Oct 25

Remembering the First U.S. Pilot Shot Down in the Vietnam War

Wednesday, October 25, 2017 12:01 AM

By

Commander Everett Alvarez Jr.

Commander Everett Alvarez Jr.

The new Ken Burns documentary series on the Vietnam War has generated a variety of responses, both positive and negative. Above all, it has rekindled the public’s interest in and awareness of a conflict that defined a generation. The U.S. Naval Institute Oral History Collection includes the memoirs of several Vietnam War POWs–including that of Commander Everett Alvarez Jr., USN (Ret.), the first U.S. pilot shot down in the Vietnam War.

Based on two interviews conducted by Etta-Belle Kitchen in March 1976, Alvarez’s oral history contains 134 pages of interview transcript plus an index and appendix.

On 5 August 1964, Alvarez was lost while flying an A-4C Skyhawk of squadron VA-144 from the carrier USS Constellation (CVA-64). The mission was a retaliation strike on Hon Gay, North Vietnam, for the Gulf of Tonkin incident a few days earlier. In the oral history Alvarez discussed the lack of preparation at that time for rescuing shot-down airmen; injuries sustained in ejection; the makeshift nature of the early captivity; varying attitudes of different guards; initial period of solitary confinement; the Code of Conduct; his belief that visits by American protesters such as Ramsay Clark and Jane Fonda kept the war going; the value of prayer; propaganda and punishment meted out by the enemy; interrogation details; communication with his wife until he learned tht she had divorced him; the limited food and medical treatment available; ways in which political events affected the treatment of prisoners; gradual improvement of conditions in the early 1970s; opportunities for sports and exercise; interaction among prisoners; the effect of U.S. B-52 raids on North Vietnam; and eventual release and delivery to the Philippines in early 1973. The interviews are a supplement to Alvarez’s book Chained Eagle.

To read more about the Naval Institute Oral History Program, go to https://www.usni.org/heritage/oral-history-catalog.