Ring returned to Vietnam POW 44 years after imprisonment (Hivner, Barrett)

With the traditional “I do’s” and exchange of wedding bands some 54 years ago on Oct. 1, 1955, James and Phyllis Hivner began their life’s journey together which, like many young couples, began with not knowing what the future held.

That journey was rocked 10 years later, almost to the day, when then-Capt. James Hivner and his co-pilot, 1st Lt. Thomas Barrett, were shot down Oct. 5, 1965, in their F-4C Phantom fighter-bomber over North Vietnam. About 10 minutes after ejecting from the wounded aircraft, the pair was captured by North Vietnamese militia and soon handed over to the country’s regular army. By the end of the night, they were residents at the infamous Hanoi Hilton, a prisoner-of-war facility.

But another voyage began that fateful day; one that gives hope for this thing called the “circle of life.” It was an expedition that now-retired Col. James Hivner never expected.  His original wedding ring was coming home.

Just as the ring symbolizes the family the Hivners began in 1955, it also signifies the Air Force family the colonel joined in 1953. On Nov. 11, Veterans Day, people from Sheppard Air Force Base made the two-hour trip to Addison, Texas, make this a complete family event and witness the return of the ring to Colonel Hivner.

“This is an incredible opportunity for our young Airmen in training and our young student pilots to meet a fellow Airman warrior,” said Brig. Gen. O.G. Mannon, 82nd Training Wing commander. “Colonel Hivner is a living example of executing the Code of Conduct, surviving a terrible situation and coming home. We are honored to be in his presence and be part of this very special ceremony.”

Back on Oct. 5, 1965, Colonel Hivner said he and Lieutenant Barrett were flying the third aircraft in a four-ship formation that was on a bombing run near the city of Kep in Southwest Cambodia. The mission was going smoothly until the aircrews made their way through a valley, setting up to offload their munitions.

The first two aircraft in the formation seemed to fly through the area without resistance, the colonel said. But the lack of resistance didn’t last long as flak started to appear around Colonel Hivner’s aircraft.

“Wingman No. 4 called and said, ‘Three, you’re hit. You’re on fire,'” the colonel recalled.

He said he began to gradually climb at a smaller angle than usual to keep fuel from getting to the flames. Peering ahead at the lead aircraft, Colonel Hivner said he realized that they had missed the target, an ammunition depot. He said he adjusted his F-4C to get a correct heading on the target, and then dropped his munitions.

“Right as I pulled off the target, I felt another thump,” Colonel Hivner said. “(Wingman 4) told us we were burning again.”

Other Books You Might Be Interested In

Contact Us