- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 26, 2007

In 1955, following the Korean War, President Dwight D. Eisenhower established a code of conduct for members of the U.S. armed forces who might fall into enemy hands. The six articles instructed prisoners to make every effort to escape, evade answering questions beyond those permitted by the Geneva Convention and “keep faith with my fellow prisoners.”

This rigid code was in place in August 1967 when Maj. (later Col.) George “Bud” Day was shot down by a surface-to-air missile some 30 miles north of the DMZ in Vietnam. His ordeal while a prisoner for nearly six years is now the subject of American Patriot: The Life and Wars of Colonel Bud Day (Little Brown, $27.99, 416 pages, illus.), by Atlanta-based journalist Robert Coram.

In ejecting from his F-100F, Day broke his left arm in three places, damaged his left eye, and dislocated one knee. He landed alive, but his ordeal was just beginning. A local militia captured and savagely beat him; as time went on, however, he was tied up carelessly and one night he escaped. Aware that he was not far from South Vietnam, Day limped his way across rice paddies and through light brush, lying low to avoid Viet Cong formations.

After some 10 days on the run, with only raw frogs for sustenance, Day began walking in circles and hallucinating. He encountered an enemy patrol and sustained two gunshot wounds while being recaptured. The Viet Cong returned him to his earlier prison, where his captors turned on him in a fury. First, the two soldiers who’d been on duty when he escaped beat him with rifle butts. Then, in Mr. Coram’s words, Day was hoisted by his ankles, “head down, feeling the bones in his broken arm being pulled apart, then forced together, then pulled apart. In agony, he was left for hours as flies and mosquitoes crawled on his skin, as sweat coursed down his body.”

In October, Day and his guards began a journey north. Eventually they reached the Hanoi Hilton where — still refusing to give more than his name, rank and serial number — Day was housed with the most recalcitrant prisoners. There he had two cellmates, one of them John McCain, who had been treated about as brutally as Day.

The 1960s turned into the 1970s. Propaganda over the prisons’ loudspeakers featured Jane Fonda leading American women in songs that ridiculed the armed forces. The few early releases from Hanoi were bitterly resented by the likes of Day and McCain, who knew that such consideration could be obtained only by cooperation with Communist authorities. Day later recalled, “I believed the most important thing in my life was to return from North Vietnam with honor, not just to return.” And return he did in 1973, to his loyal wife, Doris, and to the country he had served so bravely.

The Air Force showered Day with honors, including the Medal of Honor, but passed over him for promotion to general. Because he had a law degree, Day began a private law practice, and he led a successful suit against the U.S. Government on behalf of World War II and Korean War veterans whose medical benefits had been slashed.

Day condemned all prisoners who were granted early release, and this tempers the reader’s admiration for him. Not every soldier or airman is a Bud Day, and the Code of Conduct now makes a distinction between a collaborator and one “who, after having been physically or mentally tortured, complies with a captor’s improper demand.” But the reader will understand why Jane Fonda travels with bodyguards.

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Publications mogul William Randolph Hearst is certainly among the most colorful characters in American history, so any Hearst biography is guaranteed to provide entertainment. With William Randolph Hearst: The Later Years, 1911-1951 (Oxford, $30, 325 pages, illus.), Ben Procter, a professor of history emeritus at Texas Christian University, completes his two-volume romp through the vainglorious life of the publisher who, after becoming infamous for his jingoistic journalism in 1898, repeatedly sought high elective office while publishing newspapers that were once read by one-fourth of the American population.

This is a well researched work — the author even read on microfilm all the signed editorials Hearst produced for his front-page column — but the reader senses that after two decades of living with Hearst (“The Early Years, 1863-1910” appeared in 1998), the author just shipped off the manuscript to Oxford and couldn’t bear to look at it again.

The book abounds with fascinating material about Hearst’s personal political ambitions; he vacillated between parties before starting one of his own. He viewed Woodrow Wilson and Al Smith with particular antipathy. When the Depression came, Hearst soured on Herbert Hoover too, and soon after visiting the newly elected Franklin Roosevelt, Hearst turned against him, saying, “The President didn’t give me a chance to make suggestions. He did all the talking.” Subsequently, Hearst backed Alfred Landon for president while saying kind words about Hitler and Mussolini.

The descriptions of Hearst’s extravagant travels and the skill with which Hearst juggled his wife, Millicent, who accompanied him to White House functions, and his young mistress, Marion Davies, who accompanied him everywhere else, are lively reading.

But the book is also entertaining in ways the author never intended. Mr. Proctor repeats certain exclamations throughout: “What a mistake!” “What a strange turn of events!” “What a furor!” His word choice is often infelicitous: “suffered the bitter seeds of defeat,” “twenty-six trunks of luggage” and “To his way of thinking, he held the pulse of the American people.”

The author’s repetitious summaries eventually tumble over each other:

“Since first becoming the owner and editor of the San Francisco Examiner in March 1887, Hearst had established a three-part formula for success. He focused on increasing circulation (and bragging about it in print), which in turn attracted advertisers. Then with added revenue, he hired the most competent newsmen and editors. Equally important, however, he believed that he had his finger on the pulse of the American people.”

Then:

“Hearst developed a formula that produced journalistic success. He concentrated on increasing the circulation of his newspapers and bragged about such growth to readers, which in turn attracted business advertisements. And with this added revenue, he hired the best professionals in their fields: editors, reporters, illustrators, political cartoonists, all at substantial salary increases… . He believed that his fingers were on the pulse of the American people… .”

Notwithstanding his own opinion that he reflected the views of mainstream Americans, Hearst was often described as “the most hated man in America.” When the end came, at age 88, he died at the home of his paramour, Marion, who had devoted 30 years to keeping him entertained. Hearst corporate executives and Hearst’s sons did not permit her to attend the funeral.

Mr. Proctor’s acknowledgments list includes many “professionals,” mainly librarians, who helped him; he ends with “Most of all, I am inbeted [sic] to my wife Phoebe and son Ben …”

Where have all the editors gone?

John M. and Priscilla S. Taylor are writers in McLean, Va.

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