tv Amy Shively Hawk Six Years in the Hanoi Hilton CSPAN November 12, 2017 12:00pm-12:51pm EST
make up our society that is so much better than what is better today. think the leaders who represent our institutions are showing. >> on that note, thank you very much to both of the hagel brothers. thank you, ladies and gentlemen. [applause] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] @>> [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2017] this -- >> this veterans day weekend, we're showing our footage of first-person accounts from vietnam war veterans and antiwar protesters. to join the conversation, like us on facebook and follow us on twitter. "american history tv" all weekend, every weekend, on c-span3.
>> up next, on american history amy talks about her was -- who was captured by the north vietnamese in 1967. and extort and her survival in vietnam. archives in washington dc hosted this event. >> those who served in the era, stand and be recognized. -- i ask all vietnam veterans or united states veterans that
served during the vietnam era from 1955 to may 15 of 1975 to stand and be recognized. [applause] >> welcome home. thank you for your service. as you exit the theater after the program, national archive staff and volunteers will present each of you with a vietnam veteran lapel pin. on the back of it is embossed are grateful nation honors you. it's a national initiative and the lapel pin is a lasting memento of thanks. in february 19 73, u.s. military transport planes carry the groups of released american prisoners of war from vietnam to american bases. after several weeks of ferrying service meant freedom, operation homecoming returned 591 pows home. one of them carried james shively, whose six-year imprisonment was at last at an end. after his return, he married his high school sweetheart who raised two young daughters as his own.
one of those girls, five-year-old amy, grew up to tell his story. after her stepfather passed away, and he became aware of recordings that he made with a reporter sharing his expenses in the prison camp in detail. from the tapes, amy wrote "six years and the hanoi hilton", with the forward written by his prison mate, john mccain. it's a retelling of his day-to-day life in captivity in vietnam. amy wrote the book to honor her dad and as a tribute to every vietnam veteran. she is an author with a degree in broadcast journalism and is here today to share her dad story. please welcome amy shively hawk. [applause] amy: thank you. it is an honor for my family and i and one of my sisters to be in
our nations capital today talking about one of our nation's finest heroes, who also happens to be a very personal hero of mine as well. as odd as it sounds, i didn't realize that my dad was a hero when i was growing up in his home. he didn't like to talk about the war. for all i knew, he was just a regular dad who made apple fritters on sunday morning, read us bedtime stories, and would occasionally let us write on his back with a magic marker. as i got older, i looked up to him for wisdom and for help with my geometry and i knew, of course, he had been an air force pilot and that he had been shot down, but most of the stories he kept tucked away to himself.
and the ironic thing is that i had no idea that when he was reading to me as a young child every night that he had led a more adventurous life than the ingalls family or the protagonists in the book that he was reading to me. i did not become aware of this until i became an adult and a reporter had met with him when he found out that he had cancer. he wanted to leave his life story with someone outside of our family that would still share it with our family. and so when i heard the tapes, i knew that i had to turn this into a book. i initially wrote the book just for jim's grandchildren that he never got to meet and then i realized there may be a wider audience for it. since i did not meet my dad until i was five years old, i have no way of knowing if the war changed him or if he would've been different in any way after having endured six years of harsh brutalities. that would be a question for my mom. she met jim shively when she was in elementary school and he was
hurt his paper boy. she used to ask her parents if she could run to the door and answer the door when he came to deliver the newspaper. there she is. [laughter] amy: my cute parents dated in high school. after graduation though, my dad went to the united states air force academy in colorado springs. they dated long distance. he would go back to spokane, to
their hometown, for breaks from school or to visit him at the academy. they continued to date after my dad graduated from the academy and was accepted to training school at wilson air force base in phoenix. while he was there, he discovered something unexpected. he discovered that he loved to fly. not only did he love to be commanding an aircraft at 30,000 feet, he was really, really good at it. he had the endurance, the confidence, and he loved the sheer adrenaline.
he ranked so high in fact that coming out of high school, he was selected to fly only one of eight assignments. the most ultimate, supersonic aircraft of its time, the largest single seat, single engine fighter bomber in the united states air force history, the f 105d, also known as the thunder chief. so my mom and dad have been dating long-distance all this time. by now it's the late 1960's, and the conflict in southeast asia is heating up. my dad loved flying. he particularly excelled at it. you might guess where this is heading for my parents.
my dad volunteered to fly combat in vietnam and my parents parted ways. a few years later, she met and married another man and moved to seattle and had myself and my sister jane. my dad meanwhile was stationed out of copley air force base in thailand, with the 300 and 57th squadron flying missions over vietnam and the aircraft with the highest losses. in december of 1966, at 24 years old because assigned 100 combat missions. i his own admission, he was an adrenaline junkie and had that sense of immortality when you are really good at what you do.
may 5, 1967 was a turning point in the war and it was the day that would change my dad's life forever. washington, d.c. decided to send the combat pilots in at a lower altitude and right over the city of hanoi. they wanted to escalate things and keep things up, i guess. so he was used to dodging russian migs, surface-to-air missiles, and enemy flak. on this particular day, on his 69th mission, a missile cut the back of his plan and it caught on fire. he tried to keep the plane in the air long enough to make it to some mountains west of hanoi because he knew there would be a better chance for an attempted recovery, but the engine started shutting down and the plane started spinning out of control. he had to make a quick decision. he thought about if he wanted to bail out and risk capture and see what would happen or if you should just a with the aircraft and let everything be over quickly. at some point, his survival instinct must've kicked in. he doesn't remember it. he must've pulled the trigger because he bailed out and the geforce knocked him unconscious and since amy is for. went -- knocked him out
instantaneously. when he woke up, his plane exploded in the distance and he woke up in a rice paddy. there was good news and bad news at this point. the good news is that the rice paddy made for a nice soft landing. the bad news is that it made for a nice soft landing. what happened is the force of the fall mired him in a rice, mud, and mop mixture that he cannot get out of. it was like quicksand drawing him in and he still had on his heavy gear, his parachute, and he was so loaded down that he just couldn't move. to make matters worse, he
noticed that the sticky green rice swamp was turning a bright red color and he managed to pull his arms out and they saw that they were both bleeding profusely. he did not know how he had been injured upon bailout, but he had deep cuts in both arms. all he could do was wiggle and twist and try to get enough leverage out of the swamp to boost himself out. that's exactly what he did and he took off running for the mountains. keep in mind he still had on his heavy g suit, a survival vest, to handheld radios, 38 ammunition, water bottles, and players. he started running and it started getting quieter and quieter. it was really noisy because there was an air raid going on. as a got quieter, the air became more sinister and he just had
this instinct that somebody was coming after him. he looked down and he saw that he was leaving a trail of blood for them to follow. so he crouched down right where he was and that is when the villagers came near. and this happens. they surrounded him and started beating him with implements, sticks, whatever they could find. they were joined by four members of the north vietnamese army with ak-47s that they used to beat him. when he came to, he had been stripped of his gear and he was
being marched down the street with villagers lined up on either side, spitting and throwing things out him. he had been handcuffed and gagged and blindfolded. they took the blindfold off just long enough that they could see the hatred from the villagers. what followed was six years of hell for my dad. these are the photos that were captured by the associated press and sent around the world, so you can imagine how my grandparents felt back home in spokane. they had just received the news and then the next day this was
in the newspaper. and on television. from there, they took my dad to the prison otherwise known as the hanoi hilton, otherwise known as the torture camp, where they brought the captured air high rates and started the softening process on him. they had gagged and bound him again and thrown him in the back of a truck for this transport into hanoi and the tim. by the time he arrived he was already in and out of consciousness and delirious.
he had not had water for several days by the time they put him in the camp. they took him directly to the torture room. he also was getting an infection by now because the cuts on his arms had not been treated and it was incredibly dirty. he had a raging fever on top of everything else. the softening process was to try to get information out of him, but his military training had instructed him that you give the big four and nothing more -- your name, birthdate, serial number, and rank. every question that they asked him, he just kept repeating that until they beat him right off the stool and started the rope torture. in the upper left-hand corner, you can see the torture method most commonly used in the torture room.
for my dad's sake, they had iron bolts already embedded into the floor, so they put him in the iron bolts and they had six or seven guards come in and pull his arms up over his head, as you can see. this sometimes breaks the ribs of the soldier. this also frequently dislocates the shoulder. they bound his arms together at the forearms and the biceps and shoved his head down on the floor so all his ligaments and legs were tearing. he couldn't move. they took the rope and fed it through the iron bolts so he would be stuck in that deformed pretzel like position for hours. and then they would leave. these various torture methods that they employed on the prisoners cut off their circulation, destroyed the nerves, and did lasting damage. my dad had scars from the bolts all over his ankles and also on his wrists. and as you can see, they also would do things like there was a hook hanging at the top of the torture room. they would strengthen the prisoner up by his feet. in this picture, the guard is shoving a dirty rag or a broomstick and his mouth to be quiet, but many times they would leave the prisoner hanging for hours on end, blindfolded and
gagged with their hands behind their back. and they would sneak back in when the prisoner wasn't expecting it and cut the rope so they would fall on the concrete floor on their head. besides the actual pain, which my dad said in the tapes, all he could do was just keep counting to 100 over and over and hope that they would come back in and loosen the ropes. he was in so much pain that he doesn't even know how much time went by, but eventually they did come back in. some prisoners that received this treatment came home permanently paralyzed from the nerve damage. when they came back in, they undid the ropes, but he couldn't
feel any of his limbs, so he just laid on the floor like a fish. he said that it wasn't -- as a circulation started coming back and flowing through, it wasn't so much the pain. it was the indignity and the humiliation of them kicking him over and over, and he couldn't move to defend himself or anything. after undergoing this treatment for several days, my dad went unconscious. just when he thought it couldn't get any worse, he woke up. he woke up in solitary. it was a part of the prison that he learned later was nicknamed the heartbreak hotel.
it was a tiny concrete cell, barely six feet by six feet if you are stand -- were to stand in the middle of it and you could touch both walls. each side of the room were concrete slabs big enough for someone to line on an iron stocks fastened to the end. he found himself stretched out on the concrete slab. this prison, by the way, was built by the french in 189610 prison -- 1896 to imprison the enemies rebels. -- vietnamese rebels. they were tiny and not meant for american men. the clamps or go through the bone and that is why he came home with so many scars. they also just obviously cut off any movement. they left him there for weeks. the stocks rubbed his ankles raw and untreated sores became infected. they left him to relieve himself on himself, which also caused painful sores and, of course, more infections. after a while, he started to hallucinate because they barely brought in enough water for him to survive. every once in a while, one of the guards would come in with -- they called it pumpkin soup, but it was really just hot water chunks of pumpkin floating in it. they would spend some into his mouth. it was barely enough to keep him alive.
they would come in every once in a while to clean off the concrete slab and it would just take a bucket of water and throw it on him, and the waste would come off the slab. there was a teeny tiny hole for a drain at the bottom of the floor. my dad was hallucinating that there was a man that kept coming out of the hole. he was a tiny man and he would come up and offer my dad a cigarette. right before he was going to light it, he would wake up. he just kept having these weird hallucinations. he also dreamed that he was in laos, that he had escaped, and that he was cutting through the jungle. he had just about made it to the other side and he would wake up and find himself still in the stocks. the disappointment was unbearable. but what was the most unbearable for him besides the starvation and the deprivation and the loss of dignity and the pain was the mental anguish of hearing other prisoners screaming. because he felt so helpless. he could only lay there and imagine what they were doing to the other guys, and it was nothing that he could do to help. if you did cry out in his sleep or anything, the guards would come in with a broom and shoved
the broom handle and his mouth to get him to shut up. finally, in the late summer of 1967, the guards came in the middle of the night and woke him up. they blindfolded him and gagged him and handcuffed him and walked him out of the camp and moved him to another camp south of hanoi. it was called the zoo. you can see a down here. this map shows the various camps that work in and around hanoi. every prisoner of war started out in the hanoi hilton, the torture camp. once they were tortured to the point where they thought they would be about to get information out of them, they moved them around. my dad spent time at almost all the camps. once they had deposited him in his new cell, they removed the blindfolds. he saw for bare walls, no windows, a single filthy lightbulb hung from the ceiling, and rat droppings covered the concrete floor. the room clearly accommodated more than one. there were three sawhorse beds with just a wooden plank for a mattress.
and in the corner was a bucket for waste. it was already filled to the brim. the cell was hot and stuffy and stunk to high heaven. despite the revolting accommodations, he was glad to see two american soldiers. one man, bob abbott, was actually in my dad's squadron and he had been shot down just the week before. so they were very happy to see each other, but all three men, my dad and bob and lauren, were in such bad shape. they suffered from diarrhea and dysentery. and because they had not yet adjusted to their new diet or to the unsanitary conditions of the camp, they were vomiting constantly.
the men had heatstroke because there was no circulation and it got up to 140 degrees in there cell. heat rash, bloody stool, and more output in their shared bucket can contain. my dad still had a violent fever. i didn't know this because he didn't say this in the tapes, but i was able to call bob abbott and speak with him. he told me that when my dad walked in, he and lauren looked at each other like they didn't think he was going to make it. he had lost about 50 or 60 pounds, down to about 120 pounds on his 5'11" frame. they had to try to nurse him back to health by feeding him pumpkin soup. they would take turns squeezing his arms to try to relieve the pus. he had also developed a horrible ear infection and they would take turns pushing behind his year to get the pus out.
all three of them contracted hepatitis c and turn yellow. eventually though, my dad's fever dissipated and he was moved to another camp called the plantation. this is a picture that shows a propaganda photo. so every once in a while, the north vietnamese would choose a few men and take them out and clean them up a little bit and post them for a picture that they could send around the world to show the world how decently they were treating the american prisoners.
they were forced to smile. they were forced to look like they were having a great time at summer camp. and if they didn't do it, it would be more torture. in this particular photo, they are making a dinner, some kind of dinner. this is my dad here. on the regular though, they only received about one bath a week, and that was basically consisted of sitting in a concrete cistern and the guard would pour water on them. my dad learned what every prisoner in the camps learned and that was the tap code of matrix. this matrix was absolutely invaluable to the prisoners as a system of communication. it was also a method of defiance and rebellion that united them and kept their spirits up, because they were not supposed to be communicating at all from cell to cell. they devised this tap code cable.
what they would do is if they had a message for the men in the next cell, they would tap shave and a haircut. if the men in the next cell reply to this, they knew it was safe to communicate. they got really good at it. as you can see, if you wanted to do the d, you would just tap one at over a one and then to quick taps for the second column. they got really fast that doing this. in this way, they were able to know when a new prisoner came into the camp. they could share information in terms of who it was. it was just a way that they could keep that unity and that brotherhood, which was so, so
important. in fact, when i interviewed john mccain for the book, he said the hardest times for him were in solitary. he would risk torture anytime if you heard somebody walking by. he would tap because he was so isolated and just in need of some communication. so this tap code table -- my mom said that after he had them back from the war for quite a few years, i want to say it was a 10 or 20 year prisoner of war reunion, they were in the hotel. she woke up early in the morning and she could hear them tapping on the wall. he was tapping to the prisoner
in the next room. so he remembered how to do it all those years. this is another propaganda photo. you may remember or recognize this one because it was in "life" magazine. this was a pretty famous one that circulated. they brought in a pool table and just staged the whole scene. they took the pool table back out. this is a frustrating because the men knew what was going on behind the scenes. they had to bow to their captors every time that they came in. they have to be so careful. if a guard would catch them communicating, it meant torture.
they were in such horrible, awful conditions, sick all the time, trying to survive on pumpkin soup, and then the north vietnamese wanted to make it look like they were being treated really well. back at home in spokane, my grandparents got busy. they wanted their son back and they did not want their son to be forgotten. my grandmother became the president of the eastern washington chapter of the families for pows and mias. she took a month-long tour to visit embassies in europe mainly to bring awareness, to make sure that the right people knew what was really going on and that those photos were just propaganda and that they would know that there were war crimes, that the geneva convention was
not being followed in the camps. she had some success. this is the form that she left that every embassy. she was able to speak with an assistant to the pope. she was able to speak with some leaders in eastern europe. it was just her way of trying to do whatever she could to get her son back. and then of course, many people in the united states were wearing these bracelets with the prisoners names on them. i am wearing one now. people prayed for the men and they wore the bracelets to remind them to pray every day and to not take the bracelet off until their prisoner was returned safely. we still get these to this day. people will find their bracelet in the attic or a shoebox and they will contact our family and mail it back to us. so we are always happy to receive those. i would like to think that those prayers really worked because my dad did come back. so for six years, he just lived a day-to-day existence and tried
to survive and tried to not look out too far in the distance because there would be so many disappointments. for example, sometimes the american troops would do air raids. of course, all the prisoners would get really excited. as soon as they saw of the 52, they would say this is it, this is our rescue. that went on year after year after year, and there was no rescue. eventually my dad said that he learned not to get his hopes up too much. and the other thing that the prisoners said was that even when they became discouraged, disappointed, suicidal, what kept them going was thinking about their loved ones back home or the man in the cell next to them. the majority of the prisoners that i interviewed said they had to stay strong to help the man in the bunk next to them.
they really relied on each other for that, that spiritual strength and that endurance to get through every day. and then finally, in january of 1973, the paris peace accords were signed and the united states initiated the operation homecoming. this is a picture of my dad's evacuation. he is getting off the bus. again they put the prisoners in special uniforms to make it look like they were well attired the whole time they were there when in reality they were just raggedy cloth pajamas. the prisoners had the paris peace accords read to them, but they were almost too scared to believe that it was actually going to happen. some of them had been in for seven or eight years at this point. they started with the sick and wounded and then they evacuated in order of shootdown. my dad was in a group that was rescued on february 18, 1973. remember that date.
he said it was like a dream when i got on the american star lifter and it actually took off and they knew that they were going to be touching down on american soil and seeing their families again. it didn't seem real. the champagne flowed freely, and my dad said the biggest shock to him was the miniskirts that the stewardesses were wearing. he had never seen something like that before. [laughter] my grandparents met him at travis air force base. there were crowds of people lined up to welcome home the prisoners of war. a very happy homecoming.
he had lots -- he had regained some of that weight. when he came home, he was down about 40 pounds, but he said that was quickly remedied by his mom's southern fried cooking. and my dad -- he stayed in the hospital for about a month or six weeks before they would release him because they wanted to do -- they wanted to put the prisoners through mental health checks and make sure that psychologically they were going to be able to acclimate back to civilian life. and also, it just took that long for the intestinal parasites to get through their systems. they didn't want to release them until those were all cleared out.
my dad come in terms of long-term damage, well, he lost his teeth, which a lot of the prisoners did. he had the scars all up and down his arms and his ankles. he had also contracted an infection under his skin. he had that the rest of his life. he would get huge boils that would just blow up on him. my mom would have to taken to the er to get them lanced. and as you can see, my parents were reunited. when he came home from the war, my mom realized that they were always meant to be together. of course, he had been thinking about her the entire time. they reunited a couple years after my dad came home. i was five years old and my sister jane was a baby. they went on to have two more girls, which was humorous.
one of the prisoners i interviewed said, "you know when your dad was in the camp, he said he never won the to see another man as long as he lived." for six years, he only had meant to look at. he said, "when i get out of here, i'm going to surround myself with beautiful women." then he had four daughters. he went to gonzaga law school and became united states attorney in spokane until he passed away at the age of 63 in 2006. he also was a mental health advocate for vietnam veterans that were coming back from the war before posttraumatic stress disorder was a term and it was being recognized. of course, my dad recognized it.
he had a mentor group. he did some legal cases for some veterans that needed some extra help. they got caught up in the legal system and he wanted to do whatever he could do to help. he did prosecute a case that was recognized by the federal government. and it helped to bring forth more awareness of the need for mental health care for our veterans. this is the famous quote that he used to tell us when we were growing up and we would come to him with our boy problems or fighting with our sister about clothes for something. we didn't realize the life that he had led and how monday and are funny all of our problems might seem to have. -- and how funny all of our problems might seem to him. he took it all in stride. he was the most gracious, humble man. he was really just so grateful for every single day because he thought his life was over when his plane caught fire and then when he was captured. he wasn't expecting to have another chance at life. it was hard to get him riled up about anything because he just didn't sweat it. he had already lived through hell. he could survive raising for lively daughters.
and a couple years ago, my sisters and i were able to go to the united states air force academy. they did a special celebration in honor of the graduates from the academy that had spent time in captivity. this is the statue that they did. this shows the torture room. we went on my dad's behalf. it was very special to be able to go and meet some of the other prisoners. their names are all listed on
the side here. some of them did come back and some of them have since passed, but we were able to meet about 20 or 25 of them. and this is at the southeast asia vietnam memorial at the air force academy. the man who did the relief took very special care. if you look up here, you can see the barbed wire, which signifies the hanoi hilton barbed wire they had going all around the camp. they also had shards of glass everywhere and they had guards
with ak-47s posted at every tower. it was a very frightening place to be. this is the torture room that i described. you can see here that the prisoner is giving them the middle finger. that is of course an intentional. because it celebrates the defiance and the rebelliousness that the prisoners had to their captors. it signifies every prisoner who refused to renounce their own country and instead went through brutal torture and deprivation. i was pleased to meet the artist when i went for the celebration for the dedication of the statue. and i told him about my book. and i asked him if i could use the relief for the cover of my
book because knowing my dad, he was such a humble man that he wouldn't want his picture on the book. he would want a picture that represented every pow and vietnam veteran. so i like to think that if he were here, he would like this choice. he passed on february 18, 2006. it was exactly 33 years from the
day that he was released from prison. he was released from prison and to freedom on february 18 and then from the prison of earth and into the freedom of heaven on february 18. we will see you when we get there, dad. thank you. [applause] amy: and i would like to take some questions before the book signing that follows. and the microphones are on the stairs in the aisle. yes, come on over here and then we can hear you. >> is that it? in 1972, jane fonda made her famous trip to the hanoi hilton.
had your dad mentioned that? amy: yes, he had mentioned it. he was asking about jane fonda. he wasn't a fan. [laughter] yes, sir. >> first of all, thanks for that and thanks for the mention of miniskirts. i came back from vietnam in june of 1970 and spent a few months at walter reed hospital and that is one of the things i noticed immediately. [laughter] amy: apparently it was a big deal. >> what was that? amy: apparently it was a big deal. >> actually it was a little deal, but we enjoyed it anyway. [laughter] i also have the chance to go back to vietnam in 2012 with a
group of veterans. i cannot tell you how surreal that was. we were there for about four or five days. one of the stops was at the hanoi hilton. even 40 some odd years later, it is still very bleak and uninviting. have you ever had the opportunity to visit there and would you if you haven't? amy: i would like to, and i've not had the opportunity. my sister jane is with us today and she did go a few years ago and toured around and sent back a lot of pictures. it's a museum now and a lot of the propaganda photos are up in the museum to kind of make it look like everything was a little friendlier than it actually was. >> it definitely was no summer camp. i can tell you that. if you go back, my heart goes with you. amy: yes, sir. thank you.
any other questions? all right. thank you very much. i will be out in the bookstore. [applause] vietnam,erican war in it was lbj's war but it consumed presidents from john f. kennedy to gerald r ford. this veterans day weekend, american history tv looks back at this divisive war with 48 hours of live coverage, archival footage, and accounts from vietnam war veterans and antiwar protesters. this is american history tv all weekend every weekend on c-span tv.