The South Dakota Navy Man Who Fooled the Enemy by Playing Dumb
American Navy man Douglas Hegdahl was captured by North Vietnamese forces in 1967 and sent to the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ prison camp.
His escape is one of the most interesting in military history.
Douglas Hegdahl was born in South Dakota in 1946. He joined the nave at 19 years old. During the Vietnam war, he was assigned to a missile carrier off the Vietnam coast.
During some rough weather at night, he stepped out to the top deck to get some air. The blast from a gun mount threw him overboard.
No one knew he was missing for two days. After realizing he was missing it was assumed he was dead. They held a funeral service for him on the ship.
Remembering his training he took off his boot and tied them around his neck then removed his pants and made this into a life preserver. He floated in the South China Sea for over 12 hours before being picked up by a fishing vessel. But his rescuers turned him over to the North Vietnamese.
THE HANOI HILTON
Once at the famous prisoner of war camp that the Americans held captive there had sarcastically named The Hanoi Hilton he was interrogated. His captors did not believe his story. They accused him of being a CIA operative and demanded he write a confession.
Hegdahl agreed to write the confession. But once he had the paper and pen he pretended to have little knowledge of how to read or write. For this, his captors beat him repeatedly.
So horrified by these repeated beatings his fellow inmates tried to teach him to read and write. Hegdahl pretended that he simply could not grasp it and in time everyone in the prison began to believe that he had suffered a brain injury and was- STUPID!
THE INCREDIBLY STUPID ONE
Because everyone began to think of him as a nice guy, but too stupid to be any harm, he was allowed to roam around the camp. At times he would be given the job of sweeping and cleaning an area.
All this time Douglas Hegdahl was memorizing the camp and the routines of the guards and prisoners.
Douglas Hegdahl was not stupid at all. He had an incredible memory.
OLD McDONALD HAD A FARM
Using a memory trick he had learned he memorized the names of all the prisoners and their arrival dates and more by using the tune Old McDonald Had A Farm.
As part of a good faith release program near the end of the war, Douglas Hegdahl and two other inmates were turned over to the Americans.
Billionaire Ross Perot flew these prisoners to the Parris peace talks as witnesses to what was going on in the prison camps. that is where Douglas Hegdahl told the world what was going on.
He was able to recite the names of the prisoners, their ranks, their social security numbers, the names of their parents, siblings, where they were from, and even if they had a dog, what kind of dog and the dog's name. He sang all of this information to the tune of Old McDonald.
By exposing the treatment of the prisoners back in Hanoi the North Vietnamese suddenly began to improve conditions at the prison.
Family members now knew that their loved ones were alive and because of that the North Vietnamese had to produce those men, alive, at the end of the war.
Douglas Hegdahl spent a few more years in the Navy teaching survival and evasive techniques.