Jim Hiteshew: A brave airman, beloved citizen
Most of them rarely spoke of it when they finally came home. But United States prisoners of war held by North Vietnam were subjected to the most inhumane treatment imaginable at the hands of supposedly civilized people.
Colonel Jim Hiteshew, who folded his wings for the last time on Monday, endured almost seven years in the infamous Hanoi Hilton. He was shot down on his 75th mission in an F-105 fighter-bomber.
Both legs and his arm were broken when he ejected after his plane was struck by a missile.
As was almost always the case in shoot-downs, families back home did not know — sometimes for years — whether their loved ones, listed as missing in action, had survived.
Thrown in cold, bare cells, the prisoners were routinely tortured in efforts by their captors to make them sign statements opposing the war and confessing to such things as deliberately targeting innocent victims.
It was not unusual for them to have their elbows bound tightly behind them and then being suspended from rafters for long periods.
Some told of torture sessions in which they were so severely beaten they could not control their bodily functions; and then being thrown onto the floor of their cells.
Their plights were not helped when the likes of actress Jane Fonda came to Hanoi to encourage the communists, posing in one instance manning an anti-aircraft gun. She returned to say the POWs were being well treated despite their “crimes.”
Jim Hiteshew and his fellow prisoners persevered. In the end, massive, relentless bombing raids ordered by President Richard Nixon caused the Hanoi government to bring the fighting to an end.
Colonel Hiteshew returned to his family and to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base where he served with the B-52 bomber wing. He subsequently served with distinction as JROTC instructor at Eastern Wayne High School. He was admired and respected throughout the community, not only for his military service and sacrifices, but for his good citizenship in civilian life.
He never lost his interest in aviation, and was an active pilot to the end, sharing ownership of a little two-seat airplane with fellow retired Colonel Mike Cooper.
Fellow pilots moved to arrange a flyover by a flight of F-15Es from the 4th Fighter Wing. In the “missing man” flight, the aircraft approach in a tight formation. As they come over the gravesite, one plane pulls straight up from the formation and streaks heavenward.
A most fitting farewell salute to a great airman and a beloved fellow citizen.
Published in Editorials on February 10, 2006 9:58 AM