The U.S. Navy’s Cold War Gallery, located at the Washington Navy Yard, pays tribute to the service and sacrifice of the men and women who served during the five tense decades of the latter half of the 20th century. In June, the Naval Historical Foundation cut the ribbon on a new “Battle Behind Bars” exhibit, dedicated to the memory of the U.S. Navy Prisoners of War held during the Vietnam War. On Friday, 28 June, one of those POWs paid a visit to the Gallery, and had the chance to reunite with a unique artifact that he had previously donated – a pair of boxer shorts that he wore during captivity.

Captain Ted Triebel, USN (Ret) was a naval aviator whose F-4 Phantom was shot down over North Vietnam by a surface to air missile in August 1972. Triebel, along with his radar intercept officer Dave Everett, was captured by local militia and soon imprisoned in the Hanoi Hilton. He was held for nearly a year, returning home with honor along with other American POWs in 1973. But Triebel’s captivity had an unusual aspect to it. Prior to departing for what would be his final mission from the aircraft carrier USS Midway (CV 41), Triebel had donned a pair of boxer shorts sent to him by his wife. The white boxer shorts were adorned with large red hearts. The shorts were part of a gag gift of fancy underwear sent by wives to aviators on board Midway. At that time, the carrier suffered from a chronic shortage of fresh water, leading to delays in returning clean laundry. On the day of the fateful mission, the red heart boxer shorts were the only clean ones Triebel had in his possession. Unfortunately for Triebel, when he was captured by the North Vietnamese, he was stripped of his flight suit, and his red boxers were exposed. He ended up wearing them throughout his captivity. Years later, they were donated to the Navy, and they are now on display in the “Battle Behind Bars” exhibit in the Cold War Gallery.

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