Evansville POW: ‘Why did I make it and they didn’t?’ (James Pfister)

Dennis Hammond’s death came with little warning.

The Marine staff sergeant laid down on his bamboo mat beside the other American prisoners of war one evening in the spring of 1970. James Pfister, an Evansville native, found him the next morning.

Hammond was still.

Pfister shook his friend. When he didn’t move, Pfister screamed at him to get up. Kicked the bunk. Grabbed his shoulder and rolled him over.

A cluster of flies shot out of Hammond’s mouth.

Hammond was the eighth man to die in that Vietnamese prisoner of war camp in less than two years.

‘I still have this dream where I see the faces of the guys I buried. They’re right there,’ Pfister said, holding his hand up just in front of his face. ‘Just their faces. I often wonder, why did I make it and they didn’t? I was sick just like they were. What’s the reason behind it?’

More than 40 years after Pfister left that prison camp and returned home to Evansville, he still thinks of those eight men every single day.

This, and every, Memorial Day, Pfister thinks of all those who gave their lives. Though, for the eight men he buried, he doesn’t need a holiday to remember.

‘I carry them with me every day,’ he said, sitting in his Carmi, Illinois home. ‘I want them to know, I’m with them. They will never be forgotten.’

Through him and others survivors their stories can be told.

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