OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. --
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Barry B. Bridger was shot down Jan. 23, 1967, by a surface-to-air missile over Son Tay, North Vietnam, only to be captured later by the North Vietnamese and imprisoned at Hoa Loa Prison, also known to the POWs as the Hanoi Hilton.
Bridger was presumed Missing in Action until 1970, when the Vietnamese government acknowledged he was alive and a prisoner of war.
“What I am most inspired about is his message that the ideas of the American spirit exist throughout generations and that this young generation has that same DNA” said Col. Michael Manion, 55th Wing commander. “That same core, that same spirit of resiliency, innovation and overcoming obstacles, is as resident with this generation as it was with him, despite serving in a prison camp in North Vietnam. This was a wonderful opportunity and we are very thankful.”
Hoa Loa was originally built by the French about 1886 for political prisoners when Vietnam was still a part of French Indochina. While this prison camp had a maximum capacity of 600 prisoners, by 1954 there were over 2,000 held within its fences.
The camp was infamous for the unsanitary conditions, starvation and the severe torture methods they imposed on POWs. Camp authorities used a variety of exploitation tactics on the prisoners to try to get the POWs to discredit America. Today the gate house still remains as a museum, but the prison area was demolished during the 1990s.
“For nearly two and a half centuries, America and our allies have been freedom champions and the sacrifice that safeguards, liberties contingent to secure by the shed blood of American warriors like you,” said Bridger. “None know better than you, none know better than the combat veteran that the cost of freedom is high, the blessing of liberty, priceless, but liberty is not just for Americans, our allies and friends, liberty is our God given natural right of all mankind.”
After spending 2,232 days in captivity, Bridger was released during Operation Homecoming March 4, 1973. Following repatriation in March 1973, he requalified in jet aircraft and was assigned to Seymour Johnson, North Carolina.
Bridger retired after 22 years of service in the Air Force, his awards include the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star Medal with valor, Purple Heart with one oak leaf cluster, Air Medal with four leaf clusters and the Prisoner of War Medal.
“The presentation today gave us a lot of insight into the values of America to how we conduct ourselves in everyday business here in the Air Force”, said Staff Sgt. Cliff McElroy, 55th Wing Judge Advocate paralegal. “I appreciated the historical perspective from a generation that we don’t hear about too often.”