Wilfred Keese Abbott

an Autobiographical Sketch


I was born in Lancaster, California and was raised in both Lancaster and Bishop, California. After graduating from high school in Lancaster, I attended Pasadena City College. In 1957 I entered the Air Force Aviation Cadet Program, receiving my wings and commission in 1958. Upon completion of advanced training, my first operational assignment was in Kansas City, Missouri. While there, I met and married my wife, Sharon. We have managed to raise two fine sons, Michael 13 and Steve 12, during my numerous regular and temporary duty tours, as well as see and enjoy much of the USA. My assignment to Southeast Asia was an exchange tour with the Navy on board the USS Oriskany.

I was flying my Navy F-8 Crusader on a bright sunny day, September 5, 1966, when I was shot down over North Vietnam. In the ejection my right leg was broken.

After the leg was finally operated on, I was in a cast for about four months. It took about two years with my roommates' help to achieve full use of the leg. It was my constant desire not to be a cripple so as to fly again someday. Other than my leg, the treatment and daily routine as a prisoner of war was similar to that described by most of the men. The food was just enough to sustain life. A constant battle was to keep our minds active. In the early years communication was extremely limited, but in the last couple of years we were able to conduct our own educational programs--courses in everything from languages and mathematics to meat cutting, duplicate bridge and Toastmasters.

Confidence is perhaps the one word that best describes what sustained me through the years. Confidence in my God, my country, my fellow POWs, my family. At the same time what hurt most was the Americans who came to Hanoi in so-called "peace" delegations. They allowed themselves to be used as propaganda tools by the North Vietnamese against us (the POWs) and our forces in South Vietnam. By exploiting the treasured American right to dissent, as characterized by the anti-war movement, the North Vietnamese tried to undermine our loyalty to the American commitment in Vietnam. Our defense against this tactic was an awareness of the nature of the American free press. True brainwashing took place with the North Vietnamese people who were subjected to a totally controlled government press which distorted the true image of America.

As a native of California it was a special joy to reenter the US after six and a half years by circling the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco Bay. My homecoming has served to reenforce the beliefs in America which sustained me during my years as a prisoner. The warmth and sincerity of the welcome by all Americans has been overwhelming. I am eager to resume my Air Force career, while enjoying this great country with my family.


[Written shortly after his release from captivity in 1973. Wilfred Abbott retired from the United States Air Force as a Colonel. He and his wife Sharon reside in Alaska.]