Former Navy Cmdr. Dale Osborne was flying reconnaissance over North Vietnam in an A-4 Skyhawk when he was shot out of the sky Sept. 23, 1968.
His three-week journey from the crash site through jungles of Vietnam to a prison camp in Hanoi was likely much different from the experiences American and allied pilots shot down over Kuwait and Iraq have faced over the past several days.The latest prisoners of war would be treated more humanely than he and other Vietnam POWs were - at least that's what he thought until he saw the first group of prisoners, bruised and beaten, making statements on Iraqi television like: "I think our leaders and our people have wrongly attacked the peaceful people of Iraq," and "I condemn this aggression against peaceful Iraq."
"I'm convinced that prisoners are being tortured. Obviously, statements are not made like that voluntarily. It sounds like a rewrite of what I heard for five years in Vietnam," Osborne said. "I was told constantly - constantly - the only thing I bombed were old people and little children. None of my bombs hit anything except old people and children and the peaceful nation of Vietnam."
Interrogators started on Osborne as soon as he arrived at a POW camp. "When I reached Hanoi, in and out of consciousness and pretty well banged up, the interrogator was trying to get me to talk," he said. "My condition was such that I didn't even know where I was or who was talking to me or what it was all about."
The North Vietnamese badgered him to make anti-war statements throughout his five-year internment in the infamous "Hanoi Hilton" and camps called the "Zoo" and "Plantation."
"You're asked to see delegations. You're asked to write letters to your congressmen and the President. You're asked to make all sorts of anti-war commitments over and over again."
He remembers seeing people beaten for saying the wrong things to Jane Fonda.
Osborne expects the prisoners in Iraq will be shown television broadcasts of the anti-war demonstrations in the United States and anything else that will help break their morale. "When you're sitting over there in very, very undesirable conditions listening to your own leaders and your own people condemning you, it's pretty hard to keep your morale up," he said, remembering the anti-war sentiment that existed while he was in Vietnam.
Osborne believes war protesters have good intentions but don't understand the effects their dissent has on American soldiers. "I really don't think they know the damage they're doing to the prisoners we have there now, the troop morale and the boost that they're giving Iraq in realizing that all they've got to do is wait this out and, like in Vietnam, the country will defeat itself."
Objecting to a war in the Persian Gulf is something Osborne said he did himself before last week's offensive began. "I was not for this war. I was against it. But my comments and agitations were committed before we were involved."
Protesting now, he said, is equivalent to aiding and abetting the enemy.