Established in June 1967, the Plantation POW camp served as a North Vietnamese propaganda “show camp” to portray the illusion of humane treatment of the American POWs. Strategically positioned on the outskirts of Hanoi between the Dirty Bird and Hoa Lo (Hanoi Hilton) POW camps, it sat opposite the Alcatraz POW camp. The Vietnamese transformed part of the facility into a village with whitewashed “sanitized” cells, garden patches, and clean corridors. This area was used for staged activities, photo and filming sessions or simply showcasing captives to visiting foreign delegations, antiwar peace coalition representatives, and foreign media.
Transfers both in and out of the camp were common. Time spent at Plantation ranged from one month to over a year. By January 1968, approximately 52 POWs—mostly recently captured downed pilots who displayed no permanent scars from sustained torture—were held there. The designation “Plantation” originated from the estate’s once stately grounds, which had served as the residence of the French colonial mayor of Hanoi. The main estate building, known as the “Big House” or “French House,” was repurposed as guard quarters, offices, Camp Radio room and an interrogation center. The tree-lined, two-acre site was commonly called the “Citadel”, but held other various nicknames among the prisoners, including Country Club, Funny Farm and the Holiday Inn. The POWs were held in multiple structures that had formerly been servants’ quarters:
- Corn Crib, housing 3 cells;
- Gun Shed, with 7 cells;
- Warehouse, the principal cellblock comprising 15 cells;
- Movie House, which had only 1 cell and an auditorium that doubled as a staff, recreation hall, and POW assembly area for propaganda movies and propaganda church services;
- Show Room, hosting 3 cells which were “sanitized cells” to allow the media to witness a mock-up illusion of treatment of POWs, though they were never shown prisoners actually held in the Crib’s solitary confinement cells.
Every prison cell window in Plantation was covered. The cells varied in size (6’x10’ to 14’x24’), housing from 1 to 5 POWs, some with speakers broadcasting Radio Hanoi daily. Prisoners were provided with the standard two meals a day, however at one point, they endured three consecutive months of nothing but soup.
- Lieutenant Paul Galanti, positioned on a white-sheeted bed for the fake documentary at the facility, sabotaged a propaganda photo shoot by defiantly flashing both middle fingers and maintaining direct eye contact with the camera. This act, signaling his involuntary participation, was only noticed later by the Vietnamese causing them to look foolish in the eyes of the world.
- Lieutenant Commander Nels Tanner and his F4 Phantom Radar Intercept Officer, Lieutenant Ross Terry, avoided prolonged severe torture by falsely “confessing” that fellow pilots, Lieutenant Commander Ben Casey and Lieutenant Clark Kent, had been court-martialed for refusing missions—later dubbed the Superman confession. The Vietnamese accepted the claim and had them repeat it in a televised interview with a Japanese journalist. The joint confession by Terry and Tanner was read before the Bertrand Russel International War Crimes Tribunal, Stockholm, Sweden in 1966. The Vietnamese were made to look like fools throughout the world. Tanner spent 123 days in irons before being moved to the Alcatraz POW Camp. Terry spent 18 months in irons, in solitary in the Zoo POW camp.
In February 1968 (coinciding with the Tet offensive) and August of 1968, two groups of three Plantation POWs each chose to accept “early release” against the orders of senior officers. The POWs had a “No Go Home Early” pact in which they agreed that they would all go home together or not at all. Seen as an act of betrayal, the men were subsequently released to American antiwar activists and peace coalition representatives in a highly publicized event.
In August 1969, another 3-man early release took place. Navy Seaman Apprentice Douglas Hegdahl didn’t want to go with the other two men. Hegdahl was “ordered” by his senior ranking officer, Lieutenant Commander Richard Stratton to accept the release and return home for him to share the valuable information learned. While the captors had accepted Hegdahl’s portrayal of being an illiterate man and viewed him as a non-threat, Stratton knew better. Stratton had shared a cell with him and saw the 19-year-old Hegdahl as the perfect courier to provide Washington with a comprehensive account of fellow captives. Additionally, Hegdahl could describe the torture practices used by the Vietnamese and the horrible prison camp conditions. Possessing an exceptional memory, Hegdahl, in collaboration with Stratton and First Lieutenant Joe Crecca, memorized the names, shoot-down dates, Social Security numbers, and other details of over 250 fellow POWs. Upon his return, his information played a crucial role in the U.S. government’s efforts to publicly emphasize the plight faced by American POWs.
In December 1969, numerous prisoners were relocated to the Hoa Lo or other POW camps. By 1970, Plantation became obsolete for propaganda, leading to its closure. Following the Son Tay raid, South Vietnam POWs from Farnsworth were moved to Plantation in December 1970. Two more groups arrived in mid-1971, bringing the POW count to roughly 70. Despite later receiving transfers from Laos and South Vietnam, the camp eventually closed. It did, however, open briefly in January 1973 to house POWs set for release in the second and third groups on March 4th and March 14, 1973.
POW's Interned at the Plantation
Jon David Black
Joe Victor Carpenter
Jack Van Loan
NOTE: After only six months in the Navy, Douglas Hegdahl was serving as an ammunition handler on the USS Canberra, positioned off the coast of Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin. Knocked overboard by a gun blast during a nighttime bombardment, he was picked up by a local fishing boat the next day and handed over to the Vietnamese militia, unbeknownst to his ship. Initially suspected of being a CIA agent, Hegdahl pretended to be of low intelligence, earning the nickname “the incredibly stupid one.” Deemed non-threatening, he had significant freedom in the camp providing him the opportunity to sabotage five army trucks by putting leaves and dirt into their fuel tanks. In one case, Lieutenant Commander Stratton witnessed Hegdahl’s successful effort.
Hegdahl, while sweeping the prison grounds, communicated with fellow prisoners and gathered valuable intelligence, later shared with U.S. authorities upon his release. In 1970, he confronted the Vietnamese at the Paris Peace Talks, revealing the mistreatment of POWs to the world.
Thanks to Scott Dillingham for his research and composition of the above introduction to the “Plantation POW Camp.”