Wendy and I are in Hanoi now (my second trip to Vietnam, her first). It's a vibrant, thriving place that reminds a little of Paris.
When I was here before, I realized that the Vietnamese had long ago moved past their wars of independence (1945-1975). Indeed two-thirds of the Vietnamese population has been born after 1975.
Above is a monument at Truc Bach Lake which the Vietnamese put up to memorialize the shooting down of John McCain. The text reads (in Vietnamese) along the lines: "On October 26, 1967, Lt. John McCain in his A4 B1 was shot down in this lake." The image at the center shows McCain (hands raised) surrendering.
McCain was fortunate. After he had bombed a power station in downtown Hanoi, his plane was shot down and he crashed in the Truc Bach Lake (shown behind the monument in the above photo). Had he crashed on land, he would have been killed. North Vietnamese civilians went out to the center of the lake and pulled McCain out of the wreckage.
McCain was badly wounded. Shown above is a North Vietnamese doctor treating the surviving crash victim.
McCain then was put in the infamous Hoa Lo Prison. This ghastly, brutal place was built by the French in 1896 to incarcerate and torture Vietnamese felons and subversives. If you've seen the 1973 film Papillon, you've got an idea what Hoa Lo was like. The colonial French were good at prisons. Hoa Lo even had its own guillotine (which was used often).
Between 1964 and 1973, Hoa Lo was used for imprisoning American pilots who were shot down. Shown above is a cell door.
Shown above is a typical Hoa Lo cell which would have been shared by four or five American prisoners.
John McCain spent five and half years here, and was released with the other POWs in 1973.
In the spring of 2000, he returned to Hoa Lo. There are photos of his return on display at the prison. Having put his POW experience long behind him, McCain did not seem bitter at all.
That was another era.