I'm proud of the part Joe and my wife, Carol, played here at home. The temptation for the wives, as the years went by, was to say, "God, I want them home under any circumstances." When Carol was pressed to take this line, her answer was, "Just to get him home is not enough for me, and it's not enough for John—I want him to come home standing up."
I received very few letters from Carol. I got three in the first four months after I was shot down. The "gooks" let me have only one during the last four years I was there. I received my first package in May of 1969. After that, they let me have approximately one a year.
The reason I got so little mail was that Carol insisted on using the channels provided by the Geneva Convention for treatment of prisoners of war. She refused to send things through the Committee for Liaison with Families run by the antiwar groups.
This brings me to something that I want to discuss in more detail:
As you may know, back in 1954, the North Vietnamese had a big hand in toppling the French Government in Paris because the French voters had no more stomach for the Vietnam war their Government was waging at the time. That was the way the North Vietnamese won in 1954—they didn't win in Vietnam.
The French agreed to pull out of Indo-China with no questions asked when they signed the agreement. As a result, they got back just one third of their POW's.
I'm convinced that Hanoi hoped to win in our case by undermining morale among the people at home in America. They had to marshal world opinion on their side. I remember in 1968 or '69 [North Vietnam Premier] Pham Van Dong's speech to the National Assembly, because we were blasted with these things on the loud-speakers. The title of his address was, "The Whole World Supports Us," not, "We Have Defeated the U. S. Aggressors," or anything like that.
In 1969, after the three guys who were released went back to the U. S. and told about the brutality in the POW camps, President Nixon gave the green light to publicizing this fact. It brought a drastic change in our treatment. And I thank God for it, because if it hadn't been for that a lot of us would never have returned.
Just one small example of the way things improved: Over my door were some bars, covered by a wooden board to keep me from seeing out, and to block ventilation. One night, around the end of September, 1969, "Slopehead," the camp commander himself, came around and pulled this thing off, so that I could have some ventilation. I couldn't believe it. Every night from then on they pulled that transom so I could get some ventilation. We started bathing more often. It was all very amazing.
In December of 1969 I was moved from "The Pentagon" over to "Las Vegas." "Las Vegas" was a small area of Hoala Prison which was built by the French in 1945. It was known as the "Hanoi Hilton" to Americans. "Heartbreak Hotel" is also there—that's the first place that people were usually taken for their initial interrogations and then funneled out to other camps.
This whole prison is an area of about two city blocks. At "Las Vegas," I was put in a small building of just three rooms called the "Gold Nugget." We named the buildings after the hotels in Vegas—there was the "Thunderbird," "Stardust," "Riviera," "Gold Nugget" and the "Desert Inn."
I was moved into the "Gold Nugget," and immediately I was able to establish communications with the men around the camp, because the bath area was right out my window, and I could see through cracks in the doors of the bath and we would communicate that way. I stayed in that one, in solitary confinement, until March of 1970.
There was pressure to see American antiwar delegations, which seemed to increase as the time went on. But there wasn't any torture. In January of 1970, I was taken to a quiz with "The Cat." He told me that he wanted me to see a foreign guest. I told him what I had always told him before: that I would see the visitor, but I would not say anything against my country, and if I was asked about my treatment I would tell them how harsh it was. Much to my surprise he said, "Fine, you don't have to say anything." I told him I'd have to think about it. I went back to my room and I asked the senior American officer in our area what his opinion was, and he said he thought that I should go ahead.