Episode 1: Bonus Content

Episode 1: Bonus Content

Episode 1 Transcript:

TYLER RUSSELL MCCUSKER: [00:00:00] Commander, do you remember being warned that if you were to fly one of these missions over North Vietnam, you would have a high likelihood of being shot down and if you were to survive that you would almost definitely be captured and held as a prisoner of war? Did they tell you that? 

CMMDR. EVERETT ALVAREZ: No, because we had no experience in North Vietnam.

I was the first guy. 

TYLER RUSSELL MCCUSKER: That's 85 year old Everett Alvarez Jr., a [00:00:30] retired, highly decorated naval commander in the summer of 1964. He was a 26 year old hotshot lieutenant, junior grade naval aviator. He had just flown his. First successful mission over North Vietnam. That mission would later become known as the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and it signified the very beginning of the Vietnam War.

Everett safely landed back on his aircraft carrier that night and reveled in the congratulations from his fellow men. Less than 48 hours [00:01:00] later, Everett would be assigned to his next mission. But this time he wouldn't land. That is where our story begins.


It didn't really hit me what we were doing until after we were airborne and we were heading north to, to our target. I mean, we were, we were altitude. We're not evading. We're just going straight in.

As I was, uh, we were flying in, uh, at altitude. I [00:01:30] was flying wing on the lead, and I, it, it just started to hit me, Hey know we're going into war and, you know, this is, this is war. And my, my knees started to shake. I couldn't stop him, you know? We didn't really know much about the target except that we had a high altitude, uh, photograph of the of the, of the harbor area.

You know, the briefing that we had was there, you know, there may be [00:02:00] AAA around, around the port anti-aircraft. Well, there was a, there were a lot of anti-aircraft guns around that port. And as we got real close, as we came down, cuz we were going fast, there they were. And you know, I fired my, my lead did not fire And so we broke off and uh, the world opened up on me.

I looked up and just nothing but the sky went black.[00:02:30] 

At that time, I had been, you know, the drilled so much, like, you know, remember Top Gun, you know, you stick with your leader, you stick with your leader. So I stuck with my leader. I'd already fired my rockets, so I, I switched on my guns and, and then he went in, I, I went in, And when we were exiting the areas, when I got hit.

When I was hit, I mean there was just no way I was [00:03:00] gonna make it. I was trying to get out of there, but everything filled up with smoke. Every emergency came on and I could tell my wings started to come off because I couldn't control it. So I knew I had to get out and I figured if I waited any longer, I wasn't gonna make it cuz I was really low.

I had to get out. Now. So I pulled the injection curtain and I went out. I felt the chute extend, the parachute extended [00:03:30] popped open, and within 2, 2, 3 seconds I was in the water.

That's how close I came.

That was the start of my saga of as a P O W.

TYLER RUSSELL MCCUSKER: On [00:04:00] that day, August 5th, 1964, Everett Alvarez would become the First Navy airman to be shot down and captured in the very early days of the Vietnam conflict, he would spend. More than eight years in captivity, alongside hundreds of other Americans known to be held captive as POWs between 1964 and 1973.

Today, many like Everett are still with us and willing to tell their stories of overcoming [00:04:30] unthinkable odds to endure. Survive and return home to their families. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the US Saving those men from captivity. This docu-series will tell the story of the Vietnam p o w crisis like never before with new original narrative from Commander Everett Alvarez and Captain Red McDaniel.

In addition to interviews with their children, POW wives, historians and authors, and accompanied [00:05:00] by. newly resurfaced recordings from the Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon presidencies. 


Lieutenant Everett Alvarez 

will have been a prisoner six years next Wednesday. The problem of those who are held prisoner in North Vietnam is one of enormous concern to us.

We certainly are going to keep this very much high on the agenda and work toward a solution of it at any peace settlement. If we can get one 

From the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Foundation in partnership with Foundwave [00:05:30] Productions, and created in honor of Ross Perot Sr. This is CAPTURED: Shot Down in Vietnam 

CMMDR. EVERETT ALVAREZ: well, I'm Everett Alvarez. I was born in Salinas, California, December 23rd, 1937, so I just turned 85. I grew up in Salinas. We were in the outskirts. We were not, In town, large area out there, made up primarily of folks that had migrated to [00:06:00] California during the depression days. You know, _Grapes of Wrath _type.

But if you read the Steinbecks _Grapes of Wrath_, you know, they, they picked up everything on their trucks and came in and came out to work in the. Vegetables and lettuce sheds and what have you. They set up temporary buildings that turned out to be permanent. And so I grew up in a neighborhood that was just with the kids that were of the migrants, the Oakies and Archies that we called ourselves, that did house migrant [00:06:30] workers from Mexico primarily, you know, mixture of race and ethnicity.

And that's what it was like. 

TYLER RUSSELL MCCUSKER: According to the Library of Congress, of the 2.7 million men and women that served during the Vietnam War, only 80,000 of them were of Hispanic origin. An even smaller minority would apply to the Navy and tinier yet for the elite class of naval aviators of which Everett was one

CMMDR. EVERETT ALVAREZ: In 1960, the word Latino, as far as I was [00:07:00] concerned, did not exist. And, and I grew up that way. We were mixed intermarried and friends and what have you in that area. We didn't have many Hispanic or or Mexican kids in college. And so when I came in the Navy, I didn't give it a thought. Remember, one day I'm looking around and there weren't any Spanish surnames. There weren't any blacks, really. Just a few I'd run into, but primarily they, they weren't part of the community. [00:07:30] 

ALVIN TOWNLEY: I have never uncovered a story as inspiring, as difficult, and as lessen laden as the American POW story. 

TYLER RUSSELL MCCUSKER: That's Alvin Townley, a historian and senior fellow at the US Naval Academy.

He's the author of five books on the American military and one of the foremost authorities on the prisoner of war crisis. He sees the plight of the Vietnam POWs. As one of the greatest examples of human endurance in American history.

ALVIN TOWNLEY: I've had the great [00:08:00] privilege of coming to know a lot of America's Vietnam POWs and their family members over the past 10 years and have really come to appreciate what they did and how they did it, and what their lessons hold for those of us learning their story today. 

No one wants to be a POW. No one wants to go to war, but those situations create a really extraordinary crucible. for observing and studying leadership and human nature and resilience. 

TYLER RUSSELL MCCUSKER: The historical events leading up to the conflict in [00:08:30] Vietnam were complex, involving several countries and strained alliances, but for most Americans, including Everett, it was very simple.

CMMDR. EVERETT ALVAREZ: Growing up in the Cold War, communism was our adversary. Communism was the enemy. It was a philosophical difference.

ALVIN TOWNLEY: It's hard for us to remember today how intense the rivalry was between the Soviet Union and the United States. 


I call upon Chairman Khruschev to Hall and eliminate this clandestine, reckless, and provocative threat to world peace, to abandon this cause of world domination.

And adjoin in an historic effort to end the perilous arms race and to transform the history of man, our goal is not the victory of might, but the vindication of Right. 

That was a, a terrifying thing that communism was spreading, and so it really motivated America to go in there and. Stop the spread of communism, really disregarding a lot of [00:09:30] other things.

There's a political theory that was prevalent back then called the domino theory. The theory went that if one country fell to communism, the neighboring countries would then fall to communism. Just like dominoes, south Vietnam was seen as the next domino to fall, and communist China had taken control of the Communist Party.

CMMDR. EVERETT ALVAREZ: Here we were with the bamboo curtain, as was known at the time. So we basically trained to contain the spread of [00:10:00] communism. That was Cold War. Vietnam was another proxy battle in the Cold War between North Vietnam and South Vietnam on the surface. But really it was the Soviet Union back in North.

Vietnam and the United States backing South Vietnam activities were picking up in South Vietnam. And you know, the news started to get, get filled with events were happening, what have you. 


This is a C BS news special report. There are many terms which might be used to characterize the conflict now occurring in Vietnam.

Strange lens, [00:10:30] odd customs and unfamiliar civilization have become a common sight to personnel of the United States Army. The communists takeover in Vietnam sent to Vietnam, not Vietnam, about as far from home as an American can be. Well, Still on earth, Hilltop collection of guns and bunkers. Looking north across the dmz, the US effort to our Vietnamese alive, defend themselves from the communist, scourge diversified military force.

Political, economic, psychological, and military measures step by step with Washington. Join together in a common effort against communist. Subversion, the United States has come to help, [00:11:00] and I'm helping seven o'clock in the morning here in Saigon, seven o'clock the previous night in New York City. The generals are talking openly about an invasion of the north.


We really didn't know in depth the history and, and a lot of things that came about with Vietnam. 

ALVIN TOWNLEY: North Vietnam was communist and South Vietnam was not. And in that sense, I think America's had a, a very simple understanding of a complex. Situation. Basically, you know what we knew about it was, [00:11:30] um, what we were told under President Kennedy.

We sent more and more military advisors. President Kennedy was assassinated before the conflict really took a even, I guess, more grave turn. They just worries the hell outta me. I don't see what we can ever hope to get out of there with President Johnson inherited the situation. We got a treaty, but hell, everybody else got a treaty out there and they're not doing anything about it.

At some point there's a, a recording of him. I'll tell you, the more I just stayed away last night thinking about [00:12:00] this thing. The more I think of it, I don't know what in the hell, uh, basically saying there's, you know, no way to increase our involvement safely. I don't think it's worth fighting far. There's no way to get out.

I don't think we can get out. And it's, it's just a mess. It's just the biggest damn mess. It is. It's an awful mess. That's, that's the dilemma. That's exactly the dilemma. Of course, I think President Johnson didn't know what to do. This is a terrible thing we're getting ready to do except continue to increase in our efforts to, to prop up the South Vietnamese regime and defeat communism there in [00:12:30] that Southeast Asian battlefield.


Mr. President, I just think that we either reach up and get it or we let it go by. And I'm not telling you today what I do in your position. I just think the most we have to do is to pray with it for another while, 

and so he escalated the war significantly. He did not run for reelection in large part because of the Vietnam War.

And then President Nixon tried to achieve what he called peace with honor to end the war and bring peace with honor in Vietnam [00:13:00] and in Southeast Asia. 

When Everett joined the navy in 1960, Nixon had finished his second term as Vice President under Eisenhower and was about to lose his first bid for president in the coming election.

Neither Nixon Everett, nor any of the men or women joining the military during this American peacetime could have predicted what was in store for them less than five years later. 

I always had an interest in going into flight training. I was fascinated by the [00:13:30] Jets fly into Moffitt Field, which was nearby.

I was an electrical engineer in College of Santa Clara University. When I would look at the recruiting posters, you know, it was to join the navy, see the world, be a naval aviator, you know, that always count my attention, qualify as a naval aviation cadet, and so I, uh, naturally gravitated towards that.

I graduated. June of [00:14:00] 1960, but I had taken the exams for Navy fly training that winter before that. Interesting that, that was peace time. So the bar was set higher than when they needed a lot of pilots. I remember I took the exam with, um, about 55 college seniors in the Bay Area. Of all those college seniors, that particular session, I was the only one portrait of a happy undergraduate.

He has just been accepted as a naval aviation cadet.[00:14:30] 

Then I had a decision to make, did I really want to go in


Portrait of a confused undergraduate? It. He has his life before him and doesn't know what he's going to do with it. I had job offers in 1960. The country was looking for engineers. Maybe he'll be an engineer.

I counseled with my father and he said, look, I could always come back and be an engineer, but this is something I'd really like to try.


He knows where he is going.

We're sailing everywhere. Our we proud to liberty.

The Navy flying. Mike the first in every bite. A awaiting God will never use The blue, no sky. The wave sky.\


ALVIN TOWNLEY: Crazy. Looking back how many different turning points there were that wouldn't have led you to be a p o w, like graduating at top of your class, deciding to go, making the left turn down to the South Sea instead of up to Japan. I mean, you know what I mean? Like, it's like every little thing 

it was, it was fate.

If I hadn't gone in. It's probably something I would've regretted the rest of my life.


ALVIN TOWNLEY: Naval aviators are their own breed and they are

the United States Navy's flyers. People that go into military aviation are confident. His mind will be alert. They're in control. His body act and healthy, and they're great at their job, and they think they're great at their job


Everybody who goes into Naval Aviation starts in Pensacola, Florida.

He's on his way to Pensacola. The Navy's, Annapolis of the air. That's where you start your ground school, your training to [00:16:30] go through the flight. The flight training, the training program, the best training. For aviators in the world, when you got to advanced, either stayed in the area or you went to advanced spaces.

I went to advanced spaces in Texas for jet training. And then when you finally finish the training, we a good 18 months for 18 months to finish the program. And back in those days, we could designated naval aviators. You get the wings pinned on and when he receives those navy wings of gold, he'll fly with the fleet in the most modern planes that America can produce.

[00:17:00] You can too. If you qualify as a naval aviation cadet, make your own portrait that of a happy man. See your nearest recruiting station and investigate the naval....

TYLER RUSSELL MCCUSKER: These were no ordinary pilots. Everett and his compatriots weren't flying. 21st century fighter jets. There weren't onboard computers or autopilot technology.

They had to land on the tiny dot that was the 300 feet of an aircraft carrier, a mere fraction of a regular airport's runway, and they had to do it all. By hand, [00:17:30] eye and feel. 

ALVIN TOWNLEY: Their unique characteristic is that most of them tend to fly off aircraft carriers and land on ships on all sorts of weather and day or night ravish shine.

It's really extraordinary to think they're putting down a jet, supersonic jet aircraft on a pitching rolling flight deck that looks like a postage stamp where they start approaching it, but they have. A, a real gift for aviation. 

TYLER RUSSELL MCCUSKER: These men were US Naval aviators with flying skills among the best in the [00:18:00] world, a truly elite and exclusive division in the War 401 Naval aviators were killed.