This airman was one of only two POWs to survive captivity in World War II and Vietnam (Richard Keirn)

Like a lot of men who turned 18 during World War II, Richard Paul Keirn signed up to do his duty with the U.S. military. His choice was the U.S. Army Reserve in his native Ohio. He joined in November 1942, but within three months, he was accepted to the U.S. Army Air Forces Aviation Cadet Program, a move that would change his life forever. It would also lead to a gallant military career that would steal years from his everyday life. The claim to fame of this airman is being only one of two prisoners of war to survive being taken captive in both World War II and Vietnam.

Despite having joined the war in 1942, it would be almost a year and a half before Keirn, nicknamed “Pop,” would make it to the European Theater. Basic training, pilot training, flight officer school, and fighter classes all had to be finished before he began flying the B-17 Flying Fortress over Nazi-occupied Europe.

The airman had been flying with the 5th Air Force out of England for three months when he was sent on a bombing run over Leipzig in September 1944, his 14th mission over Germany. It would be his last. While over Leipzig, his B-17 took massive amounts of damage and he and his crew were forced to bail out.

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