Locked Up Abroad to air April 17, will feature two Arizona sons

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Ernest Brace

Complied by Vicki Clark

Ernest Brace was the longest held civilian prisoner of war in the Vietnam conflict. His sister Rose Brace Bradford of Kearny recently learned that his story will be told on a National Geographic’s show Locked Up Abroad on April 17 at 9 p.m. EST, 6 p.m. Arizona time.

Locked Up Abroad will use Ernie’s story for the premiere of its season stating they found his story so compelling. The docudrama will open when Brace and now Arizona Senator John McCain first saw each other face to face at the White House dinner hosted by Richard Nixon for all the POWs. Ernie and John were next door neighbors in the Hanoi Hilton and communicated by tap code but had never seen each other in person.

Ernie was a Vietnam POW for over seven years… this is how it all began. —….During the Vietnam War, United States civilian pilot Ernest C. Brace was living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with his wife and sons. His job was to fly air cargo to Lao Special Forces United, who were organizing the civic action teams for hospitals and supply bases, and in need of ammunition, first aid and food crates.

May 21, 1965, began as an ordinary day with an ordinary mission. Brace was flying provisions and passengers to Boum Lao – a small Korean village at the end of a valley – when his landing plane was riddled with gunfire by North Vietnamese soldiers hidden in the jungle. Brace, along with a man named Chaicharn, was captured by unfriendlies and forced to march several miles into the mountains to camps concealed by the thick forest.

Little did 33-year-old Ernest Brace know that he would become America’s longest held civilian prisoner of war in Vietnam, enduring years of abuse, torture, sickness, isolation, hopelessness, and humiliation by North Vietnamese soldiers.

Brace was beaten with a cane, forced to stand in front of firing squad and violently interrogated by military officers who believed he was with the CIA illegally crossing the Laos border. But he always held to the fact that he was an American civilian piloting supplies.

For the next three and a half years, Brace was mostly confined to a small, four foot high damp bamboo cage, and his six-foot-tall frame had to crouch down to fit inside.

During his years confined to the cage, he attempted to escape three times, once he even managed to get away for several days. As punishment for this he was buried in the ground up to his neck and left there for a week with only two 15-minute breaks a day and only rice for nourishment.

He was eventually transferred to the Hanoi Hilton where he made contact with McCain.

The Brace family migrated from Michigan to Arizona in the late 1940’s but Ernie had already enlisted in the Marines and was in training in South Carolina. He later attended flight training in Florida that would prepare him for the Korean War. He was shot down twice in that war and then returned to the U.S. to bby the thick forest. Little did 33-year-old Ernest Brace know that he would become America’s longest-held civilian prisoner of war in Vietnam, enduring years of abuse, torture, sickness, isolation, hopelessness, and humiliation by North Vietnamese soldiers. Brace was beaten with a cane, forced to stand in front of a firing squad, and violently interrogated by military officers who believed he was with the CIA illegally crossing the Laos border. But Brace always held to the fact that he was an American civilian piloting supplies. For the next three-and-a-half years, Brace was mostly confined to a small, four-foot high, damp bamboo cage, and his six-foot-tall frame had to crouch down to fit inside. During his years confined to the cage, he attempted to escape three times – once, he even managed to get away for several days. As punishment for this, Brace was buried in the ground up to his neck and left there for a week. With only two 15-minute breaks a day and only rice for nourishment, Brace eventually lost the use of his leecome an instructor at Quantico where other military were being trained. It was later that he began flying commercial cargo flights.

His family, Dad Cary, Mom Ruth and two sisters had moved to Ray by 1951 and eventually the parents moved to Superior and sister Rose to Kearny. Sister Betty lived in Superior and Florence until her death in 1994.

Ernie and his wife reside in Oregon and he enjoys a very active life at the age of 81. He has written two books about his experiences A Code to Keep and Monkey Paw Soup. Both can be ordered from Amazon.com

The docudrama titled Vietnam POWs:McCain and Brace will also feature Sen. McCain’s story. He was a military POW and was held captive for five and a half years by the North Vietnamese.

Information for this story came from a National Geographic article by Jodi Kandall published Mar. 28, 2013, and Rose Bradford.

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