Fellow POW leads McCain rally

A Navy pilot who was held prisoner in North Vietnam with Republican presidential candidate John McCain said the experience revealed McCain’s commitment to freedom.

Rod Knutson, like McCain a Navy pilot, was held prisoner for 2,673 days, or just under
7 1/2 years, in North Vietnam and was with McCain in two prisons, the Hanoi Hilton and a place they called Skid Row.

Knutson recounted his experiences as a POW and urged about 100 McCain supporters in front of the old Mesa County Courthouse to get out the vote.

“In the blink of an eye, this country can change,” Knutson said, just as his life changed in October 1965 when he was shot down near Hanoi and was taken prisoner.

He and McCain had adjoining cells in what he describes as something “kind of like a 1600s dungeon,” filthy, without running water and with only a rusty bucket for a toilet.

McCain found ways to communicate with him through the prison walls, offering encouragement and passing along jokes, Knutson said.

“He performed superbly as a POW,” Knutson said. “I want you to know that he is a good person who would take good care of our country. He doesn’t want anyone to lose their freedom like he did.”

Knutson’s speech was a comfort to 22-year-old Mariah Schulte, whose husband, Blake, is preparing for a tour of duty in Iraq with the Army, she said. “It’s easier to be around people who know what you’re going through,” she said.

In his case, Knutson said, his parents didn’t know for five years whether he had survived being shot down.

Knutson, who lives in his native Montana, said he would have welcomed supporters of Sen. Barack Obama, the Illinois Democratic presidential candidate, because veterans fought to protect the freedom to disagree.

On the day he was captured, he said he was stripped of his clothing and his individuality.

Once he was thrown into his cell and heard the padlock click shut, “I was at peace,” he said. “But I wasn’t free. Peace without freedom is not worth anything.”

The Americans were fed poorly, tortured and beaten, he said. All POWs from Vietnam automatically were awarded two Purple Hearts, given to soldiers wounded in battle, in recognition of their mistreatment.

Many could have qualified for far more than two Purple Hearts, he said.

When he was released in 1973, he boarded a jet along with several other prisoners. The plane was silent until the wheels left the ground. “The inside of that plane just erupted” with joy, he said.

“We didn’t feel like heroes,” he said. “We were a bunch of guys that had just done their job.”


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