Well, okay. The "Hanoi March" as we call it, was July 6, 1966. For months the Vietnamese had been increasing their pressures for propaganda purposes. And of course, they initially began by just asking you to write your biography, or write about your hometown or something. The real ploy is to get you to start to write and follow their directions, which is step number one, and then, from then on once they get you to do that, then they get more and more and more. All...the whole thing was designed to obtain from us propaganda.
So initially prior to this they had used less, ah less coercive, physical coercive of means to get us start writing about our hometowns, or what it's like at home, what the furnishings are in our house, describe the kitchen, things like this. They would usually let you sit and think about it until you wrote something. And that was...you sit there on a stool in a room where, with the guards coming around periodically to check on you to see that you didn't fall asleep and you went for days without sleep, and then a little food, and then they began to cut back on the water and things like this.
So they had taken us to a camp, the hills west of Hanoi
, I'd say fifty miles west of Hanoi
- forty to fifty miles. There were about fifty of us and they began to start this, and then at the conclusion of this as they were going through this process of having everyone do this, they one evening, July the sixth
, they came around and gave us new pajamas that we wore, and these had numbers stamped, stamped numbers on our pajamas, and there was some high number like 66 or 88 or 180, you know, just random numbers, high numbers.
And we didn't know what it was and they told us to put 'em on and then they...not all of us, but just a few of us from this camp were taken and put on the trucks. And initially we were always so hopeful, enough convinced this thing was gonna end, we were going to be on our way home and we figured, "Aha! This is step number one and they're going to take us to an airport, air base, and we're gonna be going home, guys." So we were sort of feeling good about this as we were loaded on the truck.
We were blindfolded, we were handcuffed still, so we couldn't see who else was in the truck. But of course, we were able to communicate and find out who they were, ten people to a truck and there were two trucks. Off we went. Well, when we finally stopped we knew were in the city somewhere. They let us out and kept us blindfolded, what have you, and finally when they took me by...they separated me from my partner who was also my cellmate at the time, and I was led down for a distance - I was still blindfolded - and then I was tied to somebody else. And I touched his arm and he told me who he was and I told him who I was and it was Robby Risner. And I explained where I'd come from and he was in Hanoi
and I was out at the camp that we used to call the Briar Patch.
And we were in a park, sort of, a little like a square area. There were buildings around this park and we were sort of on the road around this park, and there were mobs of people at the end of the park where...we could see like a grandstands. And he looked at me and were being told that we were to follow instructions, not to do anything, not to raise arms, like give any indication that we were going to...we were to be just very submissive, and follow the guard's instructions.
And there was a guard on each side of every one of us. And I looked ahead and there were two other pairs of other POWs ahead of us and I looked back and they were lined up. There must have been about eighteen, twenty pairs of POWs all handcuffed or tied to each other, with guards. And Robby says to me, I think, oh, we were not allowed to talk to each other, we were not allowed to look back, just keep our heads down and follow. And Robby says, "I think this is all for propaganda." And I was hoping he was right and that was all there was to it.
And so then they gave us the order to start marching and as we started walking, I thought we were going to walk right around the park. But no, as we go to the opening of a big street, I looked, we could see down...this was the New Year's Eve parade. There was just thousands of people in stands, along the streets, and as we started to march I could hear the people starting chanting, using megaphones, getting the crowd going, and started calling us names and one of the guards with a megaphone was one of the interrogators we called the Rabbit.
And he saw me and he turned to the crowd and was leading them in this cheer. The cheer said, "Alvarez! Alvarez! Son of a bitch! Son of a bitch!" So pretty soon the whole cheering section started, and you know I had played sports before, but this was a different sport altogether. So we started marching and at first they were just yelling and calling names and waving their fists and the cameras were rolling and there were a lot of television cameras, movie cameras, or what have you.
But as we progressed down, down the street, the crowds became, started to press in and the guards would come along and the interrogators would say, bow to the people, bow to the people. And I sort of tried to keep my head, not to bow, but just head in that direction, and after a few blocks of this the crowd came uncontrollable and started throwing things - shoes, bottles, rocks, and started to come in. And at one point I...somebody came up to Robby and hit him and he went down, and I held him and got him and was holding him, and the guards kept saying, motioning, go, just keep going, and as we were going and Robby was sort of wobbling alone, and he said okay, I'm okay.
And he started walking and somebody came up alongside of me, and he was a European or he was Caucasian, and he had a big camera - and he was a photographer - and he was talking to me in Spanish and he was asking me if I was Cuban. Cuban. And then I looked at him sort of and said, you're Cuban, and he hit me with his camera. I about went down and Robby sort of helped me along and then people started running in and pretty soon the guards couldn't hold them back any further.
And all we could do at that time was to keep physically pushing ourselves through the mob and they, somehow, I remember the guards were right next along side of us pushing the guards, and I don't know where they came...many, many young men and women with red armbands, and they sort of formed a human chain, and sort of right along side of us, between us and the crowd, and walked us. And they went a long way. Things became a blur. I remember seeing a big truck full of cameras, lights, floodlights, or what have you.
And I began praying. And I, boy, when I started praying, from that point on I was just praying to myself. I never really got hit hard again. But I was, you know, I was afraid. Not just afraid, I knew, I figured this was it. And we came, finally came to an end, a dark area, and there was a stadium. And we were being led to this stadium, and the mobs were just pushing against us. It was like a blur by this time. I just kept going, pushing through the crowd and when we got close to the stadium, the crowds were just too strong, too thick, and we were separated, the pairs were separated, the guards could do nothing.
And I remember a distance of about twnety, fifteen, twenty yards from the doors, and just a mob of people, and this one - like an officer in a white shirt and military hat - sort of turned to me and pointed to the door, as if to say, you gotta get in there. And just a mob of people, I could just see piles of people, piles, laying in piles like they had sort of fallen on top of each other. High piles of bodies and people screaming and all worked up. And I, I looked at Robby and he sort of looked at me and we just lowered our heads and drove and pushed our way through the, all the people, between the doors.
There were guards and they saw us and they were opening these doors, and they opened it a crack, let us through, and closed it right after us. This is how they were going it. The pairs came through, we were pushing our way through, and I sort of breathed a sigh as I stood and then somebody hit me from behind, and I was...went out again. Next thing I know I was sort of drowsy and we were led to the infield, sat there. They brought us all in, we all made it. We sat on the infield of this stadium, I just couldn't believe it.