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I was hiding under a log. I was 20 miles behind enemy lines, having parachuted out of my F-4C fighter aircraft when a weapon malfunction blew it, along with my wingman, to bits. So far my terrain act was working; a group of North Vietnamese soldiers had passed, unaware of my presence, within six feet of me. Now, after three days in the cold and rainy jungle, I knew planes were on their way for me. It looked like a question of who would find me first. I was eventually betrayed by a small hole in my camouflage through which I poked my radio antenna.
Within seconds a zillion rifles were pointed straight at my head. North Vietnamese policy was that POWs were war criminals, a policy that supposedly justified brutal treatment and total control. That control was reflected by a list of regulations posted in each cell. The scenario was quite simple.
An interrogator would tell you to do something, like give out military information. When, predictably, you would refuse, you were told you had violated the regulations and had to be punished. Punishment ultimately meant torture, and to torture was to extract submissiveness. I found you could be tortured for accusing them of using torture. Torture is methodically applied pain to produce a wearing effect — to make you submit. Usually the pain would reach a level just short of stopping vital functions, although it could continue even after one lost consciousness.
Its preliminary stages could start with something as simple as being sat on a stool, dressed in long pajamas in summer or just shorts in the winter. The summer jungle air was suffocating; the damp, cold winter air was penetrating. After a while, you became a lump of huddled misery, sitting in the heat or biting cold. During a single session I sat on a stool in the same position 24 hours a day for 10 straight days. Feet torture stories the guards would tie you to the stool with your wrists strapped to your ankles, but usually you were left untied and Feet torture stories not to move, only being allowed to get up to visit the putrid waste bucket in the corner.
And the guards were always nearby. To survive you had to get your mind going and overcome the tendency to react with your emotions. You had to fight through the haze of fatigue to recall the specialized training, and it worked. Although the interrogations and torture rarely lightened up, with the resistance techniques we were taught we were able to avoid giving any useful or classified information. The senior officers were really under the gun. If the enemy wanted something and knew you knew it, they would stop at nothing to get it.
Thus we were trained to be clever, an actor, under stress. What I was not prepared for were the effects of solitary confinement. Although physical pain was inflicted on me deliberately and effectively, I would discover what an incredible burden mental pain would add to my suffering, how a dark fog slowly could creep over my consciousness, trying to rob me of my remaining power of reasoning. I saw that the mind could convince life itself to slip away through the beckoning black hole that pain created.
I learned how vital it was to keep the mind as sharp as possible.
This was necessary to get through interrogations and also for survival. The body is first to give up. You cannot keep yourself from passing out, throwing up, screaming. I discovered that the more the body convulsed involuntarily, the more I could observe it as though it belonged to someone else. I found I could intellectualize pain, which allowed me to take a quantum leap in my tolerance of it. Sometimes, though, the problem was staying in touch with reality enough to keep alive. This is probably the way nature helps us die without being all tensed up.
I walked a psychic tightrope between too much pain and too much mental retreat from reality. That meant fighting back against the siren lure of pain-free death. Sometimes I knew I needed to feel pain. Pain could keep my senses sharp, my contact with reality stronger. Sometimes I would try to observe the pain process and translate the feeling into some sort of metaphysical experience — something interesting to contemplate, something detached. Sometimes when the pain got to be too much for the physical side of me, nature would take over and I would simply pass out.
I based my mental retreats not Feet torture stories fantasy but on real things. I deed and built homes, about 10 of them — some dream houses, others more practical. First I made a floor plan, then the exterior, and then I would build them in my mind nail by nail, down to the most minute detail. If it progressed too fast, I would envision a bad cut on a board and resaw it.
I made lists. I made a list of every country I could think of, then every capital. I even made a list of all the candy bars I could think of. I could get completely wrapped up in this, completely escaping into my mind. With mental exercise came resolve — if I could help it, this was not going to be the place where I cashed it in. Isolation lasted about nine months, until I was moved to another prisoner of war camp in Hanoi. For more than a year we lived together in a windowless concrete bunker we called the Gunshed. During that time Myron would save my life. It was a hot box, the Gunshed, so hot we could hardly breathe.
It was so stifling that just to breathe we often lay by a small slit under the door through which our jailers slid food. The food itself was used against us like everything else. It usually consisted of watery green soup we called it weeds and a chunk of tasteless bread.
The soup was delivered boiling hot in the summer and stone cold in the winter. We perspired so much our skin became waterlogged, looking like pale cheese, a crumbling coat of slimy flesh often festering with rash and fungus. Horribly dehydrated, we got only two little teapots of putrid water a day, and we used some of it to dampen our faces and wash off the crumbling skin. On top of this, mosquitoes were thick, their wings creating a constant chorus, and the room stank Feet torture stories the waste bucket. Rat droppings seasoned the food along with razor blades, glass, stones and pieces of wire.
Actually some of this unexpected booty came in handy. After about a year of captivity when, oddly, I was getting accustomed to the harshness, my journey took me down an even darker path. The situation developed slowly. First I was told I might win an early release if I would cooperate and meet with some visiting delegations — anti-war groups or radical Hollywood personalities — and tell them I had been treated well. I refused these special favors and at any rate would not participate in their propaganda.
When they kept pressuring me, I went on a hunger strike — an emaciated prisoner would not make good propaganda I reasoned. This got me off the go-home-early list but angered my jailers if only because I was not submissive. Thus began the really hard stuff. Things started with long sessions of standing immobile around the clock; next I was put on my knees for three, four, six hours at a time.
This went on for days. It was the first phase, sort of a limbering-up session to wear me out and take the edge off my powers of reasoning. When I refused, I got to serve as a stress reliever for about 20 guards — each took his turn beating me to a pulp. They pounded me for six or eight hours. By then I was getting pretty shaky.
Then they got serious. I was introduced to a bowl of water, some filthy rags and a steel rod. The guards stuffed a rag in my mouth with the rod, then, after putting another rag Feet torture stories my face, they slowly poured the water on it until all I was breathing was water vapor.
I could feel my lungs going tight with fluid and felt like I was drowning. I thrashed in panic as darkness took over. As I passed out, thinking I was dying, I remember thanking God that we had made a stand against this kind of society. Thick leg irons shackled my ankles, my wrists were tied behind me, and a rope bound my elbows just above the ts. Then they tied my wrists to my ankles and jammed a foot pole between my back and elbows. After a few hours the leg irons began to press heavily on my shins and feet like a vise. The ropes strangled my flesh, causing searing pain and making my arms go numb and slowly turn black.
In the middle of the night, one of the less hostile guards, whom we called Mark, sneaked in and loosened the ropes a little. In this case I would have vanished with the other badly injured POWs who never were repatriated. After a few hours, the guards came back and jerked up on the pole, lifting me up and down by my elbows then slamming me to the Feet torture stories on my face or backward on my head. This went on through the early morning hours.
At dawn two Vietnamese officers casually strolled in. Indeed the pain got to the point where I truly wanted to die.
I tried screaming to relieve the stress until the grimy rag was stuffed back into my mouth. My prayers became desperate gasps.
I had to get out of the ropes, collect my thoughts, and perhaps muster a bit more strength to still do nothing or at least moderate what would happen. He looked insane, his eyes wide open, and he practically jumped up and down when they turned him loose on me. He began by kicking me in the back with all the strength he could exert. The pain was grave, more of a deep sickening feeling. My mind floated free of my body as if I were a spectator, not a participant. I was beyond pain.
Sometime the next day the guards untied me, and I sprawled on the bloody floor, red fluid oozed out of every opening in my body. I had no strength to sit or stand; I just sort of unrolled. In spite of my sorry state, I did not want to look undignified, so I tried to get up. I managed to crawl to a corner and sit leaning against the wall, trying desperately to gather my thoughts. Were they seeing through my innuendos and double meanings? I could feel myself starting to panic as I could feel my last remaining defenses slipping.
The demands increased Feet torture stories to a taped confession. Somehow I still found the strength to refuse — perhaps a little bit too resolutely, because they reverted to the hard stuff again. I was having trouble remembering those precious resistance techniques I had been taught so many light years ago. I started making a tape, pushing my sluggish brain to come up with ideas to show acceptable submissiveness to my wards yet useless for propaganda.
My attempts were not convincing, so the torture continued. I told myself just to make it one more day, and then just one more. They could break me, and I was becoming frantic, fearing my strength would not last. Then, they stopped — just like that.
Some weeks had gone by, and perhaps they had other business. Maybe they figured I might not make it. Although they had murdered prisoners, I believe most of my colleagues who died were accidentally tortured to death. The North Vietnamese knew they could not win the war militarily, but they might succeed if they garnered world sympathy. You could stick your finger into me up to your knuckle and pull it out leaving a hole that would slowly fill with fluid. He set my broken ribs with his fingertips and used our shirts to bind my chest.Feet torture stories
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