By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Eric Dietrich, U.S. Naval War College Public Affairs
May 2, 2013
NEWPORT, R.I. - Retired Cmdr. Porter Alexander Halyburton, a former prisoner of war (POW) and professor emeritus at U.S. Naval War College (NWC) in Newport, R.I., shared his experience of captivity in North Vietnam during a presentation for staff, students and guests at NWC, April 30.
“It was during this time our greatest leaders emerged,” said Halyburton. "It was the establishment of leadership in the very beginning and guidance of how we live up to the code of conduct, how we deal with these situations, how we communicate with one another and how we organize for resistance [that led to our survival].”
Serving as a Radar Intercept Officer for Fighter Squadron EIGHT FOUR “Jolly Rogers,” Halyburton was shot down over North Vietnam Oct. 17, 1965 and held captive until his release Feb. 12, 1973. During this time, Halyburton and other POWs were moved between various prison camps which became known as The Hanoi Hilton, The Zoo, The Briar Patch and Heartbreak Hotel.
"The prisoners were held in austere conditions, often shackled in handcuffs and leg irons for weeks or months at a time," said NWC professor John Jackson as he introduced Halyburton. "When not locked down, they were subject to brutal treatment from abusive guards who took great pleasure in their suffering."
Halyburton commented on how keeping faith with fellow prisoners was key to keeping their captors from breaking them with torture.
"I made it. I'm here," said Halyburton, recalling how to move forward from torturous treatment. "I'm not a victim, I'm not a hero. I just survived, and I made it. We're going to press on."
Together, the POWs were able to establish an American culture among themselves.
“We were not just an organization, we became a family,” said Halyburton. “As Viktor Frankl says, you can find meaning in the very worst circumstances.”
The presentation provided a powerful message of leadership and camaraderie while serving as a valuable lesson for service members on survival and resistance.