If you tuned in to Ernie Brace’s harrowing story on Locked Up Abroad: Vietnam POWs: McCain & Brace, I’m sure you have questions. We checked in with Ernie to get answers and see what life is like for him today and here’s what he had to say.

Ernie Brace returns home“My four-and-a-half years of solitary confinement, two and a half in stocks, is a tribute to perseverance and prior training. My communications skills carried me through Hanoi. It was our only form of resistance to their efforts to shake our faith in our mission, our country and our government.” – Ernie Brace, longest-held civilian prisoner of the Vietnam War

 

Q: McCain said that your story should be told to every American, as an example of what “love of country, love of one’s fellow prisoners and what faith in God is all about.” Do you agree with this? Would you define yourself this way?

I think the Vietnam POWs as a whole had quite an impact on the country when we returned in 1973. The antiwar movement immediately died out and the earlier returning Vietnam vets were accepted more into society. As the stories and the treatment became known through the press and books, people wanted more about how we coped with adversity for such a long period.

There are many books written by POWs, but my story which culminates in my being taken to Hanoi after three years in the jungle is the only one that covers jungle cages, transportation and the Hanoi experience. My four-and-a-half years of solitary confinement, two and a half in stocks, is a tribute to perseverance and prior training. My communications skills carried me through Hanoi. It was our only form of resistance to their efforts to shake our faith in our mission, our country and our government.

Q: How did being the longest POW in the Vietnam War make you into who you are today? Did any good come out of it?

My experience made me a more easy-going person. I still don’t get rattled easily. I ran narcotics control programs in Mexico for the U.S. State Department from 1976 to 1978. I lived in Beijing, China, from 1982 to 1989 as project director for foreign military sales of Black Hawk helicopters. I wrote a couple of articles for publications on doing business with China in the 1980s. In 1985, I did a speaking tour for the Charter Bank of England on doing business in China. My wife Nancy and I observed the Tiananmen Square Massacre in June 1989, which ended my tour in China.

In late 1989, I made my first trip into Russia to negotiate overflight rights and fuel contracts for American carriers. In 1990, I escorted Gorbachev on his trip to the United States following the “White House Revolution” and Yeltsin’s takeover. In 1991, I went into Kuwait on the second aircraft to land there as the Iraqis were leaving. I set up the medevac system for the firefighters.

Q: How are you today? How is your health?

I’m rated by the VA at 100 percent disabled. I spent a year attached to the Balboa Naval Hospital getting patched up from wounds received as a POW. The worst is nerve damage in all extremities. On my last examination some months ago, the doctor doing the nerve conductivity test told me that if I wasn’t swimming four to five days per week I’d probably be in a wheelchair or using a walker. I stumble badly and sometimes limp.

The VA provides special inserts for my shoes. My attitude is good and I do go for walks almost daily with the dogs. I have the typical “getting old” ailments here in my eighties, but I seem to have good tolerance for pain. Still mow my lawn, shovel snow and do most of my yard work.

Q: Tell us about your family.

My first wife Patricia, living in Thailand at the time of my capture with our four boys, remarried after I was missing for about five years. She had a daughter by that marriage and we never got back together. I married Nancy, a nurse I met in the hospital, about a year after returning home. We’ve been together 39 years now.

Having been captured in Laos, I was never allowed to write or receive mail. The same was true for the nine Americans and one Canadian held by the North Vietnamese. We were never listed as prisoners until after the truce was signed in January 1973.

Q: Of all of the horrible things you endured as a POW, what was the lowest point for you?

The lowest point for me was the winter of 1967. December 10 was my youngest son’s birthday, and that is the day I tried to choke myself on my neck rope. I was wet, cold and couldn’t walk. Escape was impossible now. But I recovered.

Q: What kept you going or gave you peace?

I think my Marine Corps training kept me going at first. I never thought I would die up there and escape seemed possible all the time in my head. Later, after they had crippled me, I felt that they were keeping me alive for some reason and someday I’d be going home.

Q: Tell us something we might not know about McCain.

Some of what John told me through the wall will never be repeated. The wall is like a confessional. When you are not looking at the person you are talking to, you might say anything, including things you would not want repeated. The younger generation is finding that out through their tweeting or Facebook postings.

Most don’t know that when John was in high school in the Washington, DC, area, he competed in the Golden Gloves competition. His mother is a twin, and his father John Sydney McCain II was as wild as John was when he was a younger officer during World War II. John finished near the bottom of his Naval Academy class due to demerits from breaking regulations. He continued to be pretty wild as a junior officer.

Q: Have you returned to Vietnam? Stayed in touch with McCain?

John and I both returned to Vietnam in 1974. I was setting up an offshore operation for Shell Oil Company and he was escorting a congressional delegation.

The story of us meeting through the wall has always been the high point of my presentations since he became so well known. I have always had access to him in his office if I am in Washington. On occasion, he has had me testify before Congress on the situation of missing persons in Laos. My last book, “Monkey Paw Soup,” contains stories of my varied operations after returning home from being a POW.

Q: What makes you happy?

I was always happy doing the job I was doing while flying. When I could no longer be a pilot, being an aviation manager or project director kept me in the game and happy. During some of my international assignments, just the feeling that what I was doing contributed to the information network that kept our country informed of happenings and doings in the foreign world gave me a sense of accomplishment. In 2010, I was inducted into the Oregon Aviation Hall of Honor.

Q: What did you think of the program? Was it hard to watch?

The program is a good representation of the story. I was clean-shaven and had a military-style haircut; my hair was not down over my ears and I did not have a mustache. It was not hard to watch. I am sure I did not groan and moan as much as portrayed; in fact, I kept absolute silence for long periods of time. They did a good job on the cage, the stocks and the hole in the ground.

Comments

  1. john randall johnson
    san antonio texas
    April 18, 2013, 10:39 pm

    i did not realize that a human being could endure such
    mental and physical torture. i will never take my freedom for
    granted again. i am a grown man and could not stop crying
    for ernie. this gentleman should be celebrated, i have never
    seen a better example of a great human being in all my years. ernie is a true american hero.

  2. john randall johnson
    April 18, 2013, 10:43 pm

    i did not realize that a human being could endure such mental and physical torture. ernie should be celebrated
    as a true american hero. i will hope to never take my freedom for granted again. god bless you ernie.

  3. Eric Adams
    Florida panhandle
    April 19, 2013, 5:02 pm

    I wish I could just shake your hand Ernie and say you make me proud to be an American. Other than that your story leaves me speechless….and John was right every American should here your story. I learned more from your eyes telling the story on tv than anything and am thankfull you did it so I could appreciate it too. I’ve survived a lot medically and considered my story to be an extremely tough one until I seen yours. Thank You Brace

  4. Amy
    San Diego
    April 19, 2013, 10:34 pm

    My heart truly broke when I watched this last night. I feel such a tremendous amount of sadness that he had to go through this. Just listening to the story my heart sank. Even though a complete stranger to me he will always have a place in my heart.

  5. Amanda Machleit
    Phoenix, Arizona
    April 20, 2013, 1:45 am

    Ernie- I never imagined that one person could be so mentally strong and brave. Your story shook me to my core, so much so that I wish I could meet you face to face and give you a long and hard hug. Your will to survive and overcome has given me more hope for my future…my life and circumstances no longer seem as dismal. Thank you so much for your service and for sharing your story in such great detail!

  6. Suzanne Jundt
    Redding Ca
    April 20, 2013, 4:27 am

    You are a true American Hero! Thank you for your service and thank you for telling your story. You are the real Mcgyver! The things you made to help you escape. Genius. You are so smart and so strong. I appreciate you. My prayers are with you and God bless.

  7. Chris Kiefer
    Olathe, KS
    April 20, 2013, 11:16 pm

    I am so inspired by you Ernie and ache very deeply for the torture you endured. It would a great privledge to meet you one day and give you a big hug!

  8. Crystal Reed
    Indiana
    April 21, 2013, 11:07 pm

    I just watched your story on Locked Up Abroad. I just wanted to say that you are an amazing human being. You endured so much and had the strength and to pull through it all. I’m sorry you had to suffer. I appreciate you and I am honored to hear such a courageous story. I pray that you are rewarded for the sacrifice you were forced to make. And I would like to say thank you and send my highest regards.

  9. kevin allen
    springfield,Ma
    April 22, 2013, 7:50 pm

    I was having such trouble comprehending-wrapping my mind around what u went thru I had to watch it again. I had trouble sleeping that night still trying to fathom what u went thru and that being buried for 8days scene… I just showed it to my family and even during the 3rd time watching it got lump and holding back tears. U also remind me highly of my grandpa in your demeanor,personality,speech that died last year. Also he was pilot and a POW in WWII in Germany.. If your ever in MA or close I would love to shake your hand/give you a hug for me and also for my grandpa. I also have a whole new outlook on my time in Iraq being “crappy”. Thank u.

  10. bill
    April 23, 2013, 8:44 pm

    You think the show was tough, read his book ‘A Code To Keep’, then buy it to pass on to those that think they have it hard. This program only scratches the surface, but gives a good description of his years in hell.

  11. Bill
    Ky
    April 24, 2013, 4:52 pm

    What a great story about a great american. I sure hope the North Vietnamese got what was coming to them in the end.

  12. Yanik pinier
    Redondo Beach,Ca
    April 24, 2013, 8:19 pm

    I just watched locked up abroad and I’m in disbelief of the story of Ernie Brace.What an amazing Human being ,I feel like his story has changed my life forever,I’ve never been more proud to be an American!I wept like a baby at the end,Mr.Brace I love you ,thank you so much for telling your story,Mr.Cain is right every American needs to hear your story actually every person on this planet does.I wish one day that I could meet you shake your hand and give you a big hug.Thanks Thanks Thanks so much!I will never forget you.

  13. Billy D
    Riverside
    April 26, 2013, 2:42 am

    WOW. John was right , an amazing American hero and an incredible human being. Every person in America should here your story. We have no right to complain about anything. Your spirit is beyond strong, There is no words for what you endured. However, you went on and became a active and successful person. You showed everyone you a a true WINNER of life.

  14. m meyer
    nebraska
    April 29, 2013, 10:43 pm

    a true American Hero thank you Mr Brace

  15. Eric Shifflett
    Abilene , Tx
    May 8, 2013, 12:37 pm

    I am a 34 year old man, and I too could not stop crying. I watched there story on YouTube 2 days ago, and I cannot get Mr. Brace’s story out of my head. I would love to give him a huge hug and shake his hand. The fact that he has had a long life after his ordeal makes me believe that there is a god.

  16. Mary AVila
    Los Angeles, CA
    May 9, 2013, 12:12 pm

    I was so deeply movied by this story. I am upset that they were not rescued sooner. I don’t understand all the political and social intricacies of the time but I believe Ernie was and is a hero, a hero for the human race. To be so far down as to attempt suicide and to raise back up to a living breathing member of society, AND be so helpful and useful to our country even after such an ordeal, seems impossible. But her did it. I thank God for Ernie Brace. Thank you God for making men like him.

  17. Peter Creager
    Baltimore
    May 25, 2013, 6:08 pm

    Dear Mr. Ernie Brace,
    May I tell you, watching this program I have realized there are people of super human strenghts, which I cannot really fathom. I am proud to realize America does produce such hero’s as yourself and Mr. Mc Cain. You in particular. To admire you just isn’t enough sir. What you had gone through , emulates , every American to stand up for our freedoms at a much higher standard. No Bullcrap at all sir, you are the real deal, which folks like Harry, Nancy, Obama could not lick your boot straps. Salute, God Bless, Peter

  18. Teraisa
    Hawaii
    May 25, 2013, 9:40 pm

    Thank you Locked Up Abroad, John McCain, and especially Ernie Brace for sharing this story. God bless you and us all.

  19. Denise Kaminski
    RI
    May 26, 2013, 3:08 pm

    Dear Mr. Brace,
    I watched in horror what happened to you. I never in my life
    thought people could be so brutal. You are more than a hero to this country. I want you to know that I have the greatest respect for you and wish I could salute you. I will never forget this story. I hope you live to be 115 with no pain or suffering ever again. Nancy has the cream of the crop!!!! God Bless You

  20. Michele Polidori
    Cleveland, Ohio
    May 26, 2013, 3:45 pm

    Dear Ernie, If you read this I just want you to know that you are my true hero. I am a Air Force Veteran, and when I was in Airman Leadership School I learned about the Hanoi Hilton. I saw your story last night and felt so much for what you have been through. I wish I could meet you, and have the honor to shake your hand. Your children must be so proud to have you as a father. God Bless you Mr. Brace!!!!!

  21. Tammy Isolda
    Broadalbin, NY
    May 30, 2013, 3:53 pm

    Mr Brace,
    I saw you story the other night and could not believe what you went through. I am so much respect for our military men.
    You are an inspiration to many. GOD BLESS YOU

  22. Jul phan
    Vietnam
    June 27, 2013, 2:23 am

    As much as i admire Mr.Grace and Mr.McCain’s bravery and such strength, i just don’t get why there were some thoughts that the Vietnam war was started for a good purpose and somehow for America’s or Vietnam’s freedom but not for the US govt to have money and power over the communist… and also why after returning to America Mr.McCain keep sending pple to iraq to experience what he had…and its not for freedom in iraq.

  23. Catherine Dawson
    Calgary, Alberta
    June 27, 2013, 9:18 pm

    What an incredible story. I’m profoundly sad to think humans are so cruel to each other. i celebrate the fact that Ernie survived and that he can even tell this story. Most people would have shut down when trapped in such conditions. I sincerely hope that technology will eliminate the need to put humans at such risk. Thank you for allowing us to understand the consequences of war, and the impact it has on life.

  24. Liza L.
    Canada
    June 28, 2013, 6:55 pm

    Mr. Brace, your story brought me to tears. I can’t believe what you went through and I am amazed that you were strong enough to withstand what you did. God bless you.

  25. SAM
    June 29, 2013, 8:42 am

    Q: McCain said that your story should be told to every American, as an example of what “love of country, love of one’s fellow prisoners and what faith in God is all about.” Do you agree with this? Would you define yourself this way?

    Your story is quite incredible and sad. It’s unimaginable that you suffered so much at the hands of the North Korean soldiers and it all seems so pointless. The question above was asked of you and I couldn’t help but notice that you seemed to talk alot about pow’s, but didn’t really answer it. You make no mention of God sustaining you through this time, yet John McCain talks about how your story is ‘what faith in God’ is all about. Why would he say that if you did not turn to God during this horrendous time? Your survival through this ordeal is remarkable and I didn’t find Locked up Abroad portrayed you as ‘moaning and groaning’ a lot. Quite the contrary. It certainly seems that you’ve gone on to enjoy your life beyond that time in captivity, which I’m truly glad for. Take care.

  26. Roberta Zutautas
    Toronto canada
    June 29, 2013, 11:29 pm

    Why is there no war crimes trials for the monsters in Vietnam during the war?? The animals that callously tortured Mr. Grace should be brought to trial and hung……..or better yet be subject to the same tortures that they inflicted on their helpless captive

  27. Marc Emelianenko
    July 5, 2013, 10:28 pm

    There were no war crimes brought because the North Vietnamese played the self-loathing western media like a Stradivarius. General Giap, head of the NVA, figured out pretty quickly that the liberal western media, led by Walter Cronkite, were his strongest allies.

    The media couldn’t do enough mea-culpas and turned popular sentiment against the U.S. in favor of the North Vietnamese who were “just fighting imperialist aggression”. As such, the U.S. was the only side capable of committing war crimes, don’t you know.

  28. Jeffrey Taib
    malaysia
    July 22, 2013, 9:00 am

    I read Mr Brace’s book ‘A code to keep’ back in 1993. What a book, what an experience! I could not imagine being in his place.

    I remember reading in the book about a Thai soldier name Harnavee. Just wondering if Mr Brace still in contact with Harnavee and how is he doing now?

  29. Libby Hitchcox
    Leamington Spa, England.
    July 26, 2013, 4:00 pm

    Like everyone else who watched this programme I sobbed all the way through it. How can anyone be so cruel to another human being. How does the brain keep working with no stimulation? I have related your story to several friends who did not watch the programme and each time it has brought me to tears. I have no doubt there are others that may have had similar experiences to yourself and my heart goes out to them.

  30. Christine Charalambous
    London
    August 4, 2013, 4:58 pm

    Dearest Ernie
    My husband and I have been watching banged up abroad for the last few years.
    Never have we felt so sad about anyone’s touching story.
    What an amazing and strong man you are and an inspiration to the whole nation we wish you the very best for your future
    Christine & nick Charalambous x

  31. Patricia
    Spain/Manila
    August 20, 2013, 3:44 pm

    To Mr. Brace what an exceptional man you are! I couldnt believe what you had gone through & how it was possible for you to endure such torture & suffering for almost 8 years!! – I am still in tears while writing this. Truly you are a great & blessed human being! I wish more people will watch your story, so instead of constantly complaining about little discomforts in their lives, they will open their
    eyes to how lucky we all are for simply being FREE. No problem is too big after what you went through! plus your quiet
    demeanor amidst everything, makes you a true hero! I salute you sir & thank the show for bringing your story to light – for americans & non-americans like me, you symbolize hope for all humanity ;)

  32. Marc Mertens
    September 10, 2013, 2:23 pm

    Dear Ernie,

    You’re one of the most remarkable persons on earth, never before a story touched me so deep. The power to keep on going is unbelievable. You’re a true inspiration and a true hero. Hope you enjoy your retirement as much as possible, have a great life, you deserve it.

    Best regards,
    Marc Mertens (Belgium)

  33. M T Y
    New Mexico
    September 15, 2013, 3:21 am

    After recording this program it was six months before I could bring myself to view it. It is as tough as expected, but every American should do so just to be reminded of how fortunate we are to have our freedom and the sacrifices made to insure it. Mr. Brace, you are a true American hero. “Freedom is never free.”

  34. sharon bastek corbin
    webster,ma.
    December 7, 2013, 6:15 am

    God Bless YOU ERNIE BRACE, just watched Locked Up Abroad, Thank You so much for your bravery and courage. You are a (excuse me) bad ass survivalist !! So proud yet sorry for you and of course your family. Happy Ending to see you “walking” off that plane. Loved you breaking free all those times stretegically, then finally back home to AMERICA. Sorry for your pain,now and then..Peace.. Sharon p.s. my dad was in the Air Force WW2-alive and well.

  35. Joe Caranci
    Providence, R.I.
    December 7, 2013, 6:23 am

    Mr. Brace, your strength (physical & mental) during your time go beyond human comprehension. My dad was a WWII veteran and was not able to speak to myself and my sister of the time he spent overseas. I commend and salute you sir, you are a true American hero. God bless you!

  36. shannon
    gilbert AZ
    December 7, 2013, 9:14 am

    You are something else Mr. Brace. I watched with horror and wonder at the documentary. I am in awe of your patience and ability to maintain sanity. I just wanted to say thank you and you touched my heart to the core.

  37. Larry
    Kelowna, BC. Canada
    December 29, 2013, 11:16 pm

    Ernie, I salute you! Your resourcefulness, determination and long suffering puts you at the top of the heap of heros with Nelson Mandala. It would be an honour to meet you.

  38. Peter
    Canada
    January 3, 1:03 am

    What horrible suffering he had to go through. Can’t believe how human beings can treat other human beings like that. Makes me so angry the U.S. went to Vietnam, the 58 000 dead Americans, millions of Vietnamese all for nothing. War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.

  39. Shibi Jose
    India
    January 11, 11:52 am

    My husband and I watch Locked up Abroad regularly. Out of all the episodes we watched your story was the most heart wrenching. I could not sleep that night. I am not an American but after watching your story I truly admire the love you have for your country and your amazing resilience. God bless you and I wish you all the happiness in the world.

  40. marlies
    Amsterdam The Netherlands
    February 13, 3:59 pm

    Dear Mr Brace. I just want to give you a big fat hug and kiss.

  41. Robert Brandow
    Chandler AZ
    March 26, 10:17 pm

    God bless you and all the previous POW’s from all of our conflict. I know you and other POW’s do not think of yourself as heros but you are.During your captivity you showed American resolve.this is one of the reasons why our country is so great. god bless you ,your family and all the other POW’s from all previous conflicts alive and deceased and GOD BLESS AMERICA

  42. Ruth Adams
    Otsego WI
    March 26, 10:36 pm

    I just watched the program and can’t thank you enough for allowing us in Ernie, even though it’s impossible to conceive of your kind of inner strength. You are the measure of a man, and what is so beautiful about freedom…and you teach us how valuable that is by telling this story. God bless you Ernie and know you are deeply loved and admired beyond measure. You are the heroes we just don’t have enough of.

  43. javier montoya
    hobbs nm
    March 26, 11:09 pm

    What a story. You are a true American hero Mr. Brace. Thank you for your service and God Bless You.

  44. marlene
    california
    March 27, 1:24 am

    Ernie Brace: you fully embrace life like I have never seen. What a beautiful human being you are. You have my highest respect. I salute you in my heart. God bless you.

  45. Larry A. Lotzer
    Mpls Minnesota
    March 27, 11:26 am

    Thank you Mr Brace and McCain for showing us the greatness of Gods creation in living example…. in you two true heros dealing with unimaginable challenge and trial. Truly would have loved to see such leadership given greater opportunity to lead this country by our own democracy. Hopefully our country has learned from Vietnam how to honor and regard true leaders yet we clearly have a great way to travel.

  46. rj
    March 28, 7:46 am

    truly amazed also at what Mr. Brace and all the POW’s went through. All high school history classes should see this to let them know the price that was paid for our freedom and that athletes, celebrities are not the true American Heroes but these gentleman and women in our armed services

  47. Patty leifer
    St. John, Washington
    April 4, 8:40 am

    My cousin, Wes Schierman, was also a P.O.W. For 7 1/2 yrs. did you know him? It’s something he rarely talked about. You are a hero!

  48. Mily
    elmwood park nj
    May 20, 1:55 pm

    Doing my presentation on this amazing story. It breaks my heart to know someone went through this horrible experience.