The Party Dolls: The True, Tragic Story of Two Americans’ Attempted Escape from a 1969 Hanoi POW Camp

In May 1969, at the peak of the Vietnam War, two American prisoners of war escaped from a brutal North Vietnamese prison camp. Their story is one of incredible bravery against the longest of odds—and also one of bitter conflict. Air Force Captains John Dramesi and Ed Atterberry escaped with help from their fellow prisoners, but that help was not given freely. Their attempt killed one man and brought many others a lifetime of pain. THE PARTY DOLLS tells the true, tragic story of an escape code-named the “Party.” The story is told by the men who lived it, American POWs, via interviews conducted by the author some two decades ago, but never published until now. For decades, questions lingered about how Dramesi and Atterberry did it, and how Atterberry died, even among their fellow prisoners. Indeed, the story of the Party is virtually unknown outside Vietnam POW circles. THE PARTY DOLLS opens the door into one of the most tortured stories of the Vietnam War.The story opens in April 1968, in a Hanoi POW camp called the Annex. John Dramesi believed it was American POWs’ duty to escape, mandated by the U.S. military’s Code of Conduct, even though there was virtually no chance of successfully reaching freedom. Dramesi’s cellmates believed any attempted escape would violate standing orders and the Code of Conduct, whose articles were vague and conflicting, and subject them to horrible tortures and suffering. Nonetheless, Dramesi recruits one man, quiet and unassuming Ed Atterberry, to go with him. They and their reluctant cellmates spend the next year devising a way out of the cell, building, and camp, while amassing props and supplies that can aid the escape. Their story, told by Dramesi and nearly a dozen other former POWs, includes anecdotes, arguments, conflicts and incidents, some humorous, some horrifying, and some graphically raw. Ultimately, Dramesi and Atterberry escape, only to be recaptured, and causing months of suffering for dozens of American POWs throughout the summer of 1969.

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