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On 12 February 1973, after nearly eight years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, I became a free man. Although I still had to serve a couple of years at stateside hospitals to salvage a badly wounded leg, my new quarters seemed princely compared to my squalid prison cells. Furloughed from the Navy hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, and facing a long, solitary drive to my parents’ home in New Jersey, I decided to bring a tape recorder along and recount my experiences while the memories were still fresh. Maybe someday I would write a book.

I knew I had a unique vantage point and a story to tell. As the fourth U.S. pilot shot down in North Vietnam, I was one of the oldest of the old-timers among the POWs. During my captivity, the number of Americans killed in the war grew from sixty to nearly sixty thousand, and the treatment of POWs shifted from neglectful to brutal to halfway humane. Moreover, of the nearly six hundred Americans held prisoner in North Vietnam, I may have had the widest range of experiences.

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