j.g. Everett Alvarez Jr.
pilot survived Hanoi's 'Fiery Furnace' to return home with
Philadelphia, Alvarez leads the GOP convention in
the Pledge of Allegiance on Aug. 1. (Photo by Greg
E. Mathieson / MAI)
5, 1964, Lt. j.g. Everett Alvarez Jr., an A-4 Skyhawk pilot
with a squadron aboard the USS Constellation, was given an
ocean target near the Vietnam-China border at Hon Gai. Before
he reached the bay, Alvarez signaled, "411 [his call
numbers], I'm hit
I can't control it, I'm ejecting."
Captured in a Vietnamese fishing vessel when he landed, Alvarez
became one of the first pilots to be shot down during the Vietnam conflict,
and perhaps the longest-held American prisoner in any war.
no official declaration of war had been made, Alvarez was
branded a "criminal" and taken to the place the
Vietnamese called the "fiery furnace": Hanoi's Hoa
Lo prison, where the thick concrete walls meant isolation.
Alvarez's cell was infested with vermin, and his rations consisted
of chicken heads, rotting fish, and animal hooves. For eight
and a half years at various prisoner-of-war camps, Alvarez
remained focused on his commitment to service. "Everbody
was tortured," he said. "You did what you had to
do. You withstood what you could, knowing sometimes they'll
conditions, Alvarez asserted what control he could. When captors
entered his cell to interrogate him, for instance, he would
invite them to sit down. The American POWs not only formed
their own code of conduct, they continued to help each other.
Alvarez, like many of his comrades, reached out to those who
became withdrawn or sick.
finally came in February 1973, Alvarez -- a Salinas, Calif.,
native and the first college graduate in his family -- used
the determination that had seen him through his long years
of imprisonment to attend law school. After leaving the military,
he served as deputy administrator for the Department of Veterans
Affairs and wrote two books about his captivity. Recipient
of numerous awards, including the Silver Star and the Distinguished
Flying Cross, Alvarez is now president of his own management-consulting
firm. Of the Vietnam War, he says, "It was a noble cause.
We were trying to maintain freedom as we know it. We just
went about it the wrong way."