 10 short months before. They were married for 61 wonderful years.
Jim was born February 20, 1931 in Elizabethtown, PA. His parents, Clarence Kreider and Hazel Otis Hivner adored their only son. Clarence worked at a local garage and later for Ford Motor Company as a mechanic. Jim picked up his love of fixing and building things from his dad, even his fascination with all things that fly.
In November of 1953, after Jim graduated from Elizabethtown College with a BA in Arts and History, he entered into the Aviation Cadet Program of the US Air Force and began his military career. He learned to fly in Hondo, TX with a great group of men that still continue to reunion together to reminisce the early flying days. It may actually have been at this time that he picked up the nickname "Hiv." In Hondo, he was commissioned a 2nd Lt and awarded his pilot wings and bars. It was March 14, 1955.
Jim was headed for Bergstrom AFB in Austin, TX, but first he needed to leave to go home and marry the love of his life. They had their first date on a beautiful sunny summer Sunday, July 9, 1950 and had been dating ever since. Phyllis Ann Douglas had earned her "cap, pin and diploma" as a Registered Nurse at Harrisburg Polyclinic Hospital's School of Nursing. It was a 3 year program. On October 1, 1955 they were married. After a short honeymoon, they were soon settled in to becoming Texans by choice.
At Bergstrom AFB Jim became a fighter pilot, flying both the F-84F and later the F-4C Phantom II. Phyllis gave birth to Cindy Lou in 1956 and Bonnie Sue in 1959. Their family was complete. Jim and family were stationed in Okinawa at Kadina AB in 1960 for a period of 2 short years. They then moved in 1962 to Tampa, FL Mac Dill AFB. Jim transferred into the 43rd Tactical Fighter Squadron. There, Jim and Phyllis bought their first home for the family of four. Then Jim got orders to deploy to Southeast Asia and begin flying missions over North Vietnam. This was to be a 3-month tour and rotate back. On October 5, 1965, Capt. Hivner and Lt. Tom Barrett, his "back seater" were forced to eject over North Vietnam in enemy territory, when their Phantom II was hit by antiaircraft fire. They were seen on the ground and were immediately captured. They were to spend the next 2,687 days in captivity as Prisoners of War (POW).
Phyllis remained in Tampa with the girls awaiting news of Jim and dealing with all the problems of single parenting. Both Jim and Phyllis trusted God to bring about their "happily ever after." Jim survived daily torture along with true loneliness and Phyllis kept their family and love together until his return.
On February 12, 1973 after 7 yrs of brutal treatment Jim was released during Operation Homecoming reuniting their family once again. Everyone's life took a turn for the best. After Jim returned to the states, he was hospitalized and treated for beri beri, (caused by severe malnutrition). The resulting blind spots in his eyes prevented him from getting back into the cockpit. That same year all the former POWs were invited to visit the White House where Jim and Phyllis met President and Mrs. Nixon. They also traveled back to Elizabethtown for a huge citywide Welcome Home! Jim was invited to speak at both girl's schools as well as their church, Gethsemane Lutheran.
Everyone wanted to hear his story and welcome Jim home. In an interview Jim said, "I find it most difficult to put into words the true feelings in my heart. I am just a man proud to have served my country and quite overwhelmed at the welcome received upon my return to the "good old USA." Only one who has been denied that freedom can truly know the full meaning of God Bless America. I pray that Americans everywhere know that their love and constant show of concern helped to bring us home."
Jim returned to Bergstrom AFB to serve in the logistics/supply field until he retired on November 1st 1976. Col. James 0. Hivner was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in action, the Purple Heart #2 for wounds received as a prisoner, the Silver Star for gallantry, the Silver Star #2 for gallantry and intrepidity, the Legion of Merit Medal for meritorious conduct, the Distinguished Flying Cross for extraordinary achievement, the Prisoner of War Medal for his time as a prisoner, the Bronze Star for heroically resisting interrogations, the Bronze Star #2 for enduring brutal treatment there by improving prisoner morale. This is not a complete list of his service medals. Suffice it to say we are proud of him.
Retirement gave Jim time to satisfy his need to create. He did some as a POW, making things out of nothing for other prisoners, without being caught. Each carried the distinctive DS to show that it was made by "Hiv." His garage workshop became the Tick Tock Shop where Jim enjoyed both designing and building custom wall clocks. His Texas Domino Clock was highlighted in Texas Monthly. Together they enjoyed the craft fair circuit for several years, selling clocks and meeting other craftsmen. During this same time they purchased a piece of the Texas Hill Country and a travel trailer towed by a custom van. Oh what fun they had clearing land and listening to the sound of laughter. They were each other's best friend and quite content to spend time together.
Their girls married and soon Jim and Phyllis had 2 grandsons per family. Life was getting very busy. They decided to move to Plano to be closer to both families. Another adventure begins. They were very excited. In the Spring of 2002, at the age of 71, Jim had an opportunity to get back into the cockpit with the help of the 560th Flying Training Squadron out of Randolph AFB, San Antonio, TX, and the Freedom Flight program. It offers returning POWs one last flight. Jim took the 191st Freedom Flight. His family, and other returned POWs were there to watch and celebrate with Jim. He took off on a cold sunny day in March second best day of his life ... he was flying high!
Jim and Phyllis attended many former NAM/POW reunions visiting Air Force friends along the way. They also hosted Hivner Family Reunions always at the beach, either North Padre Island, Corpus Christi or even a few in Port Aransas. The Hivner family loves the Texas Gulf coast, Snoopys, and fishing. Pop helped all the grandsons at one time or another learn to fish. One of the family favorites was Pop demonstrating the art of casting out the bait but managed instead to send the whole rod and reel into the water. Oh yeah, fun times! Eating boiled shrimp and fishing.
Their "Happily ever after" took a nasty turn when in 2012 when Phyllis was diagnosed with bladder cancer. After grueling weeks of chemo and radiation, with Jim constantly by her side, a body CT scan showed her to be cancer free. Meanwhile, Jim with Pulmonary Fibrosis, struggled to take his next breath. He was her rock of support.
Then in late 2015 Phyllis was diagnosed with brain tumors. Jim battled to keep her going, but her body just gave out. In his wildest dreams, given what he'd been through, Jim never, ever thought he would survive Phyllis. He bravely fought to stay above the grief that threatened to over come him.
Early in 2017, Bonnie and James asked Jim to come and live with them as they were moving from Plano to Lewisville to be handier to their own granddaughters. They wished to keep him close even though he was quite the independent, opinionated, conservative, over organized handful, he could use some help now and then. He was delighted at the invitation and began making plans to move. Bonnie and James purchased a large enough home to give him, as well as them, some much needed space. Even at that, he needed to really downsize his belongings. All was rolling along well and on the 27th of June he made the move. He was really happy and mentioned that he would unpack a box a day and be settled in no time. He celebrated Independence Day with the family, one of his favorite days of the year! He was quite content. Suddenly and unexpectedly, it was time for Jim to be with the love of his life Phyllis. WE WILL ALL MISS HIM VERY MUCH!
Jim is survived by his two daughters, Cindy Jones of Glen Rose, Bonnie and James Hargis of Lewisville, four grandsons Philip and Nickey Jones of Lewisville, Matt and Tiffany Jones of Morgan, Steven and Jill Hargis of Carrollton, David Hargis and fiance Wendy Rios of Dallas, three great-grandchildren Easton Hivner Jones age 5,Claire Elizabeth Hargis age 3 and Caroline Grace Hargis age 1.
A memorial service to honor Jim will be held at a later date.




August 2016 - Phyllis met their latest great-grandaughter.


It is with sorrow that we post this last obit... Jim and Phyllis were dear friends, and were on the
Advisory Board of the P.O.W. Network.  They will be missed, but I have beautiful memories of
many visits and private times together to remember both their journey's.

Mary Schantag



Dearest friends of our father, Jim "Hiv" Hivner,

It is with great sadness that we inform you of the death of our father.  He passed away
suddenly on July 19th, 2017.  He lost consciousness after a fall and stopped breathing. 
We have enclosed a copy of his obituary that includes a link to a website where you may
watch the video and read the obituary.  We are sending this message to those contacts
we are able to obtain, but please forward this message as you deem fit to those we may
have inadvertently excluded. 

We will be holding a funeral service for both our father and our mother, Phyllis, who
passed away on September 7, 2016.  For those of you who would like to and are able
to attend, please see information below. 
September 18, 2017 at 10:30 AM
    Dallas-Ft. Worth National Cemetery
    2000 Mountain Creek Pkwy.
    Dallas, TX  75211

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Warrior Foundation Freedom
Station (

We thank you for sharing his life and ask that you remember our family in your prayers.

May God Bless You,
Cindy Jones & Bonnie Hargis

LINK to obituary and video: