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"But we practiced the tap code and that night we were ears to the wall after the guards cleared out and we could now talk. We were now communicating with the rest of the prison camp." (Audio interview, 25:12)

   Michael Thomas Burns
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War: Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Branch: Air Force
Service Location: Ubon, Thailand; Hanoi, Vietnam
Rank: Second Lieutenant
POW: Yes
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In 1968, Captain Michael Thomas Burns had just fulfilled a lifelong dream of flying jets in the Air Force when he was shot down on his eighteenth mission over Vietnam. He was captured and eventually transferred to the infamous Hanoi Hilton prisoner of war camp, where his relationships with his fellow prisoners became key to his survival. One of his greatest moments came when he was taught the "tap code," a system of tapping on the walls that was used to spread messages throughout the camp. His interview is peppered with descriptions of his friends in prison, their nicknames and the one-liner jokes that they shared--and his commentary demonstrates how their camaraderie kept them alive throughout their 56-month captivity.

Interview (Audio)
»Interview Highlights  (5 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: audio (47 min.)
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»Vietnam War: Looking Back
 Audio (Interview Excerpts) (5 items)
Getting shot down; bailing out; executing perfect parachute-landing roll; radioing his coordinates; hiding in bushes; being discovered by Vietnamese. (05:57) Being walked through the night to a small village; staying there for twenty days; experiences with one particular guard; being transported by truck to the north; meeting another prisoner, Bobby Fat, who would become a good friend; transported up to Hanoi; arrival at Hanoi Hilton. (06:17) Arriving at Hanoi Hilton in August 1968; lots of interrogations; sharing a cell with two other Americans; knowing there were other Americans around but not being able to talk to them; in January 1969, made contact with prisoner in cell across the hall; taught the “tap code” by Captain Jerry Marble; being able to communicate; living conditions in camp; typical food. (07:04)
Coping mechanisms in prison; getting used to isolation; dreaming of food; losing weight; family did not hear from him for eighteen months, and then was allowed to send a short letter. (03:59) Passing time in prison; talking with his fellow prisoners about anything and everything; spending hours observing a tree in the sun outside of the prison walls. (03:18) 

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  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
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