Honoring an American Hero’s Bravery at the Hanoi Hilton

July 31st, 2013

Pilot George “Bud” Day spent more than five years as a prisoner of war at the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War. He bravely refused to cooperate with his captors and only provided false information so as to not harm fellow American soldiers. On Saturday, Medal of Honor recipient Bud Day passed away at the age of 88, surrounded by his family in Shalimar, Florida, but his legacy as a consummate American hero lives on.  

The length and breadth of Bud Day’s military service is remarkable, even apart from his bravery at the Hanoi Hilton. His service began in 1942 when he enlisted in the US Marine Corps and served 30 months in the North Pacific during World War II. Rather than leave the military after his extended term of service, Day opted to enlist in the Air National Guard in 1950 after earning his law degree, and was called to active duty as a pilot in the US Air Force during the Korean War, serving two tours as a fighter-bomber pilot. In 1967, Day volunteered to serve a tour of duty in Vietnam, where he was assigned to the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing.

Day’s mission was particularly dangerous, leading a command of forward air controllers tasked with spotting enemy targets. His F-100 was shot down, and Day was tortured. Day suffered serious injuries, yet managed to escape and flee toward South Vietnam, living off frogs and berries. Day made it within sight of an American base when he was shot and captured by a North Vietnamese soldier and taken to the infamous Hanoi Hilton in August 1967.

Despite frequent torture, Day refused to provide information to his captors and served as an inspiration to his fellow prisoners. In February 1971, Day was found holding a religious service with his fellow prisoners. Their North Vietnamese captors were furious, but Day refused to give up his faith or country. According to the Air Force,

As the guards burst into the meeting room with rifles pointed at the prisoners, one of the Americans stood to his feet. Ragged, battered but unbroken, it was George Day. Looking into the muzzles of the enemy rifles he began to sing.

The song Day performed in front of his captors was the Star-Spangled Banner, and his courage had a tremendous impact on his fellow soldiers. Senator John McCain was Bud Day’s cellmate at the Hanoi Hilton, and he spoke passionately about Day’s legacy: “I owe my life to Bud, and much of what I know about character and patriotism. He was the bravest man I ever knew, and his fierce resistance and resolute leadership set the example for us in prison of how to return home with honor.”

For more on the treatment of POWs at the Hanoi Hilton, read John McCain’s “Prisoner of War: A First-Person Account” or his speech on The Pledge of Allegiance at the Hanoi Hilton.

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