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Related Content
  • POW - Prisoner of War
Document Type
  • Themed Collection
Wars & Conflicts
  • Vietnam Conflict 1962-1975
File Formats
  • Image (gif, jpg, tiff)
Location of Archival Materials
  • Hampton Roads Naval Museum

Page 59 exhibit area 
Caption: This diorama shows two POWs communicating via a "tap code." Communication was essential to surviving years of captivity. Forbidden to speak, prisoners communicated by knocking, tapping a tin cup, or even coughing a set number of times for each letter of the alphabet. Prisoners communicated secretly with one another at great risk to coordinate resistance, overcome isolation, maintain the chain of command, and strengthen morale.


Prisoners of War

Navy personnel (mostly aviators shot down over North Vietnam) accounted for 154 of the 600 Americans taken prisoner during the war. American POWs experienced torture, harsh interrogation, insufficient food, and poor or non-existent medical care while in captivity. While some prisoners died, all suffered horrific treatment in prisons such as the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.” The North Vietnamese released 138 Navy POWs in 1973. Jim Mulligan reflected on his seven years as a POW, recalling, “You have to learn to be able to forgive yourself for what you had to do while there. . . but you never get over [being a prisoner of war].