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Inner Strength

DAYTON, Ohio - Examples of how POWs communicated are shown on this panel in the Return with Honor: American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia exhibit in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - Examples of how POWs communicated are shown on this panel in the Return with Honor: American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia exhibit in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - In this display is a handmade "ditty bag" made from old undershirts, two needles and thread that a POW made from electrical wire by grinding them to proper size and shape on concrete and sharpening a nail to a point and using it as a punch for the eyes, a shirt issued prior to mid-1968 with the embroidery done in August 1972 by Capt. Edward Mechenbier of Dayton from a photo of his wife (he made his needles and thread from copper wire and an old blanket), metal repair tongs made by a POW for pulling straps through sandals, a skull cap made of two socks sent from home, undershorts mailed to a POW by his wife, who embroidered the hearts, in November 1969, a rosary made from bread colored with ink and string taken from a cotton blanket, pencil made of bread and cloth rolled over a toothpaste tube  with the lead was made of charcoal and soap, playing cards used by Capt. Tom Moe to play solitaire and bridge, dice made of bread dough, ashes and toothpaste, a North Vietnamese pen, a ring made from a toothbrush handle, a pinball game received in a parcel from home, the "Acey Deucy" game pieces made of bread, ashes, and Kool-Aid received in a parcel from home, parts of Shakespeare’s plays printed by a POW on toilet paper, poetry on cigarette wrappers, a book made in Hoa Lo for language classes and cigarette cases. These artifacts are part of the Return with Honor: American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia exhibit in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - In this display is a handmade "ditty bag" made from old undershirts, two needles and thread that a POW made from electrical wire by grinding them to proper size and shape on concrete and sharpening a nail to a point and using it as a punch for the eyes, a shirt issued prior to mid-1968 with the embroidery done in August 1972 by Capt. Edward Mechenbier of Dayton from a photo of his wife (he made his needles and thread from copper wire and an old blanket), metal repair tongs made by a POW for pulling straps through sandals, a skull cap made of two socks sent from home, undershorts mailed to a POW by his wife, who embroidered the hearts, in November 1969, a rosary made from bread colored with ink and string taken from a cotton blanket, pencil made of bread and cloth rolled over a toothpaste tube with the lead was made of charcoal and soap, playing cards used by Capt. Tom Moe to play solitaire and bridge, dice made of bread dough, ashes and toothpaste, a North Vietnamese pen, a ring made from a toothbrush handle, a pinball game received in a parcel from home, the "Acey Deucy" game pieces made of bread, ashes, and Kool-Aid received in a parcel from home, parts of Shakespeare’s plays printed by a POW on toilet paper, poetry on cigarette wrappers, a book made in Hoa Lo for language classes and cigarette cases. These artifacts are part of the Return with Honor: American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia exhibit in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - Recreated POW cells in the Return with Honor: American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia exhibit in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio - Recreated POW cells in the Return with Honor: American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia exhibit in the Southeast Asia War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Communication allowed POWs to maintain strength and a sense of community. But talking or writing--any communication--was strictly against prison rules. The North Vietnamese, however, were never able to stop POW communication. This success marked an important victory for the prisoners. 

Sending Messages 
Tapping on walls was one way to send messages. The POWs' "tap code" used letters arranged in a grid. Each letter was signaled with taps--horizontal row first, then vertical. Abbreviations were common. For example, the question "When do you think we'll go home?" became WN DO U TK WE GO HOME.

Taps 1 2 3 4 5
1 A B C D E
2 F G H I J
3 L M N O P
4 Q R S T U
5 V W X Y Z










Keeping Mind and Body Fit 
Crushing boredom was a fact of life in North Vietnamese captivity. To keep their minds active, many POWs memorized the names of every prisoner in their camp, and repeated them every day so that none would be forgotten. Some worked out complex math problems in their heads, and others made detailed observations of insect behavior. Prayer sustained many prisoners. Late in the war, when POW treatment improved, prisoners taught one another languages and other skills--some learned enough to test out of university courses when they returned home. To stay fit, many POWs walked several miles each day in their tiny cells. Others did sit-ups and push-ups. Keeping a strict mental and physical routine helped the men pass the time and stay sharp. 

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Mask Policy:
In accordance with the updated guidance released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Defense (DoD) and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force will require all visitors to wear face masks indoors effective July 30, 2021 until further notice.

Visitors ages three and up will be required to wear masks while indoors at the museum. This policy applies to all visitors, staff and volunteers regardless of vaccination status. Visitors may wear their own masks or a free paper mask will be provided. Cloth masks will also be available for purchase in the Museum Store.
Additional information available here.

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