DES MOINES, Iowa — There are more than 83,000 American soldiers still unaccounted for, which is one of the reasons POW/ MIA Recognition Day is so important.
Thanks to new DNA technology, more troops are identified and returned home every year.
Retired Naval Officer Larry Spencer said his almost seven years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, at what soldiers called the Hanoi Hilton, were extremely positive and in the end, enriched his life.
“Almost everyone was an officer, because we were aviators and there was no ground war in north Vietnam. And we had the benefits of most guys having a college education. So we taught each other mathematics, we taught history, we had guys that had majored in about anything and they would have courses,” Spencer said.
Exercise and communication by talking or tapping on the wall helped the captured soldiers stay positive, especially when many soldiers started in what resembles solitary confinement.
“Cells were four feet wide and eight feet long and some people spent six months in that cell so you got a new appreciation for a lion pacing in the zoo just back and forth,” Spencer said.
Another former Hanoi Hilton prisoner, Harold Johnson said sharing stories with one another was essential to normalcy and he became friends with two soldiers who were also POW’s in World War II.
“And all they did was tear down the fences and say ‘Go.’ So he and his friends head off and they had some interesting stories getting to Paris and finally getting a jeep and running around Europe to try and find a proper tour home,” Johnson said.
Spencer said returning soldiers home, especially those missing in action, gives families closure.
“It really helps the families to know what happened, maybe not all of the details, but they know what happened. And they are able to have a physical spot they can go to acknowledge the sacrifice of their family member. Those things are very important,” Spencer said.