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VOA POWs During Vietnam War, Part 1 - 2002-07-15

A VOA Snapshot - Part of VOA's 60th Anniversary Year Coverage.

During the Vietnam war, communist forces took more than 700 allied prisoners. Most people don't know that three of them worked for VOA. "There was an explosion that hit the house. And I said, 'uh-oh, this is bad,'" said Candido Badua.

Cadido "Pop" Badua was right. It was bad. The house he shared with his boss, Chuck Willis, had just been hit by a satchel bomb thrown by a Viet Cong fighter. Mr. Willis was wounded in the foot. It was the Tet Offensive in January, 1968, in the Vietnamese city of Hue, not far from the VOA transmitter where they both worked.

The two were taken prisoner and within hours they were marching north in the dark, at gunpoint, hands tied, through an area known as the 'bombing zone.' "[Willis] could not walk anymore. He said, 'go ahead, Pop, save your life, let them shoot me if they want to. I can not go any farther.' So I told him, 'If they're going to shoot you, they're going to shoot both of us,'" he recalled.

The much larger American leaned on his Filipino colleague until they staggered out of the bombing zone and were allowed to rest.

When they reached their first prison camp, they found another Filipino VOA transmitter staff member, Arturo Balagot. The three men spent the next year in solitary confinement in dark cells. Chuck's was not big enough for him to stand up straight or lie down flat. After that, the two Filipinos were allowed to live together with other prisoners, but Pop Badua says they did not see Chuck Willis again for nearly five years. "It's hard. It's hard to be there," he said.

We talk more about what happened to the VOA POWs in our next VOA Snapshot.

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