On August 26, 1967, Air Force Major (later Colonel) George "Bud" Day was hit in his F-100 just north of the DMZ. During ejection he smashed one knee and broke his right arm in three places. The North Vietnamese were waiting for his parachute. Taken prisoner, he was given a novocaine shot and put in a primitive and painful cast on his arm. Day was bound at the ankles and carried to a small underground bunker. After dark, he managed to untie the ropes and crawled out of the bunker and began moving South. This began one of the remarkable sagas of the Vietnam war. For almost two weeks, Day traveled by night and hid during the day to conserve his strength and avoid capture. He ate frogs and berries to keep going. Hallucinating and barely able to move his legs, he came to a knoll and looked down at a U.S. Army unit less than a mile away. As he started to move toward it, a North Vietnamese soldier came up behind him and shouted at him to stop. Day made a run for it and heard rifle shots, then went down, hit in the hand and thigh.
This time there was no escape. He was trussed up and taken on a forced march north, tied to trees some nights by his damaged arm and interrogated. When asked who his fellow flyers were, he gave names such as Charles Lindbergh and Billy Mitchell. Arriving at the Hanoi Hilton, Day became the cornerstone of the U.S. prisoners' resistance. As with the other POWs, Day was tortured constantly, suspended by his arms and whipped. His broken arm healed improperly. He was denied treatment for the hand in which he had been shot; every day he pressed his fingers against the wall of his cell and pushed to keep the muscles from contracting into a claw.
Day took the under remitting torture and kept offering maximum resistance. John McCain has credited Day with saving his life in the prison and has called him the bravest man he ever met. This is a sentiment shared by many of the other POWs who have made Bud Day a legendary figure in the years since they came out of captivity.
Bud Day is the most highly decorated military officer since Gen Douglas MacArthur. He holds some seventy decorations and awards, including every significant combat award. Along with his cellmate James Stockdale, he received the Medal of Honor from President Gerald Ford in 1976.
We are honored to have this American hero join Frontpage Interview today.
FP: Mr. Day, welcome to Frontpage, it is a great honor for me to speak with you.
Day: Good day. I appreciate a chance to speak with you.
FP: Why don't we begin with your youth. How did you get into the military?
Day: I was a 16 year old junior in high school when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. I was ready to join the military right then, but could not until after my birthday in February 1942. My parents refused to give their consent for me to enlist in the Marine Corps until I finally wore them down. I dropped out of high school only one month before graduation and joined the Corps. I got a direct commission between WW II and Korea, and was called up into the Air Force in 1950, went to jet pilot training, became a jet fighter pilot and volunteered for Vietnam as a fighter pilot in the F-100 aircraft.
FP: What drove you in your desire to become a Marine and a fighter pilot? Many people would want to avoid putting their lives in danger. What is it you think that drove your passion? What influenced you?
Day: I admired Charles Lindberg very much from the time that I was a very small boy. My admiration for airmen increased enormously with WW II, and Jimmy Doolittle's bombing of Japan. The Flying Tigers were most admirable men, so I was drawn to flying.
What caused me to join the Marine Corps in 1942 was the attack on Pearl Harbor. I was 17, and within a few days of graduating from high school in Dec 1942, when the U.S. announced that they were going to draft 18 year olds. I was too naive to understand that such a thing could not occur in a matter of days, so I badgered my parents into signing my papers. I could not consider the idea of being forced to serve my country. I was going to do it right, and volunteer. I did.
When I left the military in 1945, I had 4 years of GI bill, so I got a B.S. and a law degree in 47 calendar months. During college I got a direct appointment as a 2d Lt from enlisted status and volunteered for Korea. I went to flying school as I preferred to serve as a pilot and became an early jet fighter pilot. It is the most exciting job in the world. You make more life and death decisions in an hour and a half flight than some people make in ten years. Most satisfying.
I liked the military. You get more authority as a corporal in the USMC in a couple of years, than many get in a life time. You learn to follow, then learn to lead. Leading men in combat is the ultimate of satisfying jobs.
FP: Let’s move on to your Vietnam experience. What were the circumstances under which you were captured? You also almost escaped right afterwards, can you relate that story to us?
Day: I was shot down striking a missile site in North Vietnam by ground fire on August 26, 1967. I had to eject, was severely injured in the bail-out, and was immediately captured.
My right arm was broken in three places, my knee was injured, and I was temporarily blinded in one eye. I convinced my captors that I could not move because of my injuries, and was able to escape after a few days of abuse, including a threatened execution, hanging by the feet for an entire day, and some physical beatings.
I then navigated about 45 miles through the jungle to within a mile of the USMC base at Con Tien in South Vietnam. I walked into an ambush. They called to me to surrender. I took off running. They shot me in the leg and hand, and recaptured me.
FP: This is simply an incredible story. Why did they threaten execution if they did not go through with it? Was this part of the psychological torture?
Tell us about the inner emotional journey one goes through, or that you went through, upon being captured.
Also, when you say you “navigated” through 45 miles of jungle, what do you mean? How did you do this?
Day: The mock execution was intimidation. They wanted to see if just threatening me would get an answer. Some people would answer. I think it was a common ploy.
My assumption was that if they had authority to kill me on the spot, they would have already done it. So I had to call their bluff.
Getting captured, and as I was, recaptured -- is a dismal thing. I was within a few minutes of freedom when this Viet Cong soldier popped out of a hole and yelled at me. When I figured out that he was a North VN, I decided that I had not come this far to surrender, so I took off running. Someone of them shot me in the leg and hand, and after I got into the jungle, they found me and I was recaptured. A horrible let down. I knew how close I was, and how much I wanted to be free. It was clear that if I did not die from infection, that I would wind up in the Hanoi jail. I have never felt more let down.
Navigating means that you have to know where you are going and the approximate heading across the ground to get there. For example: a heading of 180 is due South. I knew that from where I was to the Marine Corps base at Con Tien, SVN, that I was going to have to stay on a rough course of about 200 degrees. You can look at the sun in the AM, and know where South is then you adjust. You continue to do this as you walk. In the jungle. You cannot see the sun so you have to then follow the trails going South and sort it out when you see the sun again.
My navigation was quite perfect considering all of the detours that I had to make. As a pilot, you are navigating every minute of a flight so I had literally thousands of hours of navigating and with my Marine Corps experience it wasn't the first time I had ever been on the ground or a jungle.
FP: I apologize for asking this, but what were some of the ways the North Vietnamese tortured you and other prisoners?
Day: Physical beating with their hands and fists, with short sticks, roped arms behind the back and cinched up to pull the arms out of the socket, leg irons, fan belt beatings, kneeling torture, 16 hour per day propaganda from anti-war types in U.S., Russian classical music between propaganda blasts, untreated fractures, no protein, weight loss of about 35-40%, no mail or packages from home for three years, frequent threats of execution and non-release from jail.
Unless we made propaganda for the Communists, propaganda made by Senators Fulbright, Kennedy, and Greuning, who were volunteering anti-war statements that we were being tortured for. Visits by Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, Dave Dellinger and other people whom I considered to be traitors.
FP: How did you endure the tortures physically and psychologically? What resources did you have to access inside of yourself to survive this horror?
Day: I didn't endure the torture very well. When they hung me, they wiped out both of my hands, and I lost quite a bit of the use of my arms. They also re-broke my right wrist, and I was quite dysfunctional most of my POW experience, as I was trying to do self rehab, by scraping my fingers on the wall to straighten out my fingers which had curled up into a ball. My right wrist remained broken until John McCain splinted it in about December 1967-Jan 68.
Mentally, I grew to hate them. The torture was so stupid, and only for intimidation after a while. I did a lot of praying, and I continued to tell myself that I was going to live, that I was going to keep my honor, and that I would never surrender. It is great to have God, a family, and the U.S. as a country. When you have that, you can hang on in a lot of adverse circumstances, and know that you will make it. G. Gordon Liddy calls it "will". I had it.
FP: There is one story about you that you sang the American anthem in the face of great danger during your imprisonment. What happened?
Day: After the Son Tay raid by U.S. forces in 1970, the Commies moved us into large rooms containing about 45 prisoners. We were overjoyed to have roommates, as many had been in solitary for 48-52 months. After a few days together, we decided that we were going to have a church service. This would consist of a couple of hymns by 4-5 people who could sing, a short sermon by Col. Robinson Risner, a recitation of some bible verses by a couple of our members, concluding with another hymn. We explained to the Commies what we had in mind on the day before. They advised that this would not happen, and if we persisted, there would be dire consequences -- meaning torture.
We started the church service, and the guards went a bit berserk, ordered us to stop, pointed guns into the room, and issued more orders to stop. We did not stop. They then entered with weapons and ordered everyone involved in the singing or speaking, out of the room, and as they were marched out, I stood up on the cement bed and started singing the Star Spangled Banner. The next room then joined in, and soon every room in the camp was singing. We then sang God Bless America, every song that anyone could remember the words to, and continued to sing for about an hour.
The Commie leadership went berserk, put some people back in leg irons, and solitary and sent me and several "black criminals" out to a crummy camp called Skid Row, where we stayed for several months in small cells. More solitary.
Just before we got exiled to Skid Row, the senior commie came up on the radio and stated that it was always the policy of the Commies to let people enjoy religious expression. The reason for that was that they knew that there was going to be a church service again on the next Sunday and there was. We had a church service every Sunday from that time until we were released in the spring of 1973 -- some two years. They never interfered with church service again.
FP: What do you think caused your victory?
Day: Singing the Star Spangled Banner. That was the right reaction to their removing our church participants out of the room. There had to be a protest against this, but it had to be non-violent. I was sure that all of the other rooms in the camp would pick up on it, and they did. We sang for hours and hours. I was sure in my gut that we would not get shot for this and I was right, but we had to slam the message home that if they were going to deny us church services, that they were going to have to start the torture all over.
They did not fully crank it up, but went back to a few people in irons, a couple of pretty hard beatings with the fan belt, some solitary for a few of us, but it was clear that we had won the battle and had the moral highground.
FP: What do you think your guards were most afraid of?
Day: Overall, the North Vietnamese were terrified that we were going to revolt and have an uprising. They were extremely paranoid as all Communists are, and existed only with high support from the Iron Curtain countries, and China. They always claimed the moral high ground, claiming that little old North Vietnam was just defending itself against the American oppressor, even though they invaded South Vietnam.
Thus, they had to let us out of solitary into big rooms, but they had no idea how to treat us after they had been keeping order by beating us, roping us, and torturing us. They had no idea how disciplined we were, and that we (I) knew that a revolt would cost us a bunch of lives, and that we (I) was not stupid enough to permit a revolt for no reason.
Their initial take on the "church service" was that it was the start of a revolt. After we had done it a few times, they got the picture that it was not threatening to them and while they hated church, they left us alone.
FP: Let’s go back for a second. When you first sang the Star Spangled Banner in the face of possible torture, what did it mean to you?
Day: It was another facet of combat. Things happen. Someone has to act. It happened. I had to do it. No one else was moving or acting, something had to be done. I did it. It was the first time that an American voice had been heard over the walls of the camp. Obviously they lost much face. A big mistake. A small, but important victory for us.
FP: It appears the North Vietnamese were at some stages very confused about what to do with you. Can you talk about that?
Day: Yes, the North Vietnamese were simply at a loss as to how to manage us after torture had been terminated as a national policy. For years, we were tortured frequently and methodically because Ho Chi Minh was alive, and he wanted us to suffer. We were white men. We needed to suffer. This brought about an escape, where one of the escapers got murdered. They responded to the escape by torturing all of the senior leaders, including me.
Some Americans got released and told all the world about how we had been brutalized and tortured. The North Vietnamese had a lot of respect for world opinion as they could not keep the war going in the South, without support from the Communist countries. Thus, following Ho's death, the new government eased off on the brutal torture, and improved our conditions immensely, just by stopping the physical brutality.
Most prisoners were 30-50 pounds underweight. The food improved slightly, and we received an additional blanket, some socks, and were able to resist the cold temperatures much better.
But because Communists were so paranoid, they could not get used to the idea that if they put us together in big rooms that they would have to correspondingly treat us differently.
FP: If you met Jane Fonda one-on-one today, what would this meeting entail?
Day: Jane Fonda is the 20th Century's most famous traitor. I have offered to debate her, but she lacks the courage. She had an opportunity to debate me when I was at a White House Correspondent's event, and she and her husband were in the next room. One of the correspondents suggested a debate, since we were so close. She refused, even though she called me a liar when I told CBS, NBC, ABC and the networks that I had been brutalized and tortured at a press conference that was held a few hours after the "LAST" POW came out of Hanoi.
She claimed that anyone who claimed torture was a liar. I had many marks on my back from beatings with the fan belt, kneeling scars on my knees, ankle scars from the irons, and crippled arms and hands. I showed some of them to the press. Her claim was no torture.
My take on this kook is that the father who rejected her, and the husbands who "dumped" her, had it just right. They knew what an empty bag that she was -- just a little piece of trash.
There wouldn't be much for us to talk about except about her treasonous acts against American G.I.s and she doesn't want to talk about that. The picture of her grinning and hamming it up on a North V anti-aircraft weapon really explains her better than anything else. Who wants to get famous as the greatest traitor of the 20th century? She will do anything for publicity. Her latest: an anti-war bus running on cooking oil. It figures.
FP: The thought of what you experienced and your bravery, juxtaposed with Jane Fonda and, of course, with the Tom Haydens and Jerry Rubins etc., is quite a picture. What do you think of the anti-war types back then? How about the anti-war characters today? Michael Moore, Cindy Sheehan etc? What is their psychology? And how is it that people like Hayden and Fonda know perfectly well that their behaviour and activism facilitated a bloodbath in Southeast Asia and yet they have learned absolutely nothing and today support an American withdrawal from Iraq, knowing full well that yet another bloodbath will follow? What is in their hearts and minds?
Day: Fonda, Hayden, Rubin. I initially thought that they were just a bunch of dopers high on marijuana, and entranced with the idea that they were helping the cause of peace and keeping themselves out of combat.
As the war went along into the late 60s and early 70s, I began to understand that they were revolutionaries who thought they were going to overthrow the government. I couldn't really grasp how people who lived so well under capitalism could possibly believe that Communism was a good thing, because there was not a single thing in communist history that showed it to be a good system. Everything about it was, and is, evil.
So as I began to weigh their motivation, I began to understand that they were communists who wanted the North Vietnamese to win, for capitalism to be overthrown by communists, and for them to seize power.
Stupid and incompetent as they were, these nut cases thought that they could take power in the U.S.A. It demonstrates how disconnected from reality their brains were and are.
This is no joke, however. There is still a deep streak of this same nutty anti-war mentality in the Democratic Party today. Former Governor Paul Dean, John Kerry, John Podesta, much of that body of Kerry supporters are part and parcel of the old hippie anti-war crazies and they still do not understand that the U.S. does not want to surrender to someone.
There is a lot of the radical Left in the Democratic Party’s approach to national politics. Michael Moore's outrageous movie is their daily bread. To understand Michael Moore is to look at him. Scruffy whiskers, dirty ball cap, crummy appearance, obese. To sort him out, just take one look at him and you can instantly draw the obvious conclusion.
The leftie crowd have some common traits. They love the easy life in the U.S., easy money, none of them ever had a demanding job; they have little respect for the working class; they hate conservatives, patriots, capitalists, and the military.
The anti-war types want us to lose in Iraq. Once again, as they did in Vietnam, they want the enemy to win.
FP; What advice do you have for Bush and his administration in our terror war today?
Day: We have to do what Ronald Reagan said and did: "Stay the course."
Read the remarks of former Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird. He says that we will know when Iraq can defend itself. When that time comes, we can start a draw down, and we must start a draw down. But not a day before the Iraqis can fight for themselves.
We have to challenge the Saudis to get with us and support us and the Iraqis. We need to do all we can to get major Muslim imams and religious leaders to condemn the terrorist and senseless murder of fellow Arabs and Muslims -- and to do so with high volume, and high frequency.
The Bush strategy and tactics have worked wonders. After 9/11, the monstrous Taliban were overthrown and expelled from Afghanistan. The Afghanis have voted in a government for the first time in anyone's memory. It isn't perfect, but the Afghan women believe that they have died and gone to heaven. They have some freedom finally. Young girls can go to school and have some dignity.
Saddam is in jail. Elections in Iraq have been held, despite the terror. More elections are coming. Iraqis are free for the first time in history, and choosing a government. Syria has departed Lebanon. Khadafi is out of the terror business. Could all of this really have happened without the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq?
The bottom line is that people will choose freedom and capitalism whenever they are given the free choice.
We have to stay the course.
FP: Bud Day, it was a great honor to speak with you. You are a true American hero. Thank you for joining us today.
Day: Thank you Jamie.