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'Freedom is not free'

Former POW Wayne Ogden Smith tells his audience at MacDill that fear makes all Americans prisoners of war today.

By BABITA PERSAUD, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 21, 2002


TAMPA -- He survived torture and isolation for five years and two months as a prisoner during the Vietnam War, but on Friday Wayne Ogden Smith spoke about fear in today's world.

"All Americans are prisoners of war," Smith said during a POW/MIA National Day of Rememberance ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base on Friday.

"Today we are in a world like no other. Our enemy has not only struck us on our soil, but his single objective is to murder as many innocent individuals as possible."

Smith, now 59 and a retired energy executive living in Naples, echoed a theme throughout the hourlong ceremony: "Freedom is not free. It comes with a price."

And sometimes, that price is fear.

"I spent 1,862 days living in fear," Smith told the audience of mostly military personnel. "I know something about it."

Smith, a fighter pilot, flew 90 missions over North Vietnam and Laos before he was shot down on Jan. 18, 1968, and captured. He was held in Hanoi. He grew depressed and wondered, "Did any one know I was alive?"

His first bath came months after his capture. He was given a basin filled with water -- the same water the other prisoners had used -- and told by a guard: "Wash."

Smith was freed on March 14, 1973, along with the 350 other POWs held in Hanoi.

How did he keep going? Smith told the audience it was the other prisoners, many of whom had been held longer than he was.

He recalled a day in 1971, when some prisoners tried to have a Sunday church service. The men were rounded up, chained and isolated. One cell block started singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic and then God Bless America, Smith said.

"Within seconds, there were 350 of us singing it at the top of our lungs. Our voices must have been heard all over Hanoi."

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