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"That little trip cost me just about 2428 days, 18 hours, 35 a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam" (Audio Interview, 9:53)

   Cole Black
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War: Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Branch: Navy
Unit: VF-211 (Fighter Squadron), USS Hancock (CVA 19); VFP-62 (Light Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron), USS Randolph and USS Intrepid; VF-126 (Instrument Training Squadron)
Service Location: Great Lakes, Illinois; Newport, Rhode Island; Pensacola, Florida; Jacksonville, Florida; San Diego, California; Pacific Ocean; Vietnam; Mexico City, Mexico; Washington, DC
Rank: Captain
POW: Yes
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After enlisting at the age of 17 in 1950, Cole Black spent over 35 years in the Navy--6 years and 9 months of that as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. Black received his wings in February of 1957 and did two tours of duty over Southeast Asia. Ten days before the end of his second tour, he was shot down and captured. Black endured torture, moves to several camps, and a march through the streets of Hanoi during which he and his fellow prisoners were attacked. Released in 1973, Black spent another 13 years in various posts stateside before retiring on July 1, 1986.

Interview (Audio)
»Interview Highlights  (8 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: audio (44 min.)
 Other Materials
»Biographical information
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»Wings of War
»Vietnam War: Looking Back, Part 2
 Audio (Interview Excerpts) (8 items)
How the Navy recruiter sold Black on his branch of service; during training, it was learned he had been on the high school wrestling team and he got a break from training exercises to practice and compete on the base's wrestling team. (02:10) Navy gave a branch-wide test for the first time to screen candidates for OCS, which he passed; was to be assigned to a destroyer but decided to go to flight school and got his wings in February 1957; flew jets off carriers for several years until he was sent to school (had only a high school education) at Monterey; earned BS in engineering in 3 years. (02:14) Joined Fighter Squadron 111 just in time to deploy to Southeast Asia for his first tour; quick turnaround, deployed again; flying off USS Hancock; 10 days before end of second tour, got shot down, a trip which cost him six years and nine months in captivity. (00:59)
"Shot down" on June 21, 1966; lucky to land alive, with very brief parachute ride; badly hurt; marched through streets of Hanoi; closest he got to getting killed with guards losing control of angry spectators; goal was to be home by Christmas; backup date was 4th of July; Ho Chi Minh's death in 1969 started better treatment: a little more food, blanket and sweatshirt for winter; learned to sleep like a puppy; at war's end, was in prison in north, near China; no electricity, bad water. (04:06) When they left last prison, weren't sure if they were going farther north; heading south probably meant war was over; knew of people who had been kept in China for 13 years; began doing the math for how old he would be after that long; one comrade was kept in solitary; then put in a cage with another American; mistrusting each other, each thinking the other was a plant. (01:57) Dealing with being alone and confined; best thing in prison was to have a good cellmate; Air Force major with him, knew all the Hornblower stories; communicating was heart of being a prisoner; giving each other hope; after interrogation, not wanting to go back into cell. (01:36)
Son Tay Raid in 1970, an attempt to free POWs from that camp near Hanoi, made their captors nervous, afraid of losing their bargaining chips; moved to Hanoi Hilton, put in larger cellblocks rather than cells; boost to morale to be able to communicate. (02:05) Airport near Hanoi from which they departed was a mess from air raids; C-141 with American flag on the runway; he had never seen one; nicknamed Hanoi Taxi; he was on third of three airplanes; best looking Air Force nurses; didn't begin celebrating until they were over the water and headed for the Philippines. (01:59) 

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  October 26, 2011
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