Behind Barbed Wire: A POW’s Story (Edward Leonard)

I arrived at Udorn RTAFB in early May, 1967, to fly A-1E and A1-H Skyraider with the 602nd Fighter Squadron (Commando). I was to fly 247 combat missions during three consecutive tours and participated in the rescue of 18 aircrew members. On May 31, 1968, going for number 19, I was shot down on a Search and Rescue effort for a Navy A-7 (Streetcar 304) flown by Kenny Fields. I ejected and, once safely on the ground, I got in a gun fight with three NVA soldiers. I shot one for sure3 AKs vs. one 357 seemed like a fair fight to me. I had them outnumbered! I got away and, after running most of the night, I climbed up a tree and hid there.
    On the third day, Kenny was finally rescued, but I was spotted and captured. I was taken prisoner by a badly mauled North Vietnamese division dragging itself out of South Vietnam and moving northward through Laos following their defeat during the Tet Offensive. This was a problem for both sides. You see, we were not bombing Laos–we said so. And Ho Chi Minh’s army was not in Laos–he said so. I was an embarrassment to both governments, a long way from home, and a bullet cost twelve cents.

After an initial interrogation, I was force marched each night for a week through bombed jungle. At last I was herded into a cave where I spent the day. At dusk, I was put on a truck, and was bolted, face-down, to the bed. All night the truck would jar, bumble, and roll, side to side, fore and aft, and up and down, like a repetitiously interrupted corkscrew. After stumbling into the morning, we at last came to a halt several hundred yards off the road, under trees and camouflage netting.

Periodically, the truck would stop on the edge of a village. Id be off-loaded and my arms bound behind my back, then Id be pulled by a noose about my neck through the village, through an inevitable gauntlet of angry villagers armed with clubs, jabbing sticks, and rocks, all whipped to a frenzy by a small band of political organizers. Once through the village, Id be put back on the truck, and once again wed bumble and stumble through the night.

Near sundown each evening, the truck would start off again for another bone-jarring night along rough bomb-cratered roads and rocky stream-beds. After a week, I was off-loaded on the edge of a broad valley and marched several miles across rice paddies to a wooded jungle rise. Under the tree canopies were bamboo cages, containing American servicemen and civilians, a number of Canadians, and a German nurse. I was placed in a bamboo cage removed from the others.

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