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Vietnam Voices

'I got to figure out a way to get out of this. I got to escape'

From the Vietnam Voices: Veterans' stories, told in their voices series

Rod Knutson served in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marines. He was born and raised in Billings, graduating from Billings Senior High in 1956. He was one of about 651 prisoners of war who returned to the United States alive. Reports peg the number who died in prison at around 114. He spent 2,673 days as a prisoner of war — more than seven years  in Hanoi. 

Gazette: You had a plane that you had to land in Da Nang. Was that the one that had a hole in the wing or was that different?

Knutson: "That was different."

Gazette: This isn't flying the friendly skies. These seem like very unfriendly skies. What's that like, taking the enemy fire and getting shot at? That must be terrifying and very stressful.

Knutson: "It's not like the movies. You don't hear this. And because we maintained radio silence while we were flying, you're not talking to other people. Only occasionally would someone say something over the radio, and it was normally a (surface-to-air missile) was shot at you, and you felt that somebody had not seen it. So, normally, it's very quiet. There's not a lot of chatter on the radios. You see the flak and it's just kind of, clouds that puff out there in the sky. You don't hear that. If it gets close to you, you might feel the shock of it. Yes, it's kind of scary, but I don't know, your adrenaline is pumping so much. I have to say down some place inside, I was probably scared, but I didn't feel that while I was on a mission."

Gazette: Do you get angry if someone shoots at you?

Knutson: "It was kind of the game. It was part of the process. They would tell you in the briefings if you could expect flak. We did. We had evasive maneuvers that we took. We had certain altitudes that we flew to try to avoid it. It caused your adrenaline to pump, but other than that, it was just part of the mission."

Gazette: What happened in that mission that caused you to land in Da Nang?

Knutson: "We took a round through — I don't remember if it was one round — but we took a hit that ruptured a fuel cell, and we were leaking fuel. We were leaking so much fuel that we could not make it back to the ship. So, they rendezvoused us with a tanker. We plugged into the tanker, air-to-air refueling, and we stayed close enough to the tanker until we got close enough to Da Nang so that we could unplug from the tanker and still make it to the field and land."

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Rod Knutson jet

A photo from Rod Knutson's collection shows anti-aircraft damage to the wing of a jet before it was pushed over the side of the aircraft carrier. Knutson spent 2,673 days in captivity in North Vietnam after his F4 Phantom jet was shot down. Knutson graduated from Billings Senior High. 

Gazette: You have this amazing photo of a plane that you flew and a huge hole in the wing. Tell me about that.

Knutson: "That was flying through a field of flak. The airplane took one direct hit. The round went right through the right-hand wing, we called it in the Navy the 'starboard wing,' and it went through the wing outside of the wingfold end, it cut the fuel line and hydraulic lines. We still had control of the airplane. We were going to have to make an emergency landing or eject, and what we attempted to do was get back to the ship at least in the area of the ship, so that if we had to eject, the (helicopter) from the ship could pick us up. When we got in the vicinity of the ship, again we had to plug a tanker. While we were tanking, fuel was streaming out of that hole in the wing. But, we were still able to retain enough to get back to the ship. Once we got back to the ship, then you dropped your landing gear, and because we had lost our hydraulics, we had to blow the landing gear down, there's an emergency procedure for that, blow the flaps down, but the flaps only go to half when you do that. So that meant that our landing speed would be way too fast at the ship, so we made one approach to see whether we could get aboard. We felt we could and so we made another approach. If we didn't make it on that approach, we were going to eject right after we went by the ship. However, we did trap and landed on the ship, and the airplane was a total loss and they actually pushed that airplane over the side."

Gazette: Is it hard being back in the cockpit after incidents like that?

Knutson: "I think it gives you more respect. I think the only time it was a little bit hard for me to get back in the cockpit was when we had somebody shot down. Coming back off a mission where you'd been shot up, yeah it scared you. More so, you were just so glad you made it back. But when somebody else was shot down and they didn't come back, that really brought it home. I mean that really made you think about it. And, I think it affected all of us the same way: There was a pallor that just did not exist at any other time."

Knutson began his tour in 1965, shortly after combat troops were committed. The U.S. began its escalation of the war efforts.

Knutson: "The Gulf of Tonkin was in August. When I mention my second line mission, when we spent part of the time in the South and part of the time up North, that's what caused us to go north."

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Knutson with bunnies

Prisoner of war Rod Knutson, right, is shown with fellow POWs during a hospital visit by Playboy bunnies. Knutson spent 2,673 days in captivity in North Vietnam after his F4 Phantom jet was shot down. Knutson graduated from Billings Senior High. 

Gazette: In 1965, there was a sentiment that this was going to be a two-month war. We were going to go in there and walk all over and finish it up — a short war because they were no match for American military power. Did you think it would be short?

Knutson: "I was convinced we were not going to be there very long. I was convinced that we didn't think the MiGs were any match for the F4 or F105 Thunderchief. The Air Force also had F4s. The (North Vietnamese) were primitive — I mean really primitive. When we got there, we thought, 'We'll just nail them, and it will be over.' The discouraging part was that they started restricting our missions. The missions started being assigned from Washington. There were actually SAM sites we identified, but they wouldn't let us take them out because they were not an assigned mission from Washington. I think by the time I was shot down, most of the crews were going, 'Wait a minute, they can't continue like this. They've got to let the boots on the ground and the people that are here have some authority on what the missions are and what you take out otherwise how are you going to win?'"

Gazette: Let's talk about when you were shot down.

Knutson: "I was on my final line period. We had gone to Japan for (rest and relaxation). It was in October and we had about 3½ weeks on the line and then we were going to go home. We got back to the line about — it seems like Oct. 7. It was called 'Yankee Station,' which was about 100 miles off the coast of North Vietnam. The particular mission that I was on was a flak suppression mission. It was the largest air strike. It was in the vicinity of Hanoi. It was ... just to the north, west of Hanoi. It was the main railroad link between Hanoi and China. It was a Sunday. We got up about 3 in the morning, went to CIC and briefed and manned the airplanes about daybreak. We tanked on a tanker, departing the ship. There were four F4s from VF84. There were four F4s from our sister squadron, VF41. All the rest of the airplanes were bombers, A4s and A6s. There were 22 airplanes on the mission. ... We were armed with missles and rockets, so we had an air-to-air mission of combat air patrol, protecting the bombing force going in; and a flak support mission once we got there in case we saw any flak. ... The No. 3 airplane, which was a section later ... on the way into the target took a round through the cockpit and the pilot was killed and they crashed into a karst ridge. At the time, I thought both guys had been killed. As it turned out, when I got shot down later on and got to Hanoi, the back-seater of that airplane had gotten out and was a prisoner. Anyway, we made it to the railroad yard, didn't encounter any flak right at the railroad yard, until the first airplanes passed over. Once that happened, then whole sky lit up with flak. We picked out a gun and made a run on that gun and actually fired our rockets at it. We took that gun out. We departed, lifted off, departed with the rest of the bombing group, headed toward the ship. We got separated from the bombing group so we were kind of by ourselves. We were egressing as fast as we could go. That was the briefed way we were told: Go as fast as you can; go and as low as you can go. So, we were flying so low that we were at treetop level much of the time. When we come to a karst ridge, we would roll over on our back and pull down over the crest in order to stay low. We came one of the ridges, there were gun enplacements on either side and they triangulized us, and we knew they were shooting at us. We could see the rounds. It looked like a flaming tennis ball. It was round, white on the front edge, had a little flame tapered off on the back of it. I can see it as if it was yesterday. They were so close to us that you could see them clearly. We broke to the right, pulled the nose up, broke back left to the left and down. Then we're just rolling through that to bring our nose back up again when we took about ... three to five hits. They just walked them down the side of the airplane. Again, it was not like in the movies. You know in the movies, they're big explosions and background music and shaking and shuddering. ... I describe it as if you take a drinking glass, a water tumbler, and stretch a piece of tinfoil over it and poke holes in it with a pencil, that's what it sounded like. It sounded like they were poking holes in the airplane with a pencil. However, we immediately had an internal explosion. We had a fire start. The tell light panels on the dashboard all started blinking and lighting up. Fire warning lights. We were going 575 knots and we were probably at 200 to 300 feet above the ground, so we were screaming.

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Rod Knutson logbook

Prisoner of war Rod Knutson's flight logbook records the day he was shot down and spent 2,673 days in captivity in North Vietnam Knutson graduated from Billings Senior High.

"The pilot I was with was Ralph Gaither. Ralph Gaither said, 'We'll try to make it to the water.' So I keyed the mic. I said, 'This is Yellow 2. We've been hit multiple times. We're going to try to make it to the water.' When I let off the mic button, we got hit again. When we got hit again, Ralph says, 'I got fire warning lights in both engines. I've lost the starboard engine. We're losing the port engine. Eject! Eject! Eject!' I reached up and ejected. I don't know what airspeed we were going when we ejected, the last I saw was 575 true airspeed. The limit on the seat is 350 to 400 knots. So, ejecting going that fast, you're probably going to get killed or busted up badly, plus we were at very low altitude.

"I remember when I pulled the face curtain, it came all the way down to the stops and it went through my mind, 'Holy ... this thing is not going to work.' Because in that split second, that's the way my brain worked. The canopy came off, and I remember the whole ejecting sequence almost like it was in slow motion. The canopy came off and I feel the horrendous jet blast and the explosion of the shell that drives the seat up the rails and I remember that explosion. The seat going up the rails and it was like I got hit by a freight train. It was like I was slammed into a wall. My helmet rotated down over my eyes. My oxygen mask went underneath my chin. My left leg wrapped around the side of the seat, and my parachute opened instantly. I remember they teach you, look up and make sure your shroud lines are OK. Look up at your shroud lines and then look at the horizon and flex your knees. But I remembered all that. When I looked up at the parachute, I got hung up a little bit because panels were just blowing out. The parachute was orange and white and some of those panels were just tearing out of it. I knew that wasn't good. I didn't have much time to think about it. Then I could hear them shooting at me. I saw bullet holes going into those panels. I did get mad then because they're not supposed to shoot at you in a parachute. But, I didn't have much time to think about that either. I estimate I was in parachute about 11 seconds before I hit the ground.

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Rod Knutson on carrier

A photo from Rod Knutson's collection shows him on the carrier. Knutson spent 2,673 days in captivity in North Vietnam after his F4 Phantom jet was shot down.

"... I do remember reaching ... to grab my radio to get it out to make a call and I realized that I don't have time to do that. When I was grabbing for the radio, I saw the airplane crash right in front of me. I saw Ralph's parachute open and he was straight out in front of his parachute... He hit the ground. He just hit the ground skidding. He never got upright in his parachute. And then I realized I was going to hit the ground and I just felt like I was going way, way too fast. I didn't feel like my parachute was slowing me down. I hit the ground really hard. Both of my knees came up and hit along either side of my chin. I immediately released my parachute. I tried to stand up and I was having trouble standing up. There were Vietnamese all around. They were shooting. You could hear them yelling. I got my helmet back off where I could see. I had trouble getting my oxygen mask off. You have to get your oxygen mask off so you could get your helmet off. Once I got that off and the parachute disconnected, then the Vietnamese were all coming the crest of the hill and everything. So, I took off and ran ... down a little slope, big long grass, some bushes, and when I ran over that little slope, there was a dry creek bed. So, I ran into that dry creek bed, ran up the creek bed until a sharp turn and there was a whole bunch of underbrush growing over the creek bed and I was now out of sight of the guys who were chasing me. So I hid in that brush, in that creek bed. When I stopped I was kind of in a sitting position and I had one knee up and I noticed that my knee was — I was wearing an anti-G suit and they have openings at your knees — and my left knee was starting to grow out of that G-suit. It was swelling up.

"The guys that were chasing me passed over me and did not see me. They actually stepped on the bank of the creek no more than a couple of feet from me, but they didn't see me. I stayed there for 10 minutes or so and then they started backtracking and missed me again. So, I took time to get my survival kit out. I wanted to put some camouflage stuff on my face. I wanted to get my radio so that I could make a radio call. I discovered my radio pocket had been torn off so I didn't have the radio. Other parts of my gear were all torn up and I realized that it had just kind of shredded me when I came out. About that time, three peasants came walking down the creek bed. You could tell they were tracking and they were down and looking up and looking down. One of them had a muzzle loader rifle. One of them had a spear. The other one was a woman, an old lady. They had these big conical-shaped straw hats, real baggy black pajamas. I just couldn't believe it. This is not real. The people that had the guns that had been chasing me looked kind of like soldiers. They had pith helmets on. I didn't see them up close. Anyway, they got within about 35 feet or so of me. The guy with the rifle all of a sudden, pointed it right at me. And, I went, 'I don't know whether he sees me, or whether he suspects me.' He's just pointing at the bush. I'm very well camouflaged, but I wasn't sure. He reaches up and he pulls the hammer back to cock it and so I stuck my hands out of the branches and twigs and I stood up very slowly with my hands up ... and when I did, one of those militia guys came running over the embankment right there and turned on me and when he did, he had an AK-47 rifle and he turned on me and he just hosed off a burst. The shells hit right off my boots and walked up the dirt. I was in an embankment. Then he dropped and was going to shoot again. So, I was carrying a .38 revolver which is survival weapon in the Navy. It's loaded with tracers and when you're in the water with a helicopter, you can shoot these tracers and the helicopter can see you. So, I got the pistol out and a round went off as I was getting it out of the holster. I mean, I was scared. I was panicked. So, it's a wonder I didn't shoot myself in the leg, trying to get the pistol out. I got the pistol out. I'm left-handed and I switched it over in my left hand. I had dove back in this clump of bushes and I laid my elbow on top of my knee. This ... militia guy has run toward me another five feet or so and then dropped down in a prone position and he's just bringing this rifle to bear again and I shot him. And when I shot him, I realized that I shot him with a tracer. I could see that. It actually went through my mind, 'That's against international law. I hope I don't get in trouble for this.'

"Anyway, his head went flat down and at the same time, I got jumped over my right shoulder by somebody. I did not even see them, but I saw the cuff of sleeve and I saw muzzle of a rifle, so I just took the pistol and fired it again, and that person fired at the same time I did, and I became unconscious, and the next thing I knew I had been captured. They had me tied up and there was a little kid running around with my .38 revolver, looking in the barrel of it. Anyway, then I'd been captured."

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Knutson medals

Medals hang in a display case in Rod Knutson's home in Thompson Falls. Knutson spent 2673 days in captivity in North Vietnam after his F4 Phantom jet was shot down. Knutson graduated from Billings Senior High.

Gazette: You're injured, people are looking for you. You're in enemy territory. That must be terrifying. Not even Hollywood would script something like that.

Knutson: "The horror and terrifying stuff hadn't sunk in yet. I'm still operating off of pure adrenaline. They stripped me of anything they could. I had a survival knife. They were using my survival knife to cut off my G-suit, to cut off my harness. They took my watch. They finally get me standing up. They tied my rope around my neck. They took the rope and ran it down through my legs so that I was on a leash and they were pulling from behind. Anytime they wanted to stop me or move me, they jerked the rope up tight into my crotch. We went on. I can't see out of my right eye. I can't see very well out of my left eye. I am soaked in blood. I've got blood dripping off my face. My left leg is now really screwed up. So as they're trying to get me to walk, I happen to see them bring Ralph. Ralph has got a big huge bloody mess here on his neck. And, they've got him tied up the same way as me. They bring us close to each other and one of the things that I had noticed that I knew they had Ralph because I had his watch, too. He had one of those big Rolex explorer submariner-type watches. Very unique to identify. Anyway, I said, 'Hey Ralph, they really like that watch of yours.' He kind of snickered, and, man, they lambasted us both for talking to each other. Then they separated us, and I never saw Ralph again for five years."

Gazette: What did they do and where did they take you?

Knutson: "They took us, kind of half-drug us because we couldn't walk. Neither one of us could walk very well. We're out in the countryside in the middle of nowhere. There is a little trail, almost like a little cow trail. They did give us something to drink. We were scared to drink it. We thought they might be trying to poison us. They took us to a grass hut. It did have bars in the window. It had kind of a bed pallet in it. They put me in there, took my boots off, and had me lay down. They kept parading people by to come look at me. They were throwing stuff at me and spitting on me. Anyway, they kept me there until the army came and picked us up. When the army picked us up, they came and took us and Ralph was in another hut nearby, I guess. They took us into the middle of these huts and there was pole kind of like a fence post ... it had big iron horseshoe things on top of it. They took me and they tied my wrists to this thing so that I was pretty much standing up with my wrists tied. Then they gathered all the villagers and militia and the army guy had a megaphone and he gave some kind of talk or rally or something. Then the crowd really got stirred up. People started charging at me with machetes and throwing rocks, big rocks. One guy broke through the guards and got within maybe three or four feet of me with his machete. A guard took the butt of his rifle and smashed it into this guy's face to keep him away from me. They put me in a jeep. In the backseat of a jeep, they tied my wrists to the rails of the seat and drove me to an army camp. I was interrogated at the army camp. I gave my name, rank, serial number and date of birth, which is what you're supposed to do. They didn't have anybody who could speak English. They had a pointy-talky book. They tried to get more information out of me than that. I wouldn't give them any.

"Then, they loaded me in a six-by truck, an army truck. They laid me face down, spread eagle in the bed of the truck, tied my wrists to the two front corners of the box and tied my ankles to the two back corners. I am laying on these metal rigs that they slide cargo on in the bed of the truck, and then they drove to Hanoi with me laying that way. You're in an army truck and it's bouncing and the roads are not paved or anything. By the time the time they got me to Hanoi, I was pretty much a basket case. My face had been beat to a pulp. I was just beaten horribly from laying in that truck. They untied me, tried to get me to get me out of the truck. I couldn't do it. I couldn't stand up. I couldn't do anything. Still, I haven't had this be scary yet."

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Knutson top gun jet

Prisoner of war Rod Knutson keeps a model of the jet he flew in his days as a Top Gun instructor. Knutson spent 2,673 days in captivity in North Vietnam after his F4 Phantom jet was shot down. Knutson graduated from Billings Senior High. 

Gazette: What are you thinking when they're tying you up, people are spitting at you, throwing rocks at you? Yelling at you, and then machetes? What goes through your head?

Knutson: "Most of what was going through my head at that point was: I got to figure out a way to get out of this. I got to escape. I got to get away. I don't — to this day — consciously remember thinking about how much I was hurting or what was going to happen next. Or, I just wasn't that far yet.

"... Anyway, they drug me out the truck by my ankles and just let me fall on the pavement. Well, a six-by box is ... far off the ground. I fell face-down on the ground. Then, they picked me up by my armpits. They drug me in through this big archway, little bit of a walkway, and a door to the left. They put me in there. The door was painted blue. I remember that. They put me in there. They just threw me on the floor. Then, they closed the door and locked it. There were bars in the door and there was a window that had shutters on it. There were bars in the window. Inside this thing, there was a table and a stool in front of the table, three chairs behind the table and off to the right, there's a blue curtain. They left me in there for a while, so I went over to see what was behind the blue curtain. There was desk in there. The length of time they've left me is probably an hour or so. During that time, I was looking for a bathroom, that's why I pulled that curtain aside because I realized that I hadn't gone to the bathroom for a long time. I had to go to the bathroom. There was a desk in there. I happened to pull the drawer — the top drawer — open and there was a black book and there was a pencil stuck in it. I flipped open the book and it was an interrogation book and I see Everett Alvarez's name in there. I see Bob Peale's name in there. I see Jeremiah Denton's name in there. He was off of my ship and had been shot down. I thought, 'This is not good.' I had to go to the bathroom anyway so that's where I went — on that book.

"I figured maybe I could obliterate it. Anyway, then a little bit later, they came in. They made me sit on this stool. It was a three-legged stool. The legs were not all the same length so that you were off balance. I was made to sit with my hands in my lap. I couldn't bend my leg anymore. It was all swollen up and stuck straight out. They started interrogating me. "

Gazette: In English?

Knutson: "Partially in English. There were three people ... partially with this pointy-talky book. Their English was terrible. Their knowledge of what they were trying to ask me was idiotic. It was, I thought, 'This is like the peasants trying to interrogate me.' They don't know anything militarily. Anyway, they asked me my name, my rank and my serial number and my date of birth. At that point, I answered those questions. Then they wanted to know what ship I was from and I told them I couldn't answer that ... I refused to answer any question except name, rank, serial number and date of birth. He hollered and yelled at me. He made all kinds of threats. Then he left. ... Then another two different guards came back plus the same interrogator. He went through the same routine. I still refused to answer any question. He advised me that I would be beaten. I could be shot; (he said) that I was a criminal, that I was not a prisoner of war. I was a war criminal. Then they left me again.

"This kept going on and on. Pretty soon, they switched interrogators. He was a good guy, he says. He says, 'How are you?' 'Oh, I see that you're injured.' 'I should get you some medical care.' Then he would start asking questions.

" ... This continued until about 2 o'clock in the morning. I arrived there about nine o'clock in the morning, I am guessing. ... They got nowhere. They took me to a cell. In the cell, there was a concrete slab on either side. In the nearest part, there were leg irons that were built into the cell. There was a bar that dropped over two ankle holes so they could put your ankles in it, put the bar down and lock it shut. It was horrendously filthy. There was a bucket that was on the far end of the cell. There was feces wiped on the walls. There was a window, way up high, on the far end of the cell, maybe 12 feet up. The height of the cell was probably 14 feet or so. They put me in there and left.

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Knutson pow photo

Prisoner of war Rod Knutson is shown after he spent 2,673 days in captivity in North Vietnam. Knutson graduated from Billings Senior High. 

" ... They came back and in a short period of time and gave me a blanket, kind of a blanket and a bowl of soup and crust of bread. The crust of bread was moldy. The mold was so bad that it was like paper paste glue you used have as a kid in grade school. The soup was just green water. ... The bowl was all chipped and rusty. I didn't think I needed to eat any of that. Anyway, I finally tried to go to sleep. So, I took this old blanket type thing and laid it on the leg stocks and leaned my head up against that and tried to go to sleep. Now, I started to realize how much I was hurting. And, I was really hurting. I realized I put a hand up and I was blind in my right eye. I could see some things out of my left eye. Out of my right eye, I couldn't see anything at all. I noticed my leg was really, really swollen. I had this blood all over me. I felt around my face and I had caked blood all over my face. I couldn't really find a wound and then I finally found it up here above my eye. I noticed a lot of pain in that area. Anyway, I tried to go to sleep. I didn't eat the soup. I didn't eat the bread. I tried to go to sleep. I dozed off. I woke up and there was a rat in my cell. The biggest rat I've ever seen in my life. ... he had a body that was bigger than a rabbit. And, ugliest-looking rat I'd ever seen. He was chewing on the callouses. They had taken my boots and my socks, and I was bare footed. This rat was chewing on my callouses on my feet. My immediate reaction was to kick him, or launch, but I was afraid he'd bite me in the process. That was the first thing I really registered total fear with."

"Of course, as soon as I moved, he took off. The rest of the night, the rat and I were having a fight because he kept coming in my cell, and he kept coming at my feet. He was getting at the food I had in there and so I took my food and poured it in a bucket, which was a toilet bucket. Anyway, I got no sleep that night at all. Mosquitoes were horrible. Mosquitoes were eating me. The rats were in there. It was not a comfortable time. The next morning, they came in and they've got another bowl of soup and a piece of bread. The guy is dressed like a doctor and he's got a white cap on and a white face mask on and a white smock. He's got a piece of paper and a fountain pen. He tries to give it to me and I tell him that I don't want it. He speaks no English. As he tried to give it to me again, he tried to show it to me. I could see that there were questions on it, written in script in English. What is your name? What is your rank? What is your serial number? What is your squadron? What is your ship? What is your mission? There were 11 of them. And he tries to force me to take this piece of paper and a pen. In Marine Corps training in boot camp, they had Code of Conduct posters all over the place. I remember one of those posters and I remembered it then and still remember it today and it was: If you were taken a prisoner of war, you will always attempt to escape and you won't cooperate and words to that effect. There was a Marine there that was a prisoner and a bayonet stuck through a piece of paper. Finally, when this guy wouldn't take no for an answer, I finally took his piece of paper, took his fountain pen, and stabbed it through the piece of paper and threw it across the cell. I did that rather impulsively. I did it knowing that that was not going to be highly thought of. But, my thought was: In the Marine Corps they taught you if you're tough enough, long enough, they'll leave you alone. That was kind of my idea."

"The guy didn't hesitate an instant. He just launched out of the cell. Just screaming at the top of his lungs — didn't even swing the cell door shut. Just took off running. Well, the rest of guards must have been right outside the cell and they all came filing in and I was immediately bound up. They tied ropes to my arms above my elbows and pulled them together behind my back. They tied them so tight that they cut off the circulation. Then they tied my wrists together. They even tied my thumbs together somehow. I couldn't tell how. I couldn't see back there. Then, they laid me on my stomach, and they put me in the leg stocks. They slammed the leg stocks shut. Well, those leg stocks are made for Vietnamese ... so when they slammed them shut, they didn't fit. They were too small. They immediately pinched the skin and metal on bone. So, it was very painful. Then they left me like that."

"A few minutes later an interrogator came in and the interrogator started saying, 'You have insulted the Vietnamese people. We give you food, and you throw your food away. You must apologize the Vietnamese people.' I didn't say anything and laid there on my face. He says, 'You will be punished.' There were I don't know how many guards, maybe five or six, maybe more — they brought in a guy that had a bamboo club. It was a piece of bamboo ... he had ahold of it with both hands, and the interrogator would ask me a question. If I answered the question, fine. If I didn't answer the question, they hit me with a club. They asked me my name. I gave it to them. Rank, serial number, date of birth. Then he said, 'What ship?' And I said, 'I can't answer that question.' I'm laying there on my face, looking sideways. He's standing there in my vision, and they hit me. I didn't see it coming. I didn't know that was what was going to happen. They hit me across the buttocks, the cheeks of my rear end. They swung it like a full, arcing swing of a sledgehammer. It lifted my whole body off of the concrete slab. You know, just automatically my body convulsed and this loud yelp comes out of my mouth. He says, 'Now you will answer the question.'"

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Hanoi Hilton brick

Prisoner of war Rod Knutson spent 2,673 days in captivity in North Vietnam after his F4 Phantom jet was shot down. A State Department official gave Knutson a brick from the "Hanoi Hilton" where he was imprisoned. Knutson graduated from Billings Senior High.

"I kind of took a breath and I didn't say anything. I just figured it was just better not to say anything. He says, 'What is your squadron? You must answer the question.' I just didn't say anything. They hit me again. I can't tell you how long this went on. I can't tell you how many times they hit me. I got to a point that I was going to start crying. I was letting out screams. I was kind of losing control of everything. And so, I turned my face to the right, which was toward the wall. And when I turned my face to the right, just as I got it turned, he hit me again and when he hit me, I could see that it was just sending a spray of blood across the wall. I went, 'Oh, that's mine.' And I didn't want them to see me crying. I didn't want them to think that they were winning, so I just kept my head toward the wall and closed my eyes and hoped for the best. After they continued to beat me, I finally just lost control to the point where I started screaming. Uncontrollable. I didn't have any control over it. I couldn't stop. I was like a baby .... I just couldn't get control of myself, so they left."

"After a certain period of time — I don't know how long — I realized that it was not my buttocks that were hurting so bad, it was my arms and my chest cavity. They had my arms pulled so tight that it was cutting off all circulation and it was pulling my shoulders and my rib cage apart. And I hadn't noticed that until then. So I tried to roll over on my side a little bit to get pressure on this arm so that it would ... get some slack in the rope and it didn't work. Pretty soon I'm screaming all over again because of that pain. I tried to see my hands and I couldn't see my hands, but I could see about this much of two fingers over my side and was like a surgeon's glove if you take that glove and blow it up like a balloon — that's what it looked like."

" ... When I started screaming again, they came back in the cell. They interrogator instructed the guard to loosen the ropes that were tying my elbows together, which he did ... He did not loosen the ropes on my wrists or anything. The pain was still there, I had just a little bit. And they left me like that."

"Five days, I got no food, no water and they would periodically come in and beat me. All they wanted me to do was admit guilt to the Vietnamese people that I was a criminal and apologize to the Vietnamese people. They weren't asking any military questions anymore, they just, in my opinion, wanted to break me. At one point, I finally said I would talk to them, when I felt that I couldn't stand it anymore. So, they took me to an interrogation ... At one point, at the end of the first day, they took me off my stomach and put me in a sitting position and relocked my legs in the stocks."

"After this period of time when they took me out of there to take me to interrogation, my buttocks had scabbed over or at least the blood had dried into this big pancake and my flight suit was embedded in that pancake so when I got off bench, when they pulled me off the bench, I couldn't stand up because I was glued into my flight suit at my rear end. They took me to interrogation. He set a clock in front of me on the table and he told me that I had five minutes to start answering questions."

"They had taken the ropes off of my wrists and my arms. My arms were hanging, helpless. I could not get my wrists to come up or my hands to come up. I told them I wasn't going to answer the questions. He said, 'You must. You have five minutes.' He pushed the clock into my face. I took my arm and I raised my arm up and with the back of it knocked the clock over. And then got up and tried to walk out of the cell — you know, not doing a very good job. I was trying to walk back toward the cell. The interrogator was screaming and yelling at the guard. The guard was a couple paces behind me and just outside my cell, they had a water tank, an old rusty bucket, but it had dipper in it, half a coconut shell with a handle strapped on it, and we had a little water pitcher to ourselves. That's what they would fill it from, that jug outside. So, I hadn't had any water in all this time and I tried to get ahold of that coconut shell and get some water to my face. Turns out they had just filled it and that water was hot and I did get some on my face, but I didn't get hardly any in my mouth before the guard threw a body block into me and knocked me into my cell. Again, five or six guards came back. They picked me up bodily and put me in the face-down position and leg stocks again. ... In reality, I couldn't support my body. It was pulling my shoulders out of the sockets, because the ankles were pulling my elbows up toward the back of my head. My rib cage was separating. You could hear the cartilage actually tearing. I could feel my shoulders tearing and giving away. I don't know how long I stood that. I passed out at least once. But anyway, I started screaming again to the point you lose control. I kept praying that I would pass out. I prayed that I would die. I just needed some relief from that. And it wasn't coming."

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