Shot down over Vietnam: POWs share memories 50 years later (Hayden Lockhart, Everett Alvarez)

 This weekend marked the 50th anniversary of the fateful day the first U.S. troops went ashore in South Vietnam. But by then U.S. aircraft had already been bombing North Vietnam for seven months and downed American pilots had fallen into a hell that would last for the rest of the war.

Hayden Lockhart was the first Air Force pilot to fall into North Vietnamese hands. A photograph of Lockhart shows him being paraded through the streets of Hanoi. Lockhart is still alive, although too ill to attend a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of his shoot down.

But in the audience were two former Navy pilots who suffered even longer.

“I was the first,” Everett Alvarez told me. “I was shot down August 5, 1964.”

Flying off an aircraft carrier in the Tonkin Gulf, Everett Alvarez was shot down on the very first day U.S. jets bombed the North.

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