“The Incredibly Stupid One” (Stories From The Vietnam War)

the incredibly stupid one the hanoi hilton vietnam war p.o.w douglas brent hegdahl was still a young man from south dakota when he decided to join the navy and fight in the vietnam war like many other young men of his beliefs doug had no doubt when the country called he was ready to take up arms against his country’s enemies even as far as vietnam after all the way he saw it it was a great opportunity to see the world when hegdahl joined the rank and file in 1965 he was 19. the first stop was the navy recruiting office once enlisted he was sent to the boot camp in san diego after completing the course doug went to war as a sailor onboard a missile cruiser named the uss canberra the uss ken barrow was deployed to the gulf of tonkin in 1967 operating north of the demilitarized zone the kimberas task was to use the powerful 5-inch and 8-inch guns against the enemy shore installations and communication lines which were used to supply the enemy troops in the south it was during the early morning of april 6 1967 when doug witnessed the mighty power of these guns either unaware or simply neglecting the rule to keep clear while the guns were operating doug was knocked overboard by a blast from the weapon by the time he had realized what had happened he was already in the sea and his ship was sailing away his shipmates reported him missing two days later without a life preserver doug could do nothing but float and wait for something to happen he could see the outskirts of the shore but the currents were too strong for him to swim there after more than 12 hours in the sea doug was finally saved by some north vietnamese fishermen it was an unfortunate turn of events though this was not the end as the fishermen handed doug over to the north vietnamese authorities doug being of an above average height would not have passed as a pilot his story of being knocked overboard by a blast was hard to swallow for the north vietnamese interrogators they thought he was either a spy or a soldier on a covert operation realizing the seriousness of the situation doug made the decision to play dumb as it turned out it was a smart move and so doug’s game began he was taken to the hoilo prison popularly called by american pows as the hanoi hilton the prison was everything but a pleasant place american prisoners were tied down with iron stocks inside their chambers and were beaten and tortured on a daily basis the north vietnamese even had special torture rooms where most of the interrogations were held in a savage manner prisoners had their hands tied to their ankles in this position prisoners were suspended on meat hooks and left to hang for days doug pretended to be the dumb son of a petty farmer who was so poor that he even had no water buffaloes unlike farmers in north vietnam the role complied with the vietnamese interrogators interests who believed the poor boy to be of a great material for their propaganda activities they didn’t know that the boy’s intelligence went far beyond his portrayal in prison doug played his dumb role perfectly during interrogations when communist officers ordered him to write an anti-war statement to everyone’s surprise he joyfully agreed to do it officers brought the ink and paper and as they started to dictate doug admitted that he could not read nor write it was a lie that sat perfectly within his role as a poor dumb farmer son more importantly the officers believed him he was then assigned a tutor that was supposed to teach him basic literacy all of their efforts were futile because doug played his role so perfectly after some time officers gave up on him believing there was no chance he’d learn anything he was therefore nicknamed the incredibly stupid one it was exactly what doug had planned for he managed to avoid interrogations which were often accompanied by torture and convinced the enemy that he was no threat at all considered stupid and incapable of causing harm doug was allowed to move around the prison freely the truth was however that doug posed a serious threat because of his reputation as a fool doug was the only prisoner allowed to stay in the courtyard when everyone else was confined to their cells he was allowed to sweep the courtyard and the perimeter outside the prison gates one time he convinced the guards that he needed new glasses and on the way to the shop he memorized the prison and its position within the city [Music] doug also used his freedom to wander around the camp committing sabotage whenever an opportunity presented itself during resting hours doug was sweeping the courtyard under surveillance of just one guard once that lone guard fell asleep doug would approach the nearby trucks and pour a small amount of dirt into their fuel tanks with this method he managed to disable five enemy trucks he wasn’t able to fight the war the way he was trained to but he found a way to fight it the best he could one of the prisoners who recognized doug’s intellectual potential was a u.s air force officer named joe crecker kreka developed his own method of creating memory banks and taught doug the names of 256 american prisoners in the hanoi hilton along with the names of either their dogs kids or even social security numbers the curious thing was that doug memorized these names to the tune of old macdonald had a farm the song doug learned turned out to be his ticket out of prison every now and then the north vietnamese organized the release of three prisoners as part of their propaganda activities it was august 1969 when the time came for doug aka the stupid one to be released doug was reluctant to go there was a pact among the prisoners that no one should accept an offer of early release those who accepted an early release were considered traitors to this pact and to their comrades aside from this prisoner pact he was fearful of the dishonor of returning home from the war early he would rather die in prison only after his superior and roommate lieutenant commander dick stratton gave him a direct order to do so did doug agree to be released the way the rest of the prisoners saw it doug was the best candidate as he knew the names of almost all the prisoners along with identifying information about them such data would be valuable to the us government he also knew the structure of the entire prison camp as well as his position in the city of hanoi given his liberty to move freely around the camp when he returned home to the states doug told us navy officers who questioned him everything he had learned while in prison they were surprised with the number of names he had remembered despite attempts to have doug recite the names in a more comprehensible fashion he was unable to the only way he knew how was by singing along with the old macdonald had a farm song many of the names doug gave belonged to men believed to have been killed in action an important outcome of doug’s time in the north vietnamese prison was his role at the paris peace conference in 1970 where he shared with the world the horrors that american pows were suffering through in the north vietnamese prisoner camps lieutenant commander dick stratton the savior and friend of doug was of a particular concern to him he sees the opportunity in paris to publicly accuse the north vietnamese of murdering stratton to save face in the view of the world the north vietnamese officials made sure stratton returned home alive back to safety the plan had worked how doug had hoped saving his friend stratton never forgot what doug did for him and every pow from the hanoi hilton prison he described the incredibly stupid one as his hero the archetype of the innovative resourceful and courageous american sailor you
Video source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHiThRa8mb0

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