Highest Ranking Vietnam POW Dies at 85

Highest Ranking Vietnam POW Dies at 85

Highest Ranking Vietnam POW Dies at 85

Posted by David Moore

Retired Col. Benjamin H. Purcell, who was the highest-ranking Army prisoner of war (POW) in Vietnam, died on April 2 at age 85.

Purcell was captured in Vietnam in early 1968 and spent more than five years as a POW in Laos. After his return to the United States, Purcell continued serving until his retirement in 1980.

On Feb. 8, 1968, the helicopter Purcell was in was shot down near Quang Tri City, a major area attacked in the Tet Offensive. He and the crew were immediately captured. When Purcell and his men were captured, the Viet Cong took all of their possessions, even their combat boots, and force marched them for days on little food and water to the prison camp.

On Feb. 14, the Vietcong interrogated the American soldiers for the first time — it was Purcell’s 40th birthday.

“From this point things went downhill fast,” Purcell told the Georgia Department of Veterans Service (GDVS).

He wanted to give up, but he was determined to endure the trials, no matter how often the Vietcong pressured him to denounce his country.

The next 62 months were spent in a variety of prison camps around Vietnam. And since Purcell was a high ranking officer, he was kept in solitary confinement for about 58 of those months.

“‘Deny yourself as American serviceman,’ the Vietcong said. ‘Criticize yourself as the aggressor — then things will get good for you,’” Purcell said about how his interrogations often proceeded. “But to betray myself and my country was not an option for me.”

Purcell resisted his captors’ temptations. He even managed to break out of the POW camps twice — he was captured, but Purcell considered his escapes a personal victory. He proved that their prisons weren’t invulnerable.

His love for his wife Anne also spurred him on. Despite the Vietcong confiscating his wedding band, Purcell remembered what he had to live for. To help remind him of his wife, he made a new wedding ring out of bamboo and thread.

“I knew I had Anne and the children at home waiting for my return,” Purcell said. Purcell never gave up hope that he’d get home, despite reoccurring doubts.

“Every morning I would wake up and say (to myself) ‘Ben, I hope this is the day you’re going home,’” he told GDVS. “Then the sun would go down and I’d say, ‘Well, tomorrow is another day.’”

On Mar. 27, 1973, the day Purcell was hoping for finally arrived — he returned home.

His very first public statement after his release was, “Man’s most precious possession, second only to life, is freedom.”
Leaving a Legacy

For his final assignment, Purcell taught as professor of military science and commandant of cadets at the ROTC detachment at North Georgia College.

Col. Rich Crotty of U.S. Forces Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., was a cadet at North Georgia while Purcell was commandant, according to the Gainesville Times.

“He groomed us for an Army career,” said Crotty. “He mentored us. He was a professional Army officer.”

Crotty told the Gainesville Times that Purcell emphasized family, faith and love of country to the cadets at North Georgia.

“His experience in Vietnam really showed that,” he said. “He was a superb human being.”

But Purcell’s memory lives on. In 2012, North Georgia College dedicated the new formation plaza on the university’s Dahlonega campus as the Col. Ben Purcell Formation Plaza.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Army

Obama says don’t take American troops for granted

Obama Memorial Day

Obama Memorial Day


By DARLENE SUPERVILLE
The Associated Press

Published: May 27, 2013
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Obama memorial day

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Members of the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment “The Old Guard,” salute as President Barack Obama’s motorcade prepares to depart the Memorial Day Observance at the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery Monday, May 27, 2013, in Arlington, Va. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

ARLINGTON, Va. — President Barack Obama said Monday that Americans must honor the sacrifices of their fighting men and women, particularly at a time when the U.S. combat role in Iraq has ended and the country’s involvement in Afghanistan is winding down.

Speaking at Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, Obama said he worries that the country’s servicemen and women aren’t being fully appreciated in an era in which “most Americans are not directly touched by war.” He said he couldn’t explain that phenomenon but said it might have something to do with the all-volunteer military force and advanced technology that now permits the United States to accomplish some military missions with far fewer personnel.

But Obama did say that even as “we turn a page” away from Iraq, and Afghanistan by the end of 2014, “let us never forget that the nation is still at war.”

He said that some troops and military families “mention to me their concern about whether the country fully appreciates” them.

Obama’s Memorial Day appearance at the venerable Arlington burial grounds came four days after he declared in a major national security address that the U.S. has taken down the al-Qaida terrorist organization, particularly in the aftermath of the killing of leader Osama bin Laden, although terrorist threats remain and the country cannot afford to let its vigilance slide.

Obama spoke on a sun-splashed morning at the amphitheater of Arlington National Cemetery after he placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. That was preceded by a playingof the National Anthem and followed by the placing of “Taps.”

In his speech, he said that Arlington “has always been home to men and women who are willing to give their all … to preserve and protect the land that we love.”

He praised the selflessness that “beats in the hearts” of America’s uniformed military troops.

Keeping with a tradition he established earlier in his presidency, Obama stopped at Section 60 before departing and walked among the graves of the war dead from Iraq and Afghanistan.