It was six years of life he will never get back, but Lt. Col Al Meyer, A&M Class of 1960, will never forget that time from the spring of 1967 to 1973 that he spent as a captive of the North Vietnamese Army…..
A P-O-W at Hanoi Hilton.
Hi I'm Tom Turbiville, this is Voices of Veterans.
Sitting in the back-seat of his F-105, he was shot out of the sky. His pilot didn't make it.
For Al Meyer's wife Bobbie, the memory is waiting, with two young boys, not knowing for three years that her missing in action husband was alive or a prisoner.
In his own words, here is the compelling story of College Station's, Al Meyer.
"We showed up to Dulles Air Force Base in Las Vegas one morning and they showed us how the ejection seat worked and showed us how our equipment worked and that was it for the academics for our checkout."
Al Meyer wasn't given the luxury of extensive training before he was shipped off to southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.
"We got a total of 20 hours of flying time in the training and so, that was it. "
He was part of a special squadron and served as an Electronic Warfare Officer in the Air Force...
A back seater to his F-105 pilot, Captain John Dudash, Meyer was in charge of protecting the aircraft against enemy surface-to-air missiles, or SAM's.
"When the Soviets moved the SA-2 missiles into North Vietnam, they were shooting down a lot of airplanes, and some Colonel in the Pentagon came up with the bright idea to put an electronic warfare officer with special homing equipment to home in on the SAM sights."
But in the spring of 1967, on a bombing mission to North Vietnam, his life would be changed forever.
"We called back to the mission commander, he was in the first flight behind us, and told him that it was cloudy, and we couldn't see the ground, and we were at 18,000 feet....above the cloud deck, and that was really a no-no because if they shoot a SAM at you, you can't see it coming and that's what happened to us.
Meyer's survived the initial blast in the air and ejected, but his situation went from bad to worse once he was on the ground. His pilot, Dudash, was nowhere to be found.
"I have very vague memories of exactly what happened, but I do remember that the missile popped out of the cloud and about that time it detonated. And I remember there were a lot of holes in my canopy and there was so much fire that I couldn't see the instrument panel in front of me, and that's the last thing I remember."
"I woke up later that night in a bamboo hut with a large group of screaming Vietnamese and they were hitting me and spitting on me and they were twisting my broken leg."
Meyer was taken through the jungle to Hanoi in the back of a jeep.
He was interrogated, tortured, locked a cell.
"Like somebody once described flying, it was a lot of long periods of boredom punctuated by brief moments of terror and the moments of terror were when they pulled you our for an interrogation."
The conditions in the P-O-W camps were unthinkable.
American soldiers regularly endured beatings, and torture of the worst kind.
And so the soldiers waited...day after day, hour after hour.
"And the way we passed the time, we told stories...people would tell movies, tell stories, books that we had read and we had educational classes. Somebody had an expertise in a certain area and we'd teach the other people about it and so on."
Al Meyer spent nearly 6 years in that Vietnamese prison camp...Then came that fateful day in the spring of 1973.
"Then on the 4th of march, the 141s showed up, and... they took us over to the airport and we got on the 141s and we flew from Hanoi to Clark airbase in the Philippines."
These days, Al Meyer resides in College Station with his wife Bobbie, but the effects of those 6 years he spent as a prisoner of war have given him a unique appreciation for his freedom.
"...When you can stand out here and look at something thats more than 10 feet away. That alone is something that is quite spectacular, being able to do that. And also being able to speak your mind and not get in trouble for it....it's all the luxuries that we have here that we didn't have there for all that time. It makes you appreciate the better things in life and of this country."