How this Vietnam War pilot survived captivity and torture
Flying missions out of Takhli Air Force Base, in Thailand, Maj. Harold Johnson served as an Electronic Warfare Officer of an F-105 Wild Weasel, which due to its dangerous, top-secret missions had about a 50 percent survival rate.
“Everyday you were shot at very severely,” Johnson states in an interview. “I’d have a lot of the electronics there and hopefully do the job that I’m supposed to do to protect the rest of the flights.”
In April 1967 — and just seven missions shy of rotating back home — the North Vietnamese fired a heat-seeking missile that struck Johnson’s Wild Weasel. While both crew ejected safely, they were later captured.
Before being taken to a POW camp, the Vietnamese paraded Johnson through a village where the locals poked and prodded him with sharpened bamboo sticks.
“I still got scars on my legs. The kids were the worst, they could slip through the guards and get at you,” Johnson calmly admits. “I had a lot of holes in me when I got to the camp.”
After eight days of intense daily beatings, torture, and hallucinations from lack of sleep, Johnson began falsely pointing out targets on a map.
Due to Johnson being constantly isolated in his cell, he learned to secretly communicate with other prisoners using an alphanumeric tapping system. “If you can picture a box with five units that you put your letters in, one would be your first line, and then you go ABCDE,” Johnson states.
After six long agonizing years, Harold Johnson was released from the prison camp and sent back to the US.
“Well, it finally happened, when you’re being interrogated that was the thing that gave us strength was you’re gonna to have to stay here, one of these days I’m going out of here.”
Check out Iowa Public Television‘s video for Harold Johnson’s heroic tale of surviving a nearly six-year stint in a Vietnamese POW camp.