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.
So I went to see this visitor who said he was from Spain, but who I later heard was from Cuba. He never asked me any questions about controversial subjects or my treatment or my feelings about the war. I told him I had no remorse about what I did, and that I would do it over again if the same opportunity presented itself. That seemed to make him angry, because he was a sympathizer of the North Vietnamese.
At the time this happened, a photographer came in and took a couple of pictures. I had told "The Cat" that I didn't want any such publicity. So when I came back—the interview lasted about 15, 20 minutes—I told him I wasn't going to see another visitor because he had broken his word. Also at that time Capt. Jeremiah Denton, who was running our camp at that time, established a policy that we should not see any delegations.
In March, I got a roommate, Col. John Finley, Air Force. He and I lived together for approximately two months. A month after he moved in, "The Cat" told me I was going to see another delegation. I refused and was forced to sit on a stool in the "Heartbreak" courtyard area for three days and nights. Then I was sent back to my room.
The pressure continued on us to see antiwar delegations. By early in June I was moved away from Colonel Finley to a room that they called "Calcutta," about 50 yards away from the nearest prisoners. It was 6 feet by 2 feet with no ventilation in it, and it was very, very hot. During the summer I suffered from heat prostration a couple or three times, and dysentery. I was very ill. Washing facilities were nonexistent. My food was cut down to about half rations. Sometimes I'd go for a day or so without eating.