Retired Air Force pilot who was a Prisoner of War (POW) for 2,485 days in North Vietnam from 1966-1973.
So I’m saying, don’t ever sell yourself short. At least try to do what you don’t like, what you don’t think you can do because who knows? You might be able to do it! And that goes for every-day life, not just being a POW. That goes for every-day life. The things that happen in your own lives.
Don’t ever sell yourself short.Read their story »
Freedom Isn’t Free to a Prisoner of War
(Honoring Colonel Jerry Driscoll)
I went to the United States Air Force Academy,
Into pilot training that’s where I got my wings,
That’s where I learned survival, trudging through the snow,
POW training - little did I know,
That soon I would be captured after being shot down,
On my hundredth twelfth mission my feet hit the ground,
Standing up realizing, “My God, here I am!”,
Captured by local farmers, in North Vietnam,
For two thousand, four hundred, eighty-five days,
Six years, ten months I was forced to stay,
The bad guys started beating me up so I might tell,
Them something I’d be sorry for later on as well,
So I had to keep it simple, or else might be dead,
When I started talking, they wrote down all I said,
Most of what I told them was nothing more than lies,
Had to give the same answer to the same question each time,
For two years listed as MIA,
Missing in action, till I was on the front page,
Of the Chicago Daily being marched down the street,
By bayonet through an angry mob of North Vietnamese,
On the back wall of each building each senior man would pound,
On Sunday bowed our heads and said the Lord’s Prayer out loud,
Then said the Pledge of Allegiance, to the east we faced,
The shortest distance to the United States,
Faith in God, faith in country, faith in our buddies,
Fellow Prisoners’ of War kept me from going crazy,
Happiness is a doorknob on the inside of the door,
Freedom isn’t free for a prisoner of war
Freedom isn’t free for those who’ve gone to war
Freedom isn’t free to a prisoner of war
Words & Music by Larry Long with Lauren Hansen 4th Grade Class,
Birchview Elementary School, Wayzata, Minnesota.
© Larry Long Publishing 2012, BMI
Retired Air Force pilot who was a Prisoner of War (POW) for 2,485 days in North Vietnam from 1966-1973.
Good afternoon everybody. I understand this is the 4th grade class at Birchview. Is that correct? Okay.
My name is Jerry Driscoll. My birthday is next month. I was born in 1940. So, how old will I be next month? Anybody know? Anybody guess? Anybody venture a guess? Yes, sir. (student response) You’re close! Seventy-two is correct, yes.
Okay, I was born in Chicago Illinois, big city in Illinois, in 1940. I went to grade school there and high school there. And ah….when I was in high school, my senior year, was when I first heard about the air force academy which was just starting.
I tried to get in there and I found out I needed a congressional nomination so I found I was in the 3rd congressional district in Illinois. And I wrote a letter to my congressman, Emmett Burn. I was like the ten alternate of there. I got in under the wire.
I took some tests and I went down to Schutt Air Force base and took some physical tests and everything down there. As it turns out, I didn’t make it. That was for the class of 1962 at the Air Force Academy, which was still not a full-sized class.
So I didn’t make it. I figured well, I’ll go to college. I ended up going to St. Mary’s college which in Winona, Minnesota, which is now St. Mary’s University. It’s a Catholic…Catholic school. And I figured, well, I had…had not much to lose. I was starting a program to be an accountant. I’d already affected a transfer to St. Joseph’s college in Rensular, Indiana and I figured well, I’d try one more time to go to the Air Force Academy. And I got farther along than I ever had before.
I went down to Schutt Air Force base then, which was still active. Everything looked okay and they found out I was qualified except I had too many cavities in my tooth—in my mouth—and called up my dentist, Dr. Horvitz and he said, as soon as you come into Chicago, back to Chicago. I took the train, which I did. he had a patient in there, he took him out and sat him down. Put me in the chair, he drilled and filled all the cavities I had and he sat down and wrote a letter. “You mail it.” And I did. Didn’t hear anything about it. I got my usual summer job at Capernaum Insurance, which is in downtown Chicago, which my mom was working for at the time.
My grandfather met us at the door around the 10th of June in 1959 and he said, There’s a large brown envelope waiting for you. The upper right, upper left hand corner said Headquarters United Air Force Academy.
I opened it up and it said, You have been selected to enter into Class of 1963, which enters the 26th of June, 1959, which is what I did. I was in the first full-sized class at the Air Force Academy. It wasn’t until we became seniors that the Air Force Academy was at that time its full, authorized strength, which was twenty-four hundred cadets. We had 2400 squadrons, 24 cadet squadrons of a hundred cadets each.
So I graduated in ah…June, June 5th of 1963. Got a bachelor of science degree and a commission as a second lieutenant. I went to pilot training. After only one-half a pilot training on T-37s, I had a back operation for a herniated disc, sometimes known as a ruptured disc, which washed me back one class. I joined my new class, which is all ROTC graduates and one of my classmates, he and his wife had been in an accident at Thanksgiving, of ’63, so I felt like I’d finally graduated because all of my classmates were ROTC and OTS and a couple of guard guys and a couple of foreign students and it was really kinda cool. I felt like I’d finally graduated because my previous class, 65-Bravo, I was now in 65-Charlie, was all my classmates.
It was 43 Air Force Academy, one West Pointer, two guard guys. And you know, when you had to get down to the third decimal point to figure out who was ahead of who, you know, it was kinda bad. So it was kinda nice being in the new class with all the ROTC guys. I was able to do that.
I graduated in October of 1964. And I got my wings with an assignment to the F-105 Thunder Chief, which at that time was a Cadillac of fighter air planes, which was just coming down to pilot fighting classes. I was only in about the third or fourth pilot training class they got of the F-105s.
So I went to survival training, which was at the Stead Air Force Base, which is now closed and before it got moved to Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington, D. C. I learned survival techniques. I was there for about three weeks. Spent one week trudging through snow and everything in Tahoe National Forest. But prior to that, I spent three days on going POW training in case ah…I got captured.
The only experience that we had all had, that our country had had was what happened in Korea where 21 guys elected not to come home. Eventually they all did. They all elected to stay back in North Korea. But ah, little did I know that a year and a half later, my experience going through POW training would come into play. I’ll cover that here in a second.
But I was ah…ah…I finished training there and I went to Nellis Air Force Base. I was there for six months. I checked on the F-105 as a brand new first lieutenant ‘cause I’d been promoted. I was there with nine other guys, all lieutenants. I learned how to fly the F-105 Thunder Chief. Which is a single-seat single engine airplane.
I got a few rides in the ah…two seated F-Model, but I was primarily going to be flying the single-seat, single-engine F-105D. I finished that and went to McConnell Air Force Base for about three months. And at that time, Vietnam was just ah…cracking up.
They were sending people TDY—temporary duty. They decided to send people PCS—Permanent Change of Station to Southeast Asia. I was advised to go to ah…there to southeast Asia and volunteered because I was gonna go with the…with the best of the four squadrons at the time. Because McConnell Air Force Base, which is located in Wichita Kansas.
I was advised to go to volunteer because I was going to go with the best of the four squadrons because at the time, McConnell had two F-105 wings, four squadrons each. A total of eight squadrons of F-105s flying over there.
And they were going to send the other wing to southeast Asia. So I was advised to volunteer, which I did. I went with the best of the four squadrons of the 469th-Tack fighter squadrons. They were going to the best of the two bases. Korat Air Base, which is where I was and the other base is Takhli Air Base, both located in Thailand, the country of Thailand.
So I got over there in the middle of November, 1965 as a young, first-year lieutenant and by mid-March of 1966, as a 1st lieutenant, I was briefing and leading missions as a 1st lieutenant in my first tour, which is kinda cool. I did that three different times where I briefed and lead missions where the other three members were probably senior to me.
As a matter of fact, most of the time, my number two man was my flight commander. A guy by the name of Fred Coleman and number three might have been another lieutenant and then number four would be the assistant flight commander. They were all very senior captains.
And it was on the 24th of April, 1966 on my hundred and twelfth total mission, 81st over North Vietnam, because they had some restrictions that came into play on the 1st of February, 1966 that I was shot down.
And when I was ah…about to the target, I was number four, second flight of four F-105s or THUD as it was affectionately called. It’s a, it’s an affectionate name now, but at that time was a derogatory name.
I could hear over the radio my squadron commander who was mission commander, Bill Cooper, was shot down by service-to-air missle. It turned out, he did not make it. We’re still pretty well in-bound to the target, we’re pretty well spread out. We’re at about a 1000 feet. I thought I was doing about 400 to 450 knots, which is almost 500 miles an hour.
I told my story when I got home to Fred Coleman, he said Whadda mean 450, try 550. Which is about 600 miles an hour. I was going darn fast at a thousand feet. About that time, we’d come over a low hill and I saw some gray puffs in front of me, to the side. My aircraft jumped. I thought I’d been hit. I did a quick check of the engine and instruments. No indications there. I looked over to the left canopy rail and I’m looking down the gun barrels of a 37 or a 57 millimeter triple A site. Anti-aircraft artillery, that’s what triple A stands for.
Well, I thought maybe I didn’t get hit. But about twenty seconds later my number three man who was a guy by the name of Bill Sacker, Captain Bill Sacker, calls over the radio, “Pecan 4, you’re on fire.” That was our call sign, was for our flight, was Pecan flight.
At about that time, I saw a red blinking overhead light, started blinking, and a couple seconds after that, the aircraft started to roll. I hadn’t moved the stick. I’d lost hydraulics. So with the aircraft inverted at a 1000 feet, I reached for the ejection handles. Next thing I know, I’m still in the sitting position.
As it turns out, I’m on the ground. And I was connected with a…with a…what’s known as a zero-delay, which means as soon as you separate from the seat, the seat pulls the…the D-handle on the parachute and the parachute opens right now.
I estimate maybe I got two swings in the chute. I don’t know. I’ve been told I could be hypnotized, but I’ve declined. I said, “No thank you.” I realized, My God, here I am. And ah…my helmet was gone, my right glove was gone, my right sleeve was shredded all the way up to the seam on the shoulder. I had half a dozen cuts on my right arm, which eventually became infected because I didn’t receive any medical treatment for the first couple months I was there.
I stood up after realizing My God, here I am, stood up, took off my parachute harness. Was in the process of ah, taking off my G-suit, which is an item that you put over your flight suit which ah, when you pulled any kind of Gs, would inflate, which kept the blood from pulling down into your legs so you wouldn’t pass out. Okay?
Anytime you’re in a jet fighter or anything like that, you’re, you’re pulling quite a few Gs. As I was in the process of taking off my G-suit, when I was captured by the local farmers. Hi, guys! You know, heh. 2
Now they were more afraid of me than I was of them apparently. So for the next six years, ten months, I was a prisoner of war. And ah…we heard about what was going on. And anytime we could get a new shoot-down, we’d interrogate those individuals. If they thought they had interrogations when they were first captured by the bad guys, they ain’t seen nothing until after we interrogated them. [chuckle]
Well, we heard about the Paris peace talks in early 1973 and the signing of the Paris Peace Agreements on the 27th of January of ’73. And we got our own personal copy of the protocol pertaining to POWs. Wherein it stated that no later than the 12th of February of ’73, a minimum of one-fourth of the POWs would be released.
Well, knowing the Vietnamese like we did, we felt quite certain they would wait until the last day and release no more than one-fourth. Well, as we’re waiting for all this to happen, Colonel Riserner, who is the ranking prisoner in that particular camp, told the camp commander how he wanted the release ceremony to be held.
That is, sick and injured first, followed by shoot-down order beginning with Alvarez, who was shot down August of 1964. So anytime I would feel sorry for myself, I’d like about old Alvarez who was shot down about ah…almost two years before me. And I didn’t feel so bad after that. Okay.
Sure enough, the twelfth of February arrives and I am in, in fact, in that first group. I knew my shoot-down date and I knew I was gonna be, probably gonna be in that first group. And I was. So ah, the twelfth of February of ’73 arrives and I am in that first group. I got released along with about 112 others.
We flew to Clark Air Base where I met my escort officer who was a non-rated officer who was ah…another captain like I was. He was stationed at Hickam Base in Honolulu, Hawaii. We landed at Travis Air Force Base after…I was in the hospital at Clark Air Base in the Philippines for about four days.
Got onto a C-141 aircraft and was transported directly back to the United States. We ended at Travis Air Force Base the morning, Friday morning, the 16th of February. And ah, got onto a C-9 Nightingale which is the military version of a DC-9. It’s a hospital ship, hospital airplane. And there were three of us there on the airplane and I was the junior man of the three.
We landed in March AFB because my mom had sold the house in Illinois and had moved to southern California. She was living in an apartment there in southern California. I met her at March AFB in Riverside, California. My mom was there.
For the next several hours we just went into my hospital room, closed the door and we just kinda caught up with all that had been happening since I was gone.
I was able to continue my air force career after spending four or five months in the hospital on convalescent leave. And ah…I was going kinda nuts so I figured, Well, I gotta get outta here.
So I went to Randolph AFB to check out T-38, which was kinda neat ‘cause I’d never flown a T-38 ‘cause I’d flown a T-33, which is an antiquated airplane which is now an antiquated airline. That’s what I was flying when I got my wings.
So I had a chance to fly a T-38, which is a three-month program, about sixty hours worth. And it was kinda cool. I picked up my own call-sign. I am Freedom2-6. ‘Cause I was the twenty-sixth person to go through that program.
I flew for the first time in August of 1973, which is ah…kinda cool. So anytime I go down for reunions, which is usually the end of March, first weekend in April of every year—they have an annual dining out, dining IN for us, which means it’s only military people and guests that can come to that, no wives, or ah, females, are allowed. Although there are no female officers and there are female instructors that are now teaching there.
But anyway, my call-sign is now Freedom2-6. And I will always be Freedom2-6. So after that, I was able to go to George AFB, which is in Victorville, California, just north of St. Bernardino. And I checked out the F-4, which at that time was a premier aircraft for the air force to become, eventually become instructor in the F-4 down in Homestead AFB, just south of Miami.
So I was there for four and a half months or so. I checked on the F-4. Went down to Homestead AFB and ah…was there for, I got the minimum amount of time in the F-4. They counted my time in the F-105 as minimum amount of time to send me to instructor school so I was there for, at Luke AFB, in Phoenix, Arizona for about twelve weeks. Checked out as an instructor in the F-4.
So, I flew the F-4 for almost, well almost three years, over three years. But half my time in the F-4 was in the back seat. I really enjoyed the F-4 and I can make a better landing from the back seat than I can from the front seat.
I spent three years at Homestead AFB and then I was selected to be one of the attendees at the Army Commander General Staff College, which is intermediate service school, which is, for me, would have been air commander staff at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, Alabama.
I ended up going to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas as one of twenty air force exchange officers at the Army school. If you have any intention of making General in the Army, you have to attend Fort Leavenworth in residence, not by correspondence, not by seminar, but you have to attend Fort Leavenworth in residence. So it was kinda cool.
I learned more about my own service. Because the fact that we’re wearing blue suits, we’re automatically air power experts whether you’re wearing wings or one guy had a PhD in weather and he was a weatherman, of course he had no wings, but he was automatically airpower expert. So, it was kinda cool. So we spent one year there.
After one year there, I went to Norton AFB, which is San Bernardino.
I was in the Air Force Inspection Safety Center. I was a safety action officer. I was responsible for the F-105, which is an older aircraft. I was also responsible for the A-10 aircraft, which the Air Force was just getting. At that time, we only had like fifty airplanes, but they were being built by Republic, ah, Fairchild Republic at Farmingdale, New York.
So even though I’d never flown the airplane, the A-10, I was automatically the safety expert in the Air Force for the A-10.
So I was ah…quite aware of whatever safety implications there were for the A-10 aircraft and as units, especially guard units, were getting, er converting from F-100s or A-37 to ah, the A-10, I was giving them a briefing over the weekend, a training weekend for them, and telling them about the A-10.
So after only three years, I requested release from my duty, which is normally a four-year tour, from the commander of the Safety Center ah…because I wanted to have a chance of being considered to be a squadrant commander.
So, I got air training command—ATC—assigned as a T-38 instructor. I went to Columbus, Mississippi. By the way, let me back up a little bit. My first son, my only son, was born in Mussman Army Hospital in August, 1977. He’s living in Stockton, California with my…with my grandkids.
Anyway, let me jump forward again. So here we are at Columbus, Mississippi and they sent me to Randolph AFB because I’d been an instructor in the F-4. It’s normally a three-month program to become an instructor in the T-38 and they only let me go through for two months in the 38.
I became an instructor there for about a year and a half and then one day, Colonel Sekreskey, commander at Columbus AFB called me and said I was going to be a squadrant commander at Air Force Survival School at Fairchild AFB in Spokane, Washington.
Well, here I was, a squadrant commander. I was not flying squadron, but it required flying squadron, a flying person to be a squadron commander. So here I was in a squadron of 45 NCOs, non-commissioned officers, all with ah, survival experience, from an E-4 buck sergeant to an E-9 Chief Master sergeant—as high as you can go in the enlisted ranks.
I was one of seven officers. But I felt like I was able to put my POW experiences to good use. That I was able to do all that good stuff and told about my experiences. Made colonel, which is the highest rank you can get before general. It’s called, it’s an O-6. And I spent my last years in the Air Force as an ROTC commander at University California Berkley, which is the second best assignment I’ve ever had. Also, a non-rated assignment. And I retired from the Air Force on the first of July, 1977.
It was at that time I was accepted to American Airlines because they were hiring retired military who were still on flying status and I was still on flying status even though I hadn’t flown an airplane in five and a half years. You know, I was still accepted as a 727 engineer for one year, a DC-10 engineer for two years.
I was based on the West Coast. And then I was accepted into the 767 as an international first officer. I was assigned from San Fransciso to Chicago. I’d gotten remarried. My first wife and I had gotten a divorce, my son Donald who was born in Musseman Army Hospital. He and his mother and I, we split after about 12 – 13 years. And I got remarried in February of ’92. That was right after I got remarried that I was accepted into the training for the 767.
So I flew for American Airlines until I retired in February of 2000. So I flew for American Airlines for twelve and a half years. And retired. The last 16 months, I was a captain in a 727, big airplane. I was a captain for American Airlines, which was like, I was like…G-d. [chuckles] It was a fantastic assignment.
I threw people off my airplane two different times because I could, I was the captain and my…my bosses, the chief pilot in Chicago said, you know, asked me what happened, I told ‘im what happened he said, Okay, no problem. That’s the last I ever heard of it.
‘Cause American’s philosophy was Captains be captains. And I was captain on a 727, which was great. So I retired from American Airlines and I got a job flying for a company called NetJets, which is corporate jets.
I was flying a Citation 10, which is world’s fastest business jet. Carries eight people, group, too. No flight attendant unless the ah…passenger requests it. and then, ah, I flew for them for over nine years. So I retired and I flew for the last time at the end of…the 31st of July of 2009.
So I’ve been flying the entire time from August of ’63 until July of 2009. Long time and I flew the entire time. I haven’t flown since then.
It was about well, almost two years ago that I was diagnosed with what’s known as PLS, primary lateral sclerosis, which is a benign form of ALS, which many people know is Lou Gehrig’s disease. As you can see, I have a walker, which I’m now needing to get around. I can still walk around, which is kinda cool. It’s kinda nice to be able to sit down and talk to you all.
Hopefully, I’ve covered my entire life and you’ve written down some questions and you can go ahead and ask the questions after we take a short break.