A former POW tells his story as we honor former prisoners-of-war and those missing-in-action.
Don Heiliger was flying combat missions in 1967 when his plane was hit and he was forced to eject over North Vietnam. He had been listed as MIA for a couple of years. But, it was later learned that he was a POW.
“It’s a unique experience and something you don’t aim for … people say ‘why would you want to be a POW?’ Nobody wants to be a POW.”
Captain Heiliger was captured the day after he was shot down and spent nearly six years as a prisoner-of-war.
“Nearly 2,200 days after I was shot down. That’s a lot of days. It’s time to go to college, and get your Master’s degree.”
Heiliger says the hardest part of his capture was the pain and suffering endured by the families back home — the not knowing.
“In my case my folks waited about two and a half years until they had word that I wasn’t dead, or that I wasn’t MIA, that I was actually POW. Maybe not much better, but the person’s alive. You’ve got thousands of people waiting for words like this.”
Heiliger was eventually released during Operation Homecoming on February 18, 1973. The Vietnam Veteran spoke today at a ceremony held at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum observing POW-MIA Recognition Day.
NOTE: Thousands of Americans are still listed as MIA from WWII (78,750), Korea (8,177) and Vietnam (2,255). Nationally there are over 20,000 former POWs. There are over 300 former prisoners-of-war living in Wisconsin.