RUTLEDGE, HOWARD ELMER "HOWIE"
Name: Howard Elmer "Howie" Rutledge
Rank/Branch: O5/US Navy
Unit: VF 191
Date of Birth: (ca 1928, Tulsa OK)
Home City of Record: San Diego CA
Date of Loss: 28 November 1965
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 194800N 1055200E (WG907894)
Status (in 1973): Released POW
NOTE: 200 missions during the Korean War
Other Personnel in Incident: (none missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 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.
REMARKS: 730212 RELSD BY DRV
SYNOPSIS: The Vought F8 "Crusader" saw action early in U.S. involvement in
Southeast Asia. Its fighter models participated both in the first Gulf of
Tonkin reprisal in August 1964 and in the myriad attacks against North
Vietnam during Operation Rolling Thunder. The Crusader was used exclusively
by the Navy and Marine air wings (although there is one U.S. Air Force pilot
reported shot down on an F8) and represented half or more of the carrier
fighters in the Gulf of Tonkin during the first four years of the war. The
aircraft was credited with nearly 53% of MiG kills in Vietnam.
The most frequently used fighter versions of the Crusader in Vietnam were
the C, D, and E models although the H and J were also used. The Charlie
carried only Sidewinders on fuselage racks, and were assigned such missions
as CAP (Combat Air Patrol), flying at higher altitudes. The Echo model had a
heavier reinforced wing able to carry extra Sidewinders or bombs, and were
used to attack ground targets, giving it increased vulnerability. The Echo
version launched with less fuel, to accommodate the larger bomb store, and
frequently arrived back at ship low on fuel. The RF models were equipped for
The combat attrition rate of the Crusader was comparable to similar
fighters. Between 1964 to 1972, eighty-three Crusaders were either lost or
destroyed by enemy fire. Another 109 required major rebuilding. 145 Crusader
pilots were recovered; 57 were not. Twenty of these pilots were captured and
released. The other 43 remained missing at the end of the war.
Commander Howie Rutledge was the pilot of an F8E sent on a combat mission
over North Vietnam on November 28, 1965. His flight route took him to Thanh
Hoa Province, North Vietnam, where his aircraft was shot down near the city
of Thanh Hoa. Thanh Hoa was the site of the famed "Dragon Jaw" bridge which
was the subject of several multi-service attacks in 1965 and 1966. Rutledge
was captured by the North Vietnamese. During the capture, he killed one of
his would-be captors.
For the next 7 1/2 years, Rutledge was held in various prisoner of war
camps, including the infamous "Hanoi Hilton" complex in Hanoi. As a Baptist,
he was was considered chaplain, and provided spiritual leadership for his
fellow POWs. He was released in the general prisoner release in 1973.
After he returned home, Rutledge pursued a variety of endeavors, including
two unsuccessful congressional bids. He wrote an account of his captivity
called "In the Presence of Mine Enemies." Howie Rutledge died of cancer in
his home state, in Oklahoma City on June 11, 1984. He was 55 years old.
Since the war ended, nearly 10,000 reports relating to Americans missing,
prisoner or unaccounted for in Southeast Asia have been received by the U.S.
Government. Many authorities who have examined this largely classified
information are convinced that hundreds of Americans are still held captive
today. These reports are the source of serious distress to many returned
American prisoners. They had a code that no one could honorably return
unless all of the prisoners returned. Not only that code of honor, but the
honor of our country is at stake as long as even one man remains unjustly
held. It's time we brought our men home.
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
UPDATE - 09/95 by the P.O.W. NETWORK, Skidmore, MO
HOWARD E. RUTLEDGE
Captain - United States Navy
Shot Down: November 28, 1965
Released: February 12, 1973
I was born 13 November 1928 and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I graduated from
Tulsa Webster High School in 1946 and attended the University of Tulsa
(1946-1948) before I entered flight training at Pensacola. I received my
wings 30 September 1949 and wasted no time getting into the jet fighter
business of the Navy. Following a short jet transition course in late 1949,
I deployed to the Western Pacific in May 1950 with Fighter Squadron 52 on
the USS Valley Forge. Two deployments and 200 combat missions in Korea
later, I went to the Naval Air Development Unit in 1953 at NAS, South
Thereafter, an Air Force exchange tour and two Navy Squadrons at
Jacksonville, Florida, I flew the F-8 "Crusader" first at Jacksonville while
with VF-32. (The Crusader and I were to be shot down together over North
Vietnam some 9-10 years after our first flight.) I went to the U.S. Navy
Post Graduate School at Monterey, California and graduated with a BS degree
in the summer of 1962. Next came a very rewarding tour at the Naval Weapons
Center, China Lake, California.
Following my promotion to Commander, I joined VF-l91 on the Bon Homme
Richard in early 1965 as the Executive Officer. On about mission 75, I
intercepted some anti-aircraft fire over Thanh Hoa, about 90 miles south
west of Hanoi, on 28 November 1965, and bailed out just a second or two
before my Crusader exploded in a ball of fire - an explosion I could not
possibly have survived.
From that moment and for the next seven years and three months, God's hand
was on my shoulder guiding me through a very difficult period. Thanks to the
countless thousands that never stopped praying for my safety and return and
thanks to God who answered those prayers. I am absolutely certain that I am
now a living testament to the power of prayer.
Although there was filth and disease, torture and abuse, and for me almost
five years of solitary living, I never once lost faith with this great
country. This faith has been rewarded many times over since my return.
Thanks to the President, thanks to every American for their thoughts and
concern and prayers in my behalf. I served with some very outstanding men
while behind prison bars and am proud to have been a part of this group. Our
country has every right to be proud of them for they served it well.
Concerning my family, I married my high school sweetheart, Phyllis, on 7
August 1948. We have four children: Mrs. Sondra Tollison (23), John (20),
Peggy (15), and Barbara (14). I met my grandson, Stanley, upon my return. I
am proud of my family for they too kept the faith.
May God always Bless America.
NOTE: Captain Rutledge had written a book which tells of his
experiences in more detail. It is titled: IN THE PRESENCE OF MINE ENEMIES,
published by the Fleming H. Revell Co. It is illustrated by a fellow POW,
Commander Gerald Coffee.
From: NAM - The Vietnam Experience 1965-75
Mallard Press 1988
Welcome to North Vietnam and the Hanoi Hilton' - the prison where beds
were made of concrete and the spiders were as big as a man's fist
Flying over North Vietnam in his F-8 Crusader jet fighter, Captain Howard
Rutledge banked right and began his attack run on a strategic bridge north-
west of Thanh Hoa. With 200 missions over Korea and North and South
Vietnam under Ms belt, Rutledge never even contemplated the possibility of
being hit. But seconds later, after a succession of anti-aircraft shells
tore through the fuselage of the F-8 and sent it into an uncontrollable
spin, Rutledge jerked at the ejection curtain. The parachute carried him
gently towards the earth as the fighter exploded in a hall of flame. It
was 28 November 1965, and the beginning of a seven-year nightmare for
Landing safety close to a North Vietnamese village, Rutledge made a vain
attempt to flee from a large crowd that had spotted his descent and was now
bearing down on him. As he saw the ring of knives, machetes and sticks
closing in, Rutledge was convinced that death would not be long in coming.
However, he was saved by the village commissar from summary execution at the
hands of the local militia. Bound and gagged, he was manhandled into the
back of a truck and driven to Hanoi, where he was to endure seven years of
captivity. Howard Rutledge recounts his first three years as a prisoner of
'This was Heartbreak Hotel. It was one of many cell blocks of the huge Hoa
Lo prison complex. Built by the French early in the century, American
aircrews housed there had nicknamed the prison the "Hanoi Hilton". Needless
to say, this was no hotel....
I was covered with filth and blood
'The retaining room I found myself in had knobby plaster walls that gave the
place a cave-like appearance.... It was small and the filthiest place I had
seen to date. It was like the worst of slums in miniature. I sat down on a
pile of debris in the centre of this mess and took stock of my condition. I
had no clothes. I was freezing cold. I had eaten nothing for 24 exhausting
hours. My body ached. My leg and wrist were sprained and swelling badly. I
was covered with filth and blood.'
When North Vietnamese interrogators demanded to know Rutledge's unit, he
responded by citing the American Code of Conduct. got content with his name,
rank and serial number, the interrogators were determined to break him.
'They forced my legs into spur-like shackles and used a pipe and strong rope
to lock both ankles firmly into place. Next they forced my arms into a
long-sleeved shirt and began to tie them behind me from above my elbows to
my wrists. One guard put his foot on my back, forcing the laces tight
enough to cut off all circulation and pulling my shoulder blades almost
apart. I could see the rope cut through my wrists all the way to the bone
but they did not bleed, because the bindings acted like a tourniquet,
cutting off circulation entirely to my legs and arms.... The smell of human
excrement burned my nostrils. A rat, large as a small cat, scampered across
the slab beside me.'
Later, alone in his cramped cell, Rutledge reflected on the life of a
prisoner in solitary confinement:
'Nobody can teach you to survive the brutality of being alone. At first you
panic. You want to cry out. You fight back waves of fear. You want to
die, to confess, to do anything to get out of that ever-shrinking world.
Then, gradually a plan takes shape. Being alone is another kind of war, but
slowly I learned that it, too, can be won.'
As the months passed, the jailers, or turnkeys as they were known, became
adamant that Captain Rutledge should sign a written 'confession' that Hanoi
could then use for the purpose of anti-American propaganda. He was dragged
to another cell.
'As my eyes became accustomed to the dimness, I could see spiders as big as
my fist hanging all around me. They may have been friendly spiders, but
they created quite a terrifying effect in the semi-darkness. Ants crawled
all over me, an nine million mosquitoes were trapped inside. Gecko lizards
scurried through the filth, and large rats looked me over hungrily. It is a
helpless sensation to be shackled, hands and feet, in such a place. I had
no way to kill the mosquitoes or frighten off the rats. I just sat and
watched and trembled.'
Refusing to succumb to the indignities that were heaped upon him, Rutledge
taunted his captors by declaring he would rather die than collaborate.
'As I sat there in a pile of human excrement crawling with countless moving
things, I thought back upon my "bravery". It was not bravery to ask for
death when the enemy needed us alive, but I knew the cost I would pay for my
resistance. Again it took all the courage I could muster. Now I sat
staring into the darkness, gagging on my odour, my skin crawling with pests
that bit and pinched in the dark. My courage waned. Maybe they wouldn't
kill me. Maybe they would just abuse me until I died.'
On 31 August 1966, after 28 days of continual torture, Howard Rutledge
'I am an imperialist aggressor'
'When the morning dawned through the crack in the bottom of the solid prison
door, I thanked God for his mercy and called the guard...... I am a Yankee
imperialist aggressor," I wrote, parroting their text, knowing how little
those words sounded like anything an American would write. I knew that they
had not released my name yet after nine months, and that confession could be
used against me to humiliate me in the camp and as propaganda around the
world. I hoped my friends and family would understand.'
In May 1967, Rutledge was put back into solitary.
'He [the guard] shackled me to my slab in rear cuffs and irons. For five
days I couldn't move. It was summer and very hot. The humidity must have
been in the 90s, the temperature in the 100s. I developed one of those
severe heat rashes where the red welts turn to blisters and ultimately to
boils. At first I wasn't too concerned about the boils. But they wouldn't
come to a head, so I had to pick them to stop the swelling. I didn't know
that the pus was contagious or that the bug inside the poison caused the
boils to spread. In a few days I counted at least sixty boils about one
inch in diameter over my entire body - under my arms, ir my nose, in my
hair, on my ears, legs, arms, hands and fingers.'
In his mouth ... a six inch worm
In October 1967 Howard Rutledge was transferred to a high security prison
known as Alcatraz'. The torture and abuse continued, with the American
airmen confined to tiny cells that had no windows. Fifteen hours of each day
were spent in leg irons attached to the cement sleeping slabs. Rutledge
describes the ordeal.
'We received almost no medicine during our entire prison terms and, because
our two daily meals consisted primarily of pumpkin or cabbage soup with a
few pieces of pig fat floating on the greasy surface, our protein intake was
down. Therefore, our resistance to disease and infection was down. We had
to be extremely careful. If we stubbed a toe, we knew we would lose a
toenail.... 'Our intestines were crawling with worms that would work their
way through our system in surprising ways. One night Harry [another
American POW] woke up with what he thought was a piece of string in his
mouth. He pulled out a six-inch worm .... We soon discovered that pepper
cleaned them out .... When no peppers were available, we tried to steal a
drink of kerosene from a lantern. That quick snort of stolen kerosene fixed
the worms and almost fixed the thief
Although Howard Rutledge had no option but to adapt to the horrors of his
life as a prisoner of war, it was no easy task.
'The worst part of being a prisoner is the helplessness to reach out and
lift up another man in need .... War is like that for both sides. I'm sure
the enemy had families who bled and died. I'm sure the enemy cried when
loved ones went away and did not return. I'm sure the enemy, too, were
tempted to give way to anger and hatred. But revenge is God's business.
When it's over, we must try to forget and forgive.'
Howard Rutledge was released on 31 January 1973, after the seven longest
years of his life.
Howard Rutledge died 11 June 1984.
Date: Mon, 16 Dec 2002 12:20:03 -0600
To: "Lone Ranger" <email@example.com>
Subject: Capt. Howard E. Rutledge, USN
To whom it may concern,
It was very elating to find your link on the Internet regarding my
grandfather, Captain Howard E. Rutledge (deceased). Needless to say, I miss
him a great deal. In light of his service to our country, it's comforting to
know that he is still remembered by others for his accomplishments and
Like my granddad, I too have pursued a life in public service. After my
enlistment in the Marines at an early age, I attended college and embarked
on a career in law enforcement. My current assignments are K9 and SWAT.
Each day presents itself with a new set of challenges, and I am continually
reminded how fragile life is.
My grandfather's life story is truly amazing. I hope that it will one day
make it to the big screen, where it can be shared with this generation and
many to come. I am extremely proud to be his grandson. I feel a great
sense of obligation to live up to his standards and achievements. Although
he has set the bar rather high, I hope that I have measured up to his
expectations thus far in some way. Perhaps that is what inspires me to
always push the edge of the envelope. I've enclosed a couple of photos of
him, which I hope you will add to his biography found on your site.
P.S. - I noticed my grandfather's name was mentioned as a source for the
below listed MIA's under the link titled "last known alive"
<http://www.pownetwork.org/alive.htm>. The status of these men is
unacceptable. Please let me know how I can help bring these men home, as I
am willing to do what my government will not do for them!
1. Eugene M. Jewell, USAF
2. Randolph A. Perry, USAF
3. James A. Preston, USAF
Thank you for taking the time to remember my grandfather, as well as the
other honorable men mentioned on your site.
Stanley W. Hamelin