Typically, when we were not going through punishment and torture, we were either in solitary or small cells with 2-4 guys at the Hanoi Hilton or perhaps as many as 6 or 8 in the Zoo and Plantation and the Son Tay camp which was 23 miles NW of Hanoi. Typically, we slept on top of a ¼ inch rattan mat on concrete platforms or wooden boards. The gong rang each morning around 6am and camp policy required that we get up, fold up our mosquito nets and fold up our blankets. We had no sheets or pillows, but we typically made a pillow by stuffing our other pants leg with our extra set of black or striped pajamas and t-shirt and shorts.
Every cell had a speaker (the Bitch Box) on the wall, and we got propaganda three times a day. Early mornings and just prior to the required bedtime in the evening Hanoi Hannah gave about a 5–8-minute session of the war news. It always ended with “GIs why would you want to die 10,000 miles from home, lay down your arms and cross over to the people’s side. Every day during the week after lunch we had a longer pure propaganda lecture, usually from some antiwar leader back in the US.
Here are the events of a good day—meaning you had not been hauled out for punishment or torture because you had demonstrated a “Bad Asstitude” as they pronounced it.
The first activity of the day came when the turnkey and a guard or two opened our door and said “bo.” One of us would take the bo (3-gallon toilet bucket) down to the sewer and dump it out. Thanks goodness it had a lid and there was some water and a stick broom there to wash it out a bit. Next came the first meal of the day which would be the same as the second/last one that would occur around 4pm. Usually thin boiled soup (pumpkins, cabbage or “sewer” greens) and a small baguette of bread or a cup of rice and maybe a couple of tablespoons of a stewed version of the vegetable in the soup.
Around noon time, the gong would ring, and we were supposed to take a siesta—we could lay down on our beds (concrete or wooden slabs). And around 1:30 it would ring again to get up. Most weekdays we were taken outside one cell at a time to the wash house and given ten minutes to wash our bodies and clothes. If you were being punished, then you might go weeks without a bath.
Typically, one of us would be called out for an interrogation about once or twice a week. Sometimes it was a lead into a demand for something from us that would eventually lead to punishment or torture. But most of the time, it was for the camp officer to test our willingness to agree with their perspective, or for some new young English speaker to practice.
Inside our cells we spent time reflecting on our lives and families. Dreams and discussions caused us to reflect on our lives and eventually, we had to face the good, the bad and the ugly of how we had behaved and performed. We also had conversations, sharing our personal life story, or discussing various issues of the world, or sharing poetry, bible verses, or war stories. Once you learned the communications techniques, you and your cellmates began communicating with other cells and that could occupy much of our time—but there were many interruptions when the patrolling guards came our way.
After we recovered from the shock of ejection and capture and settled into the camp life, we began to exercise. in the small cells only one person could walk at a time—it very much resembled the way that animals pace back and forth in cells in the zoo. Pushups and situps could be done on the bed and in some camps there was a lot of competition to see who could do the most.
Around 9pm, Hanoi Hannah reached out again to the American soldiers in English and we got to listen to the latest version of their daily propaganda and efforts to turn US soldiers against their country. And then the gong rang, indicating it was time to hang the mosquito nets and call it a day. As Jim Warner used to say, “gents, tomorrow is another day.” And with that we headed off to dreamland.