Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Memory of Old Conflict POW a Symbol of Resistance

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Memory of Old Conflict POW a Symbol of Resistance

Article excerpt

Byline: John Carter, Times-Union staff writer

Retired Navy Capt. Richard Stratton looks the same. Everyone tells him that. And they still call him "The Beak."

"It's the nose and the hair," he barked. "They see that and think the old guy hasn't changed."

Stratton, who lives near Atlantic Beach, is referring to the flattop haircut (though a little whiter nowadays) and prominent nose people often remember from a well-known late '60s French documentary that shows him as a POW in North Vietnam.

In that documentary, Stratton's stylized "Asian-type" bowing and gesturing was exaggerated to the point of caricature. But that was the whole point: to make his movements so laughable that the international audience who viewed it would recognize his tongue-in-cheek intentions.

It worked.

"Heck, I even mooned the camera at one point," Stratton said. "I just remembered The Manchurian Candidate and wanted to suggest that kind of brain-washing."

A fellow POW blinked the word "torture" in Morse code. The POWs' exaggerated behavior in that film helped turn international sentiment against North Vietnam's treatment of POWs and start the outcry for their release.

But for Stratton, that release from the Communist-run "Hanoi Hilton" took six years and two months to arrive. Stratton shared that story and lots of others in a highly animated and surprisingly comedic talk to Jacksonville's Semper Fidelis Society at the Piccadilly restaurant in Arlington last week.

Stratton told the crowd about rooming with (and later campaigning for) Sen. John McCain. About combat missions in his A4E "Skyhawk" and "shooting myself down" (his engine ingested debris from a misfiring rocket). And about being quickly captured ("I landed behind the only tree behind the only house in the area").

And he told them about beatings and torture, being "trussed up" on ropes until the circulation stopped and bones began to unhinge.

He also offered the service members attending a few pithy survival tips:

"Don't lose your sense of humor. Keep your mouth shut as much as you can. If you're senior, take charge; if you're junior, obey -- that alone will take care of most problems. …

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