Former POW, Ambassador Shares His Unique Perspective on Vietnam (Douglas Peterson)

On two occasions, Douglas “Pete” Peterson served in Vietnam when he didn’t have to.

Already a 10-year Air Force veteran when his number was called in 1966, then-Captain Peterson, with a pregnant wife and two kids at home, was eligible for a deferment, but didn’t apply.

Instead, he took his F4-C Phantom II on 66 missions over Vietnam. On the 67th, an enemy missile ripped through the aircraft, sending it plunging toward the village of An Doai. Peterson and co-pilot Lieutenant Bernard Talley ejected from the fiery wreckage, only to end up as prisoners of war for the next 6 ½ years.

Suffering from head injuries, broken bones and two dislocated knees, Peterson was first taken to the infamous Hoa Lo Prison—nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton” by the American prisoners jailed there—before finally receiving medical treatment days later.

For the remainder of his time in Vietnam, Peterson was shuffled around to four different North Vietnamese prisons, enduring inhumane conditions, isolation, interrogations and torture at each stop until his release in March 1973. He wouldn’t return for 18 years.

The Nebraska native remained in the Air Force when he returned to the United States, retiring as a colonel in 1980 after 26 years of service. He started a construction company in Florida, worked at Florida State University and counseled juvenile offenders before successfully running for Congress in 1990.

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