Hanoi Hilton: The Torture Chamber For American POWs in North Vietnam

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Hanoi Hilton: The Torture Chamber For American POWs in North Vietnam


In 1967, late US Senator John McCain was captured after his plane was shot. He was detained and kept prisoner in the Hỏa Lò prison, which the Americans ironically dubbed the “Hanoi Hilton,” during the French colonial period. He had several wounds while his right knee and arms were broken in the crash. He was first denied medical care but eventually transferred to a medical city after the North Vietnamese government found out that his father was a US Navy admiral.


Photo Credit: All That's Interesting


McCain was one of the hundreds of Americans who were detained in Hanoi Hilton, which was no ordinary prison – it was a torture chamber. According to All That’s Interesting, a site for curious people who want to know more about what they see on the news or read in history books, Hanoi Hilton was built in the late 19th century to hold over 600 Vietnamese prisoners. However, the number grew to 2,000 after the French were ousted from the country in 1954. In 1965, the Americans sent combat forces into Vietnam. Then, they became their prime targets.


Photo Credit: All That's Interesting


As many as 114 American prisoners of war (POWs) died in captivity during the Vietnam War. Most of them died inside Hanoi Hilton. For more than a decade, over 700 American prisoners of war were held captive by the country as they fought the North Vietnamese on land, air, and sea in which they suffered years of daily torture and abuse.


Photo Credit: All That's Interesting


As Cmdr. Jeremiah Denton later said, “They beat you with fists and fan belts. They warmed you up and threatened you with death. Then they really got serious and gave you something called the rope trick.”

However, the prisoners managed to stay strong despite the endless torture. They learned to create ways to communicate which they often used to warn each other about the worst guards, encourage each other not to break, explain what to expect in interrogations, and many more. They even used this code to tell jokes. For instance, a kick on the wall meant a laugh.



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