Positive outlook aided time as POW in Vietnam for former POW (Gordon Nakagawa)

Smiles come easily and often to Gordon Nakagawa — worthy of note when talking about a man whose childhood was interrupted by a stay in a Japanese internment camp, and whose distinguished 32-year military career included time as a POW in the Hanoi Hilton, North Vietnam”s infamous prison.

“The one thing that will tear you down is if you become bitter about the experience,” says the 74-year-old Marina resident. “Don”t become bitter. Try to eliminate all negative reactions to the conditions. Cope with dignity and perseverance, rather than anger and bitterness.”

Life is good. That is a thought Nakagawa says he had during the harrowing moments after a 22-millimeter shell tore through a jet engine of the Navy bomber he was piloting on a middle-of-the-night mission over Hai Phong in North Vietnam — 30 miles from Hanoi — in December 1972.

His squadron no longer conducted rescue missions for downed pilots because more personnel were being lost than retrieved, so Nakagawa and his navigator, Ken Higdon, knew they were on their own.

They climbed to 3,500 feet, turned toward the Gulf of Tonkin and shut down the damaged engine, but the plane remained ablaze.

Two miles from the coast, the electrical system burned up, so Nakagawa and Higdon blew the canopy and ejected.

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