From the Moon to Hanoi (Theodore Stier)

Many people will write tributes today to the Apollo 11 astronauts on the fortieth anniversary of man’s first steps on the moon, including a lot of “where were you?” memoirs (I was thirteen, and glued to our television set, trying to decipher the fuzzy images being transmitted over CBS to the portentous commentary of Walter Cronkite, a true space buff who just missed making it to this anniversary day). The most unusual, however, comes from my friend, Jim Warner, who today presents his very different take on the Moon landing. Jim was a Marine aviator, whose F-4 Phantom was blown out of the sky over North Vietnam in 1966. Captured by the North Vietnamese, he spent the next five and a half years as a guest of Uncle Ho. He and his fellow prisoners were generally cut off from all knowledge of the outside world, except for what their captors let them know, and what newly arriving POWs could tell them. Since the bombing halt in 1968, new prisoners were few and far between, and so Jim and his compatriots had been living for more than a year in almost total isolation. But, as Jim puts it,

I was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam and on July 20, 1969, I was in a small box that sat out in the sun in the third month of a prolonged interrogation about what the Communists were convinced was an escape attempt. Although we did not hear any news about the actual moon landing, the Apollo program did affect us in an interesting way because we thought the landing had happened several months earlier.

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