‘I shouldn’t be alive’: At reunion of Vietnam POWs, one recounts his capture 47 years ago (Keith Lewis)

More than five months in which he had no control over his life, Keith Lewis found a world of virtually unlimited possibilities when he emerged from captivity in early 1973.

Keith Lewis, an Air Force veteran from Jasper, Alabama, is greeted as he arrives Tuesday for a ceremony for Vietnam POWs at the Maine Military Museum. Lewis served two tours in Vietnam, where he was a prisoner of war. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

He chose religion.

Lewis’ F-4 fighter-bomber had been shot down over Vietnam in October 1972. Saturday will mark the 47th anniversary.

Lewis came to Portland this week for the annual meeting of NAM-POWs, a national organization of former prisoners of war from the Vietnam era. The gathering, which is held in different cities from year to year, has drawn nearly 100 former POWs, including two from Maine: Art Cormier, who lives in southern Maine, and Bob Fant, who splits his time between Maine and North Carolina.

Lewis, who said he ejected from his jet when it was flying at nearly the speed of sound, evaded capture for a few hours by hiding in a bushy area near a freshly plowed field on the outskirts of Hanoi, then the capital of North Vietnam and now the capital of Vietnam. He covered himself with leaves and branches, and North Vietnamese soldiers passed by his hiding place at least three times until he had to give himself up because they started shooting into the overgrowth where he was hiding.

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