You know who I’m thinking of this Fourth of July weekend?
Tony Marshall, one of the many pilots I met when I ran “Angel’s Truck Stop,” the Officer’s Club at Udorn Air Base in Thailand.
Forty-three years ago on July 3rd Captain Marion "Tony" Marshall, Weapon Systems Officer, was the backseater in an F4 Phantom fighter jet with Captain Stephen Cuthbert the Aircraft Commander.
Seventy miles northwest of Dong Hoi in North Vietnam, they were in a dive to mark a target and their external centerline fuel tank collapsed. Cuthbert lost control of the aircraft and ejected Tony from the plane.
Next thing Tony knew, he was on the ground, dazed, where Vietnamese soldiers removed his gun and G-suit. He didn’t really come to until hours later—when he found himself stripped and tied in an underground bunker completely alone. At 25 years old he was now at the mercy his captors. He traveled by jeep for five nights where they took him to the “Hanoi Hilton.” That was what the U.S. military called the Hao Lo Prison that had been built during the French occupation for house political decenters. He spent his days in solitary confinement and then was moved with four other POWs to “The Zoo,” a nickname for another POW camp where he remained for 269 days until he was repatriated on March 29, 1973.
Tony knew he was one of the lucky ones to return alive. To have a family member still MIA, he said, “Is an ordeal far worse than any torture I could have suffered.”
I’m thinking of Tony because behind every firework, every BBQ party and every red-white-and-blue waving flag there’s a story of a military service member who sacrificed his/her safety, family, and sometimes even their life to make this celebration possible. Freedom isn’t free.
I’m thankful for these men and women, like Tony and so many more I’ve written about in my book, “Angel’s Truck Stop” (the third edition is out now!)
Have fun, celebrate freedom—and never, ever forget those who gave it to us.