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VOA POWs During Vietnam War, Part 2 - 2002-07-16


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

During the Vietnam War, three VOA staffers were among the more than 700 allied prisoners held by North Vietnam.

"It's hard. It's hard to be there," said Candido "Pop" Badua. He and his friend Arturo Balagot, both Filipinos, were technicians at the VOA transmitter in Hue, South Vietnam, when they were captured in January, 1968, along with their boss, American Chuck Willis.

But the Filipinos and Mr. Willis were separated for nearly five years.

In the prison camps, with mostly American military men, "Pop" Badua earned a reputation for generosity. When he fixed the commander's radio he smuggled cigarettes and alcohol back to the cell. And he helped keep up morale with a Christmas show.

Fellow-prisoner Michael Benge said, "He was a ball of fire, had a lot of spirit there and if there was anything that he thought he could end up doing for you, he would. I mean, that does end up describing it."

The VOA POWs were reunited near the end of the war at the infamous Hanoi Hilton prison. A few months later they were released.

"That was one of the happiest moments I had," Mr. Badua said. I couldn't believe it.

After the war, all three men came to the United States and continued working for VOA.

Chuck Willis and Arturo Balagot have died in recent years. Pop Badua's actions in prison earned him U.S. citizenship through a special bill in the Congress. Today, he is retired in California.

I'm proud [to have been] with the VOA," he said. "If at my age I am still allowed to work for VOA, I would be willing to go back." An amazing statement from a man whose career at VOA was more difficult and dangerous than any transmitter technician could ever expect.

To write to us about our anniversary, send an email to anniversary@voanews.com. Or, send regular mail to Anniversary, VOA News Now, Washington, D.C. 20237, USA.

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