A Vietnam War Hero, a Publisher

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 27, 2007 | Go to article overview

A Vietnam War Hero, a Publisher


Byline: John M. and Priscilla S. Taylor, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

In 1955, following the Korean War, President Dwight D. Eisenhower established a code of conduct for members of the U.S. armed forces who might fall into enemy hands. The six articles instructed prisoners to make every effort to escape, evade answering questions beyond those permitted by the Geneva Convention and "keep faith with my fellow prisoners."

This rigid code was in place in August 1967 when Maj. (later Col.) George "Bud" Day was shot down by a surface-to-air missile some 30 miles north of the DMZ in Vietnam. His ordeal while a prisoner for nearly six years is now the subject of American Patriot: The Life and Wars of Colonel Bud Day (Little Brown, $27.99, 416 pages, illus.), by Atlanta-based journalist Robert Coram.

In ejecting from his F-100F, Day broke his left arm in three places, damaged his left eye, and dislocated one knee. He landed alive, but his ordeal was just beginning. A local militia captured and savagely beat him; as time went on, however, he was tied up carelessly and one night he escaped. Aware that he was not far from South Vietnam, Day limped his way across rice paddies and through light brush, lying low to avoid Viet Cong formations.

After some 10 days on the run, with only raw frogs for sustenance, Day began walking in circles and hallucinating. He encountered an enemy patrol and sustained two gunshot wounds while being recaptured. The Viet Cong returned him to his earlier prison, where his captors turned on him in a fury. First, the two soldiers who'd been on duty when he escaped beat him with rifle butts. Then, in Mr. Coram's words, Day was hoisted by his ankles, "head down, feeling the bones in his broken arm being pulled apart, then forced together, then pulled apart. In agony, he was left for hours as flies and mosquitoes crawled on his skin, as sweat coursed down his body."

In October, Day and his guards began a journey north. Eventually they reached the Hanoi Hilton where - still refusing to give more than his name, rank and serial number - Day was housed with the most recalcitrant prisoners. There he had two cellmates, one of them John McCain, who had been treated about as brutally as Day.

The 1960s turned into the 1970s. Propaganda over the prisons' loudspeakers featured Jane Fonda leading American women in songs that ridiculed the armed forces. The few early releases from Hanoi were bitterly resented by the likes of Day and McCain, who knew that such consideration could be obtained only by cooperation with Communist authorities. Day later recalled, "I believed the most important thing in my life was to return from North Vietnam with honor, not just to return." And return he did in 1973, to his loyal wife, Doris, and to the country he had served so bravely.

The Air Force showered Day with honors, including the Medal of Honor, but passed over him for promotion to general. Because he had a law degree, Day began a private law practice, and he led a successful suit against the U.S. Government on behalf of World War II and Korean War veterans whose medical benefits had been slashed.

Day condemned all prisoners who were granted early release, and this tempers the reader's admiration for him. Not every soldier or airman is a Bud Day, and the Code of Conduct now makes a distinction between a collaborator and one "who, after having been physically or mentally tortured, complies with a captor's improper demand." But the reader will understand why Jane Fonda travels with bodyguards.

* * *

Publications mogul William Randolph Hearst is certainly among the most colorful characters in American history, so any Hearst biography is guaranteed to provide entertainment. …

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