Escape from a Living Hell

Escape from a Living Hell (2000) In this History Channel documentary director Paul Wimmer focuses his attention on POW escapes during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, using Robert C. Doyle’s Prisoner’s Duty: Great Escapes in U. S. Military History (1997) as his primary historical source. Mr. Wimmer had unique access to the USAF’s closed interview archive of escapers held at Ft. Belvoir by the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency. With such materials at hand, Wimmer could make a truly excellent documentary that avoids mythic fluff and shows how and why escapers are really unusual soldiers. It starts with the first American escape from a German POW camp in 1943 -- “Shorty” Lee Gordon’s from Stalag VII A, Moosburg --, moves to one violent escape in Korea, and ends with Issac Comacho’s successful escape in South Vietnam and two well known two-man unsuccessful escape attempts in Hanoi.

The essence of this documentary is to show that POWs who become successful escapers possess a peculiar mindset. As one POW expressed it, “escape or die.” Some plan an organized attempt, while others seize the moment. It also shows that Americans in captivity during the twentieth century believe that they remain at war behind the wire.
Robert C. Doyle Franciscan University of Steubenville rcdoyle@sbsglobal.net

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