4:47 | Lee Ellis grew up near Athens, Georgia, and was inspired to be a pilot at a young age after climbing up in an old fighter plane in a veterans park. When the Korean War was going on, he was only 9 years old. He joined the Reserve Officers' Training Corps at the University of Georgia the first chance he got and went to flight school in Valdosta. He was commissioned in Southeast Asia and endured survival training before arriving in Vietnam in July of 1967.
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Ellis shares more miscellaneous stories of his days as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. He covers what he and the other prisoners did from day to day, as well as the first laugh they all shared together. Since everyone was on edge all the time, it had been three whole months in captivity before they felt comfortable enough to laugh with each other.
Ellis talks about the type of propaganda he heard in Hanoi, Vietnam all the time. In fact, the Lieutenant Colonel who was cooperating too much with the enemy only made things worse for the other prisoners when he helped aid in the spreading of the propaganda. During this time, Senator John McCain was captured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam as well.
Ellis describes what two different types of typical ordnance missions consisted of, as well as the process for carrying all the different kinds of bombs on fighter planes before dropping them on enemy territory.
Ellis talks about carrying rocket pods on his planes, and the fact that accidents did happen while flying like minor engine trouble but he rarely saw any. While over there he did lose some friends he was close with during their pilot training, and he explains a bit of what it's like coping with the grief while still fighting in the war zone.
On some missions, Ellis would have to fly at night. He describes those times as way more quiet since there was a lot more activity during the day. One time there was a shortage of bombs, and several other times the North Vietnamese infiltrated their bases by launching rockets at them. Some of those rockets actually did managed to do a surmountable amount of damage.
While fighting in Vietnam, Lee Ellis had to deal with the loss of his best friend Tom. There were some soldiers whose loved ones had been notified that they had been killed in action, only for them to come home months later. He discusses the events leading up to the day he was shot down (Part 1 of 3).
Lee Ellis illustrates how he remembers getting shot down and ejecting himself out of his aircraft and straight into enemy territory. Fortunately his co-pilot, Ken Fischer, managed to also survive and the two of them surrendered to the North Vietnamese as soon as they reached the ground. (Part 2 of 3)
Despite what he originally thought, Lee Ellis was told many years later by an outside witness that his plane was in fact not shot down, and instead an electrical fuse blew up the bombs on the wing of his plane which made it seem like he was shot. He describes the details of how he got captured and sent to a POW Camp (Part 3 of 3).
After Ellis was captured, he was put in a barn-like building. During that time the North Vietnamese had a "political pep-rally" to celebrate the capture of these American pilots, and it was the duty of their guards to make sure that they got to Hanoi.
It wasn't long before Ellis was shipped up farther north, and along the way he caught up with his co-pilot Ken Fischer. They received a lot of negative interactions from the North Vietnamese civilians as one could imagine. As the truck Ellis was in drove through the town, he heard names being called and had things constantly thrown at him.
Ellis talks about the civilian interactions he had that were a little more pleasant, as well as the constant communist propaganda broadcasts he was constantly exposed to from the North Vietnamese Army. He had his first interrogation at a halfway house (Part 1 of 2).
Ellis describes exactly what it was like to be interrogated, and explains what the Hanoi Hilton was. He reveals the men he was imprisoned with, namely Lieutenant Colonel Edison Miller and 1st Lieutenant James Warner. The Lieutenant Colonel turned out to be way too cooperative with the enemy, and the rest of the men were left with no choice but to relieve him of command (Part 2 of 2).
After a few months, Ellis was split up from the group of other prisoners he shared a cell with, including the Lieutenant Colonel. The POW Camps had plenty of US prisoners locked away, and it was very difficult for them to communicate with one another because of how split up the different groups were. Ellis shares the living conditions of his prison cell and what it was like to stay there for so long. He would constantly have nightmares.
While locked away in a POW camp, Ellis says that the guards were armed around the clock with AK-47s, but were not allowed to hurt prisoners unless they tried to directly escape. He does remember one time, however, when a prisoner got in deep trouble for crafting a makeshift American flag inside his prison cell.
When the prisoners weren't cooperating with the NVA, the guards would use rope to torture them. Ellis describes in detail what it was like to feel that pain, as well as how frightening it was when American air raids flew right over the prison. There was a lot of potential to be bombed, but fortunately they never were.
Ellis talks about POWs who were in Son Tay, Vietnam for far longer than he was, which really put things into perspective for him. After the North Vietnamese demanded he make them a radio program and he refused to cooperate many times, Ellis' co-pilot Ken was subject to being forcefully kept awake for 21 whole days.
At the POW camp in Son Tay, Vietnam, Ellis had to do plenty of different jobs to essentially clean up after himself and the other prisoners, and would rotate jobs frequently. After two whole years of being there, he got to write a letter back home to let them know he was okay. He remembers a few unfortunate death stories from the POW camp, and a few where some men attempted to escape. He himself never attempted escape, though.
Although prisoners were kept on high lockdown and weren't allowed to communicate with any other prisoners outside their own cell, Ellis and his fellow POWs still found ways to do it occasionally. The North Vietnamese wanted to fool the world into thinking they were treating their prisoners kindly, so they created propaganda to hide how they were actually being treated.
After he moved back to the Hanoi Hilton, Ellis was actually elected by his fellow prisoners to be one of their French professors following one prisoner's demand to have a custom education program put in place. He mentions how he moved around a lot before his eventual release on March 14, 1973.
Lee Ellis talks about the few months leading up to his final release from the POW camps in Vietnam. All the American prisoners were released in four big groups. He talks about how he felt when he was released, and how he was finally able to eat all the food he dreamed about while in prison.
The next day after the big release and the dining buffet, one of the men actually had a panic attack. Everyone including Ellis had a very drained mindset, meaning it was hard for them to feel emotions normally. He talks about how that affected him after he came home, his R&R experience and how, despite the massive protesting against the Vietnam War, he was never ridiculed because he was a prisoner of war.
Ellis recalls the first impressions that American society had made on him when he finally got back to the states. He was shocked at how much culture around him had changed in the span of five years.
Lee Ellis concludes his vast amount of stories from Vietnam to share all the things he learned from being held captive in a prisoner of war camp for so long. He describes what leadership is to him, and how you can still have influence on the people around you even if you aren't the one in charge.
It was hard to find the enemy. Charlie would disappear into his holes and only come out once the Marines of Mike company had left. Richard Jackson's men tried probing the ground with sharp sticks, but they broke too easily. What they needed was steel. Thus was born the "Mike Spike." Part 1 of 2.
One night, while Laurie was eating dinner, the USS Sanctuary got a call about a plane crash. She vividly remembers the patients coming aboard, and the aftermath of this incident, including one boy who was MIA. However, as difficult as this experience was, this was nothing compared to the Tet Offensive. They had new wounded coming in constantly, and trying to care for all of them at once was emotionally exhausting. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the Military Heritage Museum- https://freedomisntfree.org/.)
His company command at the Cua Viet River was just the way Richard Jackson liked it. He was given free reign to take care of his area. He describes the tactics he used to fight the enemy and recalls one memorable fight in which his men and an NVA unit charged at each other in darkness.
After the column was devastated by an NVA ambush, wounded Americans were scattered in the darkness. After his captain heard one such group calling for help on the radio, Freddie Owens joined a patrol to find them, guided by a gunshot every few minutes. Once there, medic Daniel Torres volunteered to stay with those who couldn't move and protected them through the night with medicine and a machine gun.
In a letter home, Tommy Clack expressed his worry that something bad was going to happen and it did when his unit engaged the NVA near the Cambodian border. He saw the enemy soldier stand and fire the RPG that changed his life forever.
The RPG that severed Joe McDonald’s foot didn’t kill him. The machine gun fire that hit him as he still tried to help others didn’t kill him. The grenade taped to his hand might have killed him if the VC had found his hiding place.
They were hunkered down after fierce fighting when the call came from "Ghost 4-6." It was a group of wounded men who had pulled themselves together after the ill fated march to LZ Albany and were lost in the dark. George Forrest sent a patrol to find them, and in an incredible act of bravery, medic Daniel Torres stayed through the night with them and saved many men. Captain Forrest still had to write a gut-wrenching letter to the mother of a missing soldier. Part 3 of 4.
As Marine Captain Ron Christmas fought to regain the city of Hue, he found the enemy adept at concealment and surprise. Every soldier in a spider hole was armed with a rifle and a RPG launcher. He also encountered a nun with an AK-47. His action during this time earned him the Navy Cross.
Curtis James was the first officer in charge of a Pentagon effort to manage crises during the Cold War. It was a brand new office inside the giant headquarters and, after running that for a while, he served in Vietnam at MACV in Saigon, managing the logistics of the war effort.
During his first tour of Vietnam, medic Franklin Monroe was happy to be issued a .45 because it could get pretty dangerous when the compound was attacked. Eventually he sought out some heavier weaponry. He recalls those firefights and also the traumatic time a soldier stepped on a mine.
Company commander Richard Jackson tried to be as unpredictable as he could with his Marines, following no set pattern and changing tactics constantly. This worked so well that his unit received praise from up the chain of command.
Curtis James returned from Vietnam to an assignment as director of personnel at Parris Island. This was the last post for the Marine Corps staff officer. His favorite was the Pentagon, where he initiated a brand new office to coordinate military crisis response.
He'd made a decision to always take training seriously and learn as much as he could about what he would face in the field, and when Richard Jackson got to Vietnam, it saved his life. As he was walking on patrol, he heard a click, something he'd heard in training, but this time, it was for real.
He was lucky to get a job with an office during his second Vietnam tour, managing a platoon of medics. Then when the war was being turned over to the Vietnamese, Franklin Monroe began medical missions in the streets and started organizing escape for refugees.
Richard Jackson recalls the time when he was stuck in a helicopter with a general observing the battle field while his company of Marines were getting battered down below. When he finally got down to the ground, he repositioned the unit with a mad dash downhill from their exposed position.
Phil Mayrand describes the furtherance of his infantry training leaving Ft. Bragg for Ft. Polk where he'd also meet some lifelong friends. The opportunity to get some additional leadership training presented itself, and anything he would agree to take would delay his inevitable trip to Vietnam, but an unfortunate injury would put this plan in jeopardy.
After basic training, Edwina Morrison was assigned to the 30th Engineer Battalion at Fort Belvoir. The finance and accounting specialist may not have put boots on the ground in Vietnam, but she got the soldiers paid. She remembers the funny looks she got when she showed up and they expected a man.
When his first tour in Vietnam came to a close, Fedde had no choice but to leave behind his scout dog, Charlie Brown. When he returned home, he became a drill sergeant at Fort Dix. Afterwards he went to flight school at Fort Wolters and Fort Rucker, and started his second tour in Vietnam flying missions in helicopters.
When he was company commander at Cua Viet, Richard Jackson had great success in keeping the area clear of enemy. After his combat commands were finished and he was a staff officer, he was asked to visit the replacement unit and advise them. His journey there and back was worthy of a Hollywood movie.
It cost too much money to go to college, so Edwina Morrison walked into an Army recruiting office and left only when it was time to get on the plane. She arrived in the middle of the night and the drill instructors were a bit of a rude awakening.
His extensive training, resulting in bodily injury as well as a debilitating illness, held him back a few weeks, but as he assumed, he'd be on his way to Vietnam. Phil Mayrand describes the conditions of his departure and the foreboding welcome he received there.