Robert Shumaker: An extended stay at the Hanoi Hilton

Prior to his POW experience, Robert Shumaker had other memorable moments in the service. During one mission in the Mediterranean, multiple mechanical malfunctions forced him to freefall 2,000 feet before he could open his parachute. He was also one of the top 32 candidates for NASA’s Apollo program during the Space Race, but a shadow in his lymph nodes found during a physical exam disqualified him.

In 1965, Lt. Commander Shumaker deployed to Vietnam with the Black Sheep Squadron. On Feb. 11, 1965, in response to a North Vietnamese attack on Americans in a hotel, the United States retaliated with bombs from two different carriers. Shumaker was assigned as an escort to those taking photos assessing the damage inflicted by the bombs. North Vietnamese forces, however, spotted Shumaker’s plane and began firing. After making a combat turn, losing his skipper and being hit in the tail by anti-aircraft gunfire, Shumaker ejected from his plane in enemy territory. He hid for an hour but was eventually found and captured. North Vietnamese forces transported him to a convention hall and then to nearby sand dunes, where Shumaker went in front of a shooting squad but was not shot. Two days later, he arrived at what he later nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton.”

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