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Return With Honor












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Online Chat Transcript

Yahoo! Moderator:

Thu Nov 9 13:05:57 2000
I'm very proud and pleased to welcome
Major Gen. Ed Mechenbier, USAF and Col. George (Bud) Day, USAF
to Yahoo! chat
Good afternoon gentlemen!

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

GD - Hello!
EM - And this is Major General Ed Mechenbier in Dayton, Ohio

maria_daniels asks:

Is it difficult to relive your experience in Vietnam by participating in films like Return With Honor?

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

GD - Not for me.
In fact, it was a great opportunity for us to tell our story

Yahoo! Moderator:

You've seen the film....

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

EM - Yes.
Bud Day is a Congressional Medal of Honor winner
so he can handle anything.

wexley1466 asks:

Does the fact that you're POWs still affect you in your everyday lives?

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

GD - I think it does.
There's not a day that goes by
where the subject does not come up.
It's an event that certainly shaped me in many respects.
probably most important,
the concern that I now have for the country
and the political system.
And for my fellow members of the military.
EM - I largely agree with Bud.
you can't wake up every day and appreciate more
what too many people take for granted.
our democratic freedoms and way of life.
We shared an experience that doesn't necessarily
make us part of an elite group.
But we have a bond that will never erode.
A bond that we share with the men and women
who serve in the armed forces today.
Like Veterans Day.

greggy_man2000 asks:

Were you guys in Vietnam

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

Temporarily referred to as the Hanoi Hilton.

bigdaddy_67_us asks:

I was born in August of 1967 and am pondering what it was like to be in prison until the age I became 5 in 1972

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

EM - Bud, you're older than I am and thus much wiser ...
GD - Our days in prisoner camp were extremely harsh
The food was bad,
the living conditions were terrible.
there was physical and mental mistreatment.
There was basically little to no communication
with our families.
A bunch of our time was in solitary.
I spent 38 months of my 67 months in solitary.
All in all, it was a very difficult time
In a few words, that was what it was like.
Cold
Hungry
Sick
Lonely.
EM - There is no comparable experience.
You can't say it's like anything you see on TV now.
Not a great percentage of us died from it,
but no one came out of it the same physically or mentally
as when we went in.
Watch the TV show .... at 9pmET .... on Monday night the 13th.
Because of some of the footage,
it's probably the best chance to see some of the actual footage.
You can see the physical environment in which we were kept.
You'll see footage of the aircraft fire
which tells a very graphic and scary story.

Yahoo! Moderator:

Were you surprised that the footage was released?

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

GD - No, I wasn't surprised.
The Vietnamese are trying very hard to put those years behind them.
It was bad for them in terms of their image.
And the issues were quite important.
They're trying hard to redeem their national image
from one of being very cruel captors
to something a little better.
It'll be difficult for them to do.
EM - Ditto.

smiling_eyes_4u2c asks:

Good Afternoon. I would like to know how you managed to stay sane in such horrible conditions for several years.

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

EM - If nothing else, it is amazing what the human body and human mind
can endure when tested.
People who ask that question would be amazed themselves
at how resilient they are.
Something so strange and foreign
seems incomprehensible.
But you keep faith in each other,
faith in your country.
It's amazing.
There's a bond that comes out of that testing,
that trial by fire.
Once you've been there,
you never forget the question.
GD - Very well said.
The thing is, if you're a non-military type,
there are few opportunities to be put to those tests.
Luckily, the average person never gets put to one of these
So they don't realize the great assets you have in yourselves.
None of us were volunteers.
It was the random draw of fate.
We succeeded extremely well
and I don't think any of us expected to do as well as we did.

trucka_72 asks:

Did you two act as ground troops, gunners, pilots, etc?

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

EM - We were both fighter pilots.
Colonel Day was a F100 pilot.
I was an F4C pilot.
Both fighter pilots.

maria_daniels asks:

What did you think when your plane first got shot down?

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

EM - You're in denial.
I'm a fighter pilot.
I'm in control.
Don't bother me.
In the movie, they captured that.
All of a sudden, I had a guy stting behind me saying
we're not going to make it.
Suddenly there really was something bad happening here.
Not just something I could fix.
GD - I was likewise as surprised
Frankly, I felt I was bullet-proof.
i did not have any expectations of getting shot down.
I'd had a lot of combat missions
and had been hit a few times
and thought those smaller hits were all I'd ever get.
EM - Like Bud, I was on my 118th mission.
I was already making plans to go home.
I was bulletproof.
It was for somebody else to get shot down.
GD - Right.

Yahoo! Moderator:

Does it get frustrating now, because there is a generation that doesn't remember Vietnam.. does it get frustrating to tell your stories?

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

So these youngsters here now are sort-of in the same boat as I was
in high school or a little older.
War was always very remote,
difficult to grasp the realities of that.
So I have a lot of patience with these young folks
who don't understand governmental policy
now more than 25 years ago.
EM - In fact, I appreciate that they ask.
I'm going to the U of Texas tomorrow to give a speech
to a bunch of kids who ....
are in ROTC programs.
They're interested.
I went to Kent State.
i think it's encouraging that they do ask.
They need to know.
I don't mind taking the time to explain to anybody.
GD - I agree.

nicolemt14 asks:

What did they feed you?

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

GD - Basically, your interrogation started out with the
accusation that you were a war criminal,
that they had the right to shoot or kill you
but they had a lenient policy of treating you okay
okay if you would answer anything they asked you.
But if not, they would punish you.
They would rope you up
or beat you up
or torture you in some fashion
until you made a response of some kind.
If someone has unrestricted torture ability,
there's a lot they can do.
They hung people.
Stretched your arms out.
Broke people's arms.
Our population had a 40% injury rate.
Broken arms.
Broken backs.
They were a fragile group
who could be exploited with a great deal of physical pain.
They did that.
They extracted info from a lot of people.
We had a lot of training.
EM - About the food ....
twice a day, late morning, early afternoon ....
a pint of water.
Often the color of dirty water.
That, and if you take a plate of rice ...
or about a quart volume of some sort of soup
Pumpkin soup
or lilypad
soup
or turnip top soup.
I've heard different people say it was between a 600-800 calorie
per day diet.
Enough to keep you alive but not a lot more.
Most of us lost weight.
56 lbs.
The good news is,
I haven't put it all back on.

dutchlaf asks:

Col Day do you know what battalion recaptured you near South Vietnam?

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

GD - No, it wasn't any battalion.
It was the Northern Vietnamese - the Viet Cong -
a small unit, a dozen people
doing ambush on the Marine Corp base
I was looking for the camp to get back to freedom.
So they didn't have a battalion name or anything.
Probably just a platoon of North Vietnamese soldiers.

KarmaTheJedi asks:

Did you go to war by request or were you drafted?

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

EM - I went to the Air Force Academy by choice.
Volunteered to go to Vietnam.
GD - That was the same for me, similar.
Was a volunteer for WWII - a Marine.
Got called back up for Korea.
Had been commissioned as an officer in between.
I was a career volunteer military.
Something else about Ed Mechenbier and that group ...
this movie is really to talk about the splendid conduct
of Ed and his class.
This is about an Air Force academy class, in 1964,
Ed and that group were young fellows.
i was a 42 year old squadron commander.
These were young kids, their first war,
their job was to get in there and mix it up
get the bombs dropped
or airplanes shot down.
The thrust of this movie
is how well these young men did.
I and all my contemporary old guys are very proud of them.
EM - The average age of the guys who got shot down was probably 33.
So we had a lot of good people there teaching us
how to conduct ourselves.
It sounds like we're trying to pat each other on the back ...
but there's a lot of things that change in this world ...
and a lot of things that don't change.
in the Air Force,
we call them core values.
It's part of the profession.
Maybe my generation had longer hair and wore leisure suits,
but there was a common bond ...
how we conduct ourselves.
When we were in the POW camp,
we had communication with more mature men.
Who gave us a standard to hold up to.
Because at that age, it wasn't like I was going to be more resistant.
a lot of example that was worth learning.

loriks72 asks:

what sort of physical medical problems did you have when you returned?

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

GD - I got broken up pretty bad.
My right arm was broken in 3 places.
My left knee was dislocated.
I was shot in the left leg and hand
and hurt in the right leg.
They hung me when they were torturing me
and wiped out both my arms and hands.
I came out with a lot of limitations on my arms and hands.
Part of that has never been corrected
because the injuries were permanent.
But I'm still reasonably functional.
My major problem right now is being 75 years old.
EM - I'm a little shorter than I was when I got a compression fracture
from jumping out of an airplane.
But the longer term problems we're having now
are arthritis from the physical conditions of the time.
Sleeping on cold concrete.
Some people picked up parasites and such.
By the same token, though all of us still suffer physical problems,
its' amazing on the mental side
how the group has been resilient.
We're not a bunch of dysfunctional people.
Guys went on to have good military careers.
We're a good group physically
and mentally.
GD - To add to that,
I thought one thing the movie could have dealt with
was what happened to these young fellows from the class of '64
in terms of what they did in their careers.
A bunch of them are now active engineers.
One or two became chaplains.
or lawyers.
Ed is a mix of a flying and such in the reserves.
One of the snippets that should have been in the movie
according to me
is to tell how well these guys turned out after Vietnam.
That's a major success of our captivity.
EM - When you watch the movie Monday night,
there's more than 20 of us in that movie.
We look normal.
PBS, Monday night.

itsybitsy_3000 asks:

I understand that you saw things differently when you got back to your families. Was it hard for your families to adapt to your changes?

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

GD - I think it was more difficult for the prisoner than for the family
because our living conditions obviously forced us to do a lot
We had to learn how to waste time.
It was harder for the families to adjust to that, I suppose.
When you come from a cold, dirty, rat-infested prison
to a lovely air-conditioned home
and you can drive to a restaurant and eat anything you want ...
that's not too hard to adjust to.
But for the wife who gets this guy back after she's been managing the family
and doing all those things,
she has more to adjust to than the male,
in my opinion.
EM - In the movie,
there are a lot of the wives who tell about their experiences.
It's not just about our incarceration, but also about
the families back here.

sam69_420 asks:

where were you stationed

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

EM - I was at the Danang base in South Vietnam.
GD - I was flying out of PhuCat Air Base
in South Vietnam.
I was a squadron commander.

maria_daniels asks:

Did the PBS film cause you to rethink your role in history?

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

EM - Not rethink ...
but it made it easier for us to tell our story
and pass it on graphically
to the people who are doing it today.
Nothing historical ...
except we have a better than average way
of passing along our story and legacy
to those who come after us.
GD - I was pleased to see this movie go public
because there had been the "Hanoi Hilton" movie made
that Hollywood took as a retaliation against Jane Fonda's
visit to North Vietnam
where she was not trying to help the prisoners at all.
When this movie came out,
it was not a perfect movie,
but it wasn't bad.
The Hollywood and press reaction was that this was a deranged film
merely responding to Jane Fonda.
As a result,
it didn't get much play or noteriety.
It could have educated the US as well as this one.
So I was thrilled when this one came along
because it was a second bite at the opportunity to educate
people on who had been there and what they'd done.
No one in Hollywood had had the courage to take it on
because they knew our performance had been more than
adequate and they had no grounds upon which to challenge us.

dutchlaf asks:

As former POWs what are your thoughts on the possiblity of live POWs being left behind in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

GD - I don't have any expectations of that.
We've had several agencies in Vietnam for many years.
I've never believed there were any POWs left.
Laos was a different situation.
I couldn't say it's impossible that there were prisoners.
But I can't fathom what would be the rationale for holding prisoners this long
because the only reason for holding prisoners is to get something
back .
Money or material things.
So I don't think it's a probability.
EM - I agree.
When the war ended,
the Vietnamese were after recognition.
The worst thing would have been for them to realize later
that they still had prisoners.
GD - Contrary to the idea of saving face,
you can't lie about having prisoners for years and years
and then come up with them.
That would be embarrassing for them.

trucka_72 asks:

What kind of airplane shot you down?

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

GD - in my case,
it was no airplane
but a gun on the ground.
EM - Same thing here,
I was hit by ground fire.

maria_daniels asks:

Col. Day, when you were in the jungle, did you sleep at all? Or were you constantly on the run?

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

GD - No, I slept every night.
I was quite emaciated.
I was out for somewhere in the vicinity of 3 weeks
You're walking and living along
and you have to sleep.
I slept every night.

gerg_00 asks:

Do you think films such as Apocalypse Now or Platoon accurately reflect what it was like in Vietnam?

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

EM - That's Hollywood, you know.
I've never seen the whole thing
because I didn't think it was in the best interest of the military.
It focused on the wrong thing, as far as I'm concerned.

loriks72 asks:

I read a magazine article about John McCain going back to Vietnam to visit. Do either of you have any desire to do the same?

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

EM - Oh, I'd love to go back.
To see what the country looks like.
The problem is it still takes about 2 weeks to get there,
do anything and get back.
GD - Yes, I went back in 1975, just before the country fell to the Vietnamese.
We got some medals from the President.
Traveled around.
I got invited to go back with Senator McCain and Walter Cronkite
but I've made the decision not to.
And I've never entertained going again.

gunnerf asks:

Do you keep in touch with other POWs?

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

GD - yes, we're on an e-mail link with most of the others.
I'm a very close friend of John's.
I get to DC frequently so I see him and the other POWs.
We have an annual convention every year.
Next week in Florida,
we're honoring the Rangers who rescued us.
Many of us and our wives will spend Thanksgiving with those brave guys.
We'll be eating Thanksgiving dinner with them on the day they
came to Vietnam in 1970 to get us out of prison.
Yahoo! Moderator: What was that experience like -- when they got you out of the prison?
EM - It was an e-ticket ride plus
to use a cliche.
It's the end.
You're excited,
but you're a little bit afraid
of what you're going back to.
The Vietnamese had taken every opportunity
to tell us we'd be criminals at home,
That we'd be treated as criminals at home.
A mixed emotion.
Glad to go home
but to say the least,
it'd be a traumatic change of lifestyle.
But I didn't want to stay! :)
GD - There'll be some remarks on PBS Monday night
when several POWs talk about coming home.
And some things from the wives about it.
EM - When the movie is over and I give a little monologue
and they start rolling the credits ... DON'T GO AWAY!
You'll find that its' quite amusing telling.

Yahoo! Moderator:

Be sure to tune in to PBS on Monday, 11/13 for Return With Honor .. . For more information check out www.pbs.org/amex/honor

rose_d_99 asks:

What thoughts were going thru your mind to keep you going towards living?

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

EM - I had absolutely no desire to die there!
You really do get a sense that other people are counting on you.
Every day, you're part of a team.
Sometimes you can't see them,
but there's somebody else on the other side of the wall who needs you.
someone is in worse shape than you.
You're never at the bottom of the chain.
You really do have a sense of every day
being an integral part of a functioning team.
Just because we were at POW camp
didn't mean we weren't at war.
We had now the Fourth Allied POW Wing.
We had a chain of command.
Sometimes it worked,
sometimes it didn't.
But even if there were only 2 guys in a room,
one guy was senior and one was junior.
GD - To add to that,
there was a great universal sense of our group
that what we had to do had to absolutely be the right thing
all of the time.
You had to keep the faith with the country
and with each other
and that meant doing some things that took a little more out of you
than you might want to give had it not been for that
relationship with your country and the camp and the people you were with.
It truly was a team effort.
We called it a command structure in the military.
A lot of times,
no one but you knew what you were doing.
you had yourself to look in the eye
when you got home ...
to say ... did I do that right?
Do I measure up?
There was a personal challenge in all of that time
to do the right thing.

TattooSherry asks:

only several decades late, but Welcome Home , and thank you

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

EM - Thanks for being interested enough to tune in today.
This was great.

zabbadabba243 asks:

are you ever treated differently when people find that you're POWs?

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

GD - I think a lot of times
you're the object of curiosity.
They want to know.
They want to hear about it
because it's a unique experience.
After that goes by,
everyone is basically a pretty average,
pretty common guy.
EM - One of the things we all have a knowledge of ...
is that we were sort of the lucky ones who were shot down.
A lot of guys who were no less capable and honorable than we were.
We were privileged to have served under rather unique circumstances.
We represented the U.S. military.
Then and now.

itsybitsy_3000 asks:

How long were you prisoners?

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

GD - I was August 1967 to March 1973.
EM- June, 1967 to February 1973.

trucka_72 asks:

When you got shot down, what secondary weapon, or sidearm did you have on hand?

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

GD - I had a .38.
EM - Had the same thing.
GD - I didn't get to use it.
EM - Me either.
I was outgunned.

akmetzler asks:

what did we have that they wanted

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

EM - They were asking for military info
your squadron's targets and things like that
Anything to prepare themselves.
But they didn't know that we didn't know.
You had to give an answer.
Sometimes you made up things.
Then they were also trying to get things out of us they could use
in interrogating other POW's.
You had to be very careful about how you answered
because it could come back to haunt you or somebody else.
GD - From the political sense,
as a national asset,
the Vietnamese looked at us as something they could get some
ransom for.
They were talking about $20-50 billion in ransom from the U.S.
They threatened us with trials and stuff.
They were going to try certain people in court
and convict you and subject you to various sentences.
Which would have been lighter than the ones we actually had.
But they were holding us as prisoners for ransom.

superman_2000_67 asks:

what was the first thing you did when you got home

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

EM - I spent about 24 hours in a dentist's chair
getting my mouth remanufactured.
GD - I met my family on the ramp at the airport base in CA
and was quite surprised to have my son - 11 when I left
now 17 ...
he picked me up and twirled me around in the air.
I had twins who had been 2
My other son was 4, now 10.
So it was quite astounding to see my family.
And my first hour ...
I told them all how much I loved them
and how happy I was to be back to see them.

Yahoo! Moderator:

Thank you both for joining us today

Ed Mechenbier and
George "Bud" Day:

EM - Thank you very much.
GD - Thank you.

Yahoo! Moderator:

Be sure to tune in to PBS on Monday, 11/13 for Return With Honor .. . For more information check out www.pbs.org/amex/honor
Thank you all for your questions today
You'll find a forum on the PBS site for Return With Honor

bigdaddy_67_us asks:

I was born on August 23, 1967 and can remember much up to 1972 and am astounded to think that these men were imprisoned while I was kicking it back in the US. Thank you

bigdaddy_67_us asks:

Thank you for serving the US

rene9800 asks:

Thank you for serving our country with such great honor and courage.



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