Entertaining the POW's
Article on the reunion (Courtesy of P.O.W. NETWORK)
Dallas Morning News May 24, 1998
Ex-POWs still revel in freedom
Event reunites hundreds welcomed home in '73
By Selwyn Crawford,Staff Writer of The Dallas Morning News
Retired Air Force Col. Richard P. "Pop" Keirn will forever carry a rare distinction that serves simultaneously as a source of pride and of anguish.
The colonel is one of a small group of men who were, prisoners of war - not just once, but twice during World War 11 and again in Vietnam. He said his days as a prisoner in Vietnam were by far the worse and he said he survived them by holding to two unshakeable beliefs.
"Faith in the Lord and faith in my family," Mr. Keirn said Saturday during a POW reunion banquet at the Morton Meyerson Symphony Center. "I knew I had a good-looking woman to come home to."
Mr. Keirn, 73, joined about 280 other Vietnam POWs in Dallas this Memorial Day weekend to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the large welcome-home celebration nearly 600 of them received at the Cotton Bowl in 1973. Sponsored by NAM-POWs Inc., the reunion which began Thursday was the largest gathering of war prisoners since the end of the Vietnam War.
In addition to the POWs, several other honored guests such as Ross Perot Sr. and singer Tony Orlando took part in the three days of activities.
Mr. Perot was one of the main sponsors of the 1973 "Dallas Salute" to the POWs, at which Mr. Orlando gave the first public performance of his hit "Tie a Yellow Ribbon." In addition to the extravaganza here, the billionaire - who gathered in- formation about American POWs during the fighting in Vietnam also threw a $250,000 party for them that same year in San Francisco.
"It's always an honor to be with them," said Mr. Perot, who hosted the POWs at his ranch for a night of barbecue and dancing. "It's hard to believe it's been 25 years since they came back home."
Mr. Orlando, who was mobbed for pictures Saturday night by tuxedo and evening gown-clad POWs and their relatives, said he is proud to be associated with the group.
"I had no idea what impact the words I'm coming home, I've done my time,' which is the first line of "Tie A Yellow Ribbon,'would have," Mr. Orlando said. "Since that day [in 1973], that song has become like an anthem for them and for freedom."
The night and this weekend, though, clearly belonged to the men who suffered unimaginable abuse and torture at the hands of their Vietnamese captors. Ken Cordier, a Dallas marketing consultant and ex-president of NAM-POWs, Was shot down north of Hanoi in December 1966 and held for six years and three months.
Kept at the infamous Hanoi Hilton, where physical and mental abuse was routine, the former Air Force colonel noted that contrary to what many people might think, the Vietnamese didn't torture POWs daily. But they might as well have.
"What got you down was you never knew when it was coming," he said of the torture sessions. "I thank God I was young and healthy back then
Steve Long of Las Vegas was an Air Force lieutenant when he was shot down over Laos and held for 49 months. He considers himself extra-fortunate because out of 567 POWs captured in Laos, only seven survived, he said. He's one of them.
"If it wasn't frightening, it was frustrating," said Mr. Long, who suffered torture, starvation and 18 months in solitary confinement. "If it wasn't frustrating, it was frightening. They are in complete control of your life. They determine if you'll have a life."
Mr. Keirn, however, said that he was determined to survive, regardless of the torture. Asked if during his more than seven years of captivtty in Vietnam he ever doubted he would make it out alive, he gave, a quick reply.
"As a matter of fact, I didn't," he said, adding that he was tortured 'at least once a week by the Vietnamese. Sometimes those episodes lasted for only a few minutes, and at times for several hours.
And what are the thoughts of a man who was held as a POW in two separate wars? The answer to that is simple for the resident of Indian Harbor, Fla.
"I'm damn glad I'm not going to get caught again," he said, chuckling.
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