Former American prisoners of war who were in the Hanoi prison with Senator John McCain from 1967 to 1973, shared with the Russian service “voice of America” memories of the dead.
“He never gave up”
First Orson Swindle conversation with Senator John McCain took place in 1967, when they were both incarcerated in the infamous prison “Hoa Lo” (Americans ironically called it the “Hanoi Hilton”) in the capital of North Vietnam. Camera Swindle and McCain were next to each other, the prisoners of war “is tapping” through the wall, while using the secret code.
“The first thing he told me the joke, the contents of which I’m not going to say,” said Swindle in an interview with “Voice of America”. He added that the joke was “obscene”.
Swindle and McCain, which together held in detention in Vietnam until their release in early 1973, and quickly became friends. Their friendship lasted for many years.
McCain was taken to the “Hoa Lo” in serious condition, says Swindle. He had broken both arms and one leg during the detention he had inflicted several wounds. It happened after the bomber Skyhawk, which was ruled by McCain, was shot down by a missile Vietnam on 26 October 1967. McCain the pilot managed to eject. He landed by parachute. However, McCain fell into the lake in the centre of the Vietnamese capital. North Vietnamese soldiers pulled him from the water and then brutally beaten.
Colonel USAF bad day, a close friend of McCain and Swindle, told me that right after their “rescue” McCain looks like, “as if he will not survive.”
“Dey said he is not sure that this guy will live. But it was John McCain. He never gave up,” said Orson Swindle in an interview with “Voice of America”. He said that later he and McCain were placed in the same cell. They are constantly communicating with each other, shared memories, dreams and hopes.
“It was a great friendship, he was a great guy… We told each other about their children and everything about the films that we watched, read the books…” – says Swindle.
“Our weapon was humor”
Leon Ellis, now a Colonel in the U.S. air force, retired, was also a prisoner in the Hanoi prison at the time when it was McCain. Ellis was one of the youngest American prisoners of war and heard a lot about McCain, the son of the Admiral of the naval forces of the United States.
When McCain refused to leave jail until her release all American prisoners of war, this act of his made Ellis a big impression. “I knew that he refused to return home, but met him when we were with him in the same jail,” said Ellis.
After meeting the two men quickly became friends. According to Ellis, they often talked while walking, joking and telling each other stories of life.
According to Swindle, humor was one of the main types of “weapons” that American prisoners of war could be used against the terror of the North Vietnamese Communists, of the uncertainty and monotony of life on the territory of the enemy. Several Americans held in captivity for eight years, so all they needed to “keep each other in shape,” says Swindle.
According to him, all the prisoners in the Hanoi prison had to go through a lot of suffering and pain. Torture against Americans ceased to apply after the death of Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh in 1969. However, it was very important to maintain a “PEP”, “not to go mad from the constant suspense,” said Swindle during the interview.
McCain has always started some projects that were supposed to support the resilience of spirit among the prisoners. Swindle recalls that during a Christmas celebration in December 1972, shortly before the liberation of all Americans from Vietnamese captivity, the prisoners in the “Hanoi Hilton” decided to make the staging of “a Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. John McCain, according to Swindle, then played the role of the stingy Scrooge.
Brothers in captivity
Many of the American soldiers who were captured in Vietnam, still communicate with each other. The joint struggle for survival contributed to the creation of a unique sense of brotherhood and unity. McCain, Swindle and Ellis has always participated in the meetings of former prisoners of war. Senator McCain wrote the Foreword for the book Leon Ellis, which was released in 2012. Ellis and Swindle supported the candidacy of McCain in the US presidential election in 2008.
Conclusion in captivity undoubtedly influenced the future life of McCain, I’m sure Swindle. “He was a carefree, cheerful young pilot, when he knocked out the Vietnamese. And by his own admission, at that time the only thing he succeeded, there was resistance to authorities and care in the booze,” says Swindle. The stay in prison has made McCain more serious and focused. It was then, says Swindle, “John McCain was the same man who later got elected to Congress”.
By the end of his political career, McCain has been a model legislator that is willing to compromise with opponents to achieve the goal. “He was a courageous man. He was a real statesman – such people we need in Congress. I’m sure that if 90 senators were like John McCain, we would live in a much better country,” says Swindle.