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Return With Honor | Article

POW Prisons in North Vietnam

Many prisons used to hold American POWs were in close proximity to Hanoi, with a few of the more well known jails located directly in Hanoi. American prisoners spent years living in these uninhabitable cells enduring the pain and suffering oftentimes inflicted upon them by the Vietnamese guards. With the end of the war and the release of the POWs, many decided to tell their stories about life as a prisoner in Vietnam.

Honor Bound, Naval Institute Press

Alcatraz (Ministry of National Defense)
Perhaps the worst of the North's prisons, this facility was built to house POWs the North Vietnamese wanted to isolate. The prison was as close to a dungeon as any prison in the North. The tiny cells were sunk underground with the only ventilation coming from pencil-sized holes above each door and recessed space below them.

Opened in September 1965 just southwest of Hanoi, the Zoo had all the windows in the cells bricked up shortly after opening. The rooms were padlocked but had a slight give that allowed prisoners to peek out. This feature also allowed guards, or livestock at the prison, to look in, a feature that earned the prison the name "Zoo."

Dirty Bird (Power Plant)
This Hanoi prison opened in October 1967 in the vicinity of the Yen Phu thermal power plant in northern Hanoi. The North Vietnamese publicized the location of the prisoners, in what many believe was an attempt to discourage U.S. bombing of the plant and the area. Prisoners called the place "dirty bird" in honor of the camp's black dust, debris and general filthiness.

Plantation (Citadel)
Hanoi's Citadel, the North Vietnamese "showcase" prison, had once been the home of the colonial mayor of the city. Part of the facility was converted to a village of clean cells, garden patches, and scrubbed corridors where captives were photographed and shown to delegations to convince visitors that the North Vietnamese treated prisoners humanely.

Hanoi Hilton (Hoa Lo)
American POWs gave Hoa Lo, perhaps the best known of all the North's prison camps, the ironic tag of "Hanoi Hilton." The French occupiers of Vietnam had built it at the turn of the century. Speaking about the prison's rusted shackles and ever-present rats, Lt. Ronald Bliss reflected: "You could look at this place and . . . just hear the screams of about fifty years, because it was -- it is -- a hard place." Some of the most brutal torture of Americans took place here in specially equipped rooms.

Honor prison_map.jpg
Honor Bound, Naval Institute Press

Briarpatch (Xom Ap Lo)
Located about 35 miles west of Hanoi, this prison was opened in the late summer of 1965 to accommodate the overcrowding at Hoa Lo ("Hanoi Hilton"). The prison had no running water or electricity and the diet was so severe that prisoners kept here for long periods inevitably suffered from malnutrition.

Camp Hope (Son Tay)
Located 20 miles northwest of Hanoi, this prison opened in May 1968 to alleviate overcrowding in Hanoi's jails. American prisoners were also removed from Hoa Lo to undermine POW camaraderie there. The camp was filthy and the cells had little ventilation. Rats ran rampant. Yet, many occupants here were spared the more brutal torture routine at other camps.

Portholes (Bao Cao)
Located along the southern coast of North Vietnam, "Portholes" was typified by tiny cells that looked like chicken coops. Most were three feet wide, six feet high and six feet long. The cells were bare except for wooden leg stocks, restraints used to punish uncooperative POWs.

Faith (Dan Hoi)
The Dan Hoi prison, just northwest of Hanoi, was actually six compounds in one that imprisoned 220 prisoners at its peak. Treatment here was generally more humane than at the other POW camps. Many of the prisoners transferred from other facilities found the freedom to congregate, permitted at Faith, exhilarating.

Farnsworth (Duong Ke)
This facility opened south of Hanoi in the summer of 1968. Farnsworth guards' treatment of officers in the U.S. armed forces was especially brutal. American officers were kept in small, windowless rooms painted black and were seldom allowed outside. The North Vietnamese treated the enlisted men better, keeping them in larger groups and giving them regular exercise and recreation after 1970.

Skid Row (Ban Liet)
Prisoners named this prison, located a few miles south of Hanoi, after its filth and poor condition. After 1971 the prison became a place of banishment for POWs who did not cooperate at Hoa Lo prison.

Dogpatch (Loung Lang)
Located in the northwest corner of North Vietnam, Dogpatch was colder, damper and darker than Hoa Lo. Its cells had small slits for windows, thick walls and ceilings, and were crammed with up to 20 prisoners. One prisoner there recalled that the camp had "about all the qualities of a dungeon except that it was not underground."

Mountain Camp (K-49)
The name given this camp reflected its location in rugged mountain terrain just north of Hanoi. Although prisoners were isolated from one another, the basic conditions were better than in many other camps. Each room had a table, stool and toilet and, a rarity in almost all the POW camps, a straw mattress bed.

Rockpile (Noi Coc)
Despite its grim name, this prison, located 30 miles south of Hanoi, was comfortable compared to other facilities. The sleeping quarters were larger than most, and prisoners were given a dining room, a separate latrine and even a bathing area. Prisoners were allowed to move around the camp and mingle, a freedom almost never granted elsewhere.

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