New exhibit at Airborne and Special Operations Museum shares experiences of prisoners of war
February 10, 2012
FORT BRAGG, N.C. "… I will never again be the same after being the animal called POW."
This quote by former prisoner of war, then Sgt. Daniel Pitzer, is one of the first things a visitor sees when entering the Airborne and Special Operations Museum's special exhibit, "Animal Called POW." The exhibit, which opens Friday, focuses on Special Forces POWs who were captured and held in South Vietnam.
"Many people don't know about the prisoners of war who were in South Vietnam," said Nicole Neville Suarez, curator at the ASOM "They tend to think more about those who were held up north. They think about the Hanoi Hilton and John McCain."
When you first enter the exhibit, a display illustrates why the Special Forces were in Vietnam through period footage. From there you step into a prisoner of war camp and take a journey through their experience, surrounded by bamboo cages and indoctrinated by a member of the Viet Cong.
The stories of 19 prisoners of war are told in the "camp" through their quotes, personal items, pictures and displays. One exhibit shows a prisoner being punished in a torture position. The prisoner depicts then Maj. Ray Schrump, who was a POW from May 1968 to February 1973. Schrump, who helped perfect the exhibit, said he was held in that position for about seven hours after he assaulted a VC guard.
Schrump said that when he first found out about the exhibit, it was tough to get used to the idea and now that he's used to it, he thinks it's awesome.
"It's meaningful to me," said the retired lieutenant colonel. "It highlights the sacrifice of our veterans and it needs to be presented, especially to our youth. They are our future."
The displays help visitors get into the mindset of what life was like for the prisoners.
"The elements we used represent confinement, deprivation and depression. It was a dangerous environment they lived in and on any given day, their lives could have been taken," said Frank Williams, a visual information specialist who worked on the exhibit.
"It was dehumanizing and that's the entire feel of the exhibit -- the cold, hardship of it," said Carrie Farrell, a VI specialist who also worked on the displays. "We can't be there. We can't feel it and experience what they went through, so we tried to convey that feeling visually."
The experiences of the POWs depicted in the exhibit led to the establishment of the survive, evade, resist and escape training that Soldiers receive today. The JFK Special Warfare Center and School SERE course provided some of the survival tools that students make for one of the exhibit's display cases.
At the end of the exhibit, the stories of more recent POWs are shared. Chief Warrant Officer 4 (Ret.) Michael Durant, the pilot whose story many people are familiar with through "Black Hawk Down," donated several of his personal items for the museum's exhibit.
The exhibit will remain on display through January 2013.