Dakota Datebook

Captain David Mott, POW

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Today is the birthday of Ho Chi Minh, who was born in 1890. Trained in the Soviet Union, he rose to become the communist ruler of North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Today also marks the anniversary of the day in 1972 that Captain David Mott became a prisoner of war in Ho Chi Minh’s country.

The Fargo native graduated from NDSU with a degree in mathematics, and then went through Air Force Officer Training School; he was commissioned in November 1965. After a year of pilot training at Webb Air Force Base in Texas, he received his wings and remained to serve as a T-38 instructor pilot.

In March 1971, Mott was assigned to OV-10 training in preparation for serving in Vietnam. The OV-10 Bronco was particularly suited for anti-guerrilla operations and was among the most feared American aircraft during the war – a Bronco appearing overhead usually preceded an air strike. The glassed-in cabin was uncomfortably warm, but it provided wide visibility for the 2-man crew, who used machine guns and bombs to attack, and rockets to mark targets for fighter-bombers flying behind them. This allowed for flying armed reconnaissance missions, providing close air support and serving as forward air control.

By September 1971, Captain Mott’s new home was Da Nang Air Base in South Vietnam. From there he served as a Forward Air Controller until he and his crewmate, William Thomas, were shot down in Quang Tri Province in South Vietnam the following spring. “The area where I ejected,” he said, “was infested with North Vietnamese troops… I was captured within minutes. Although I was… supposedly a prisoner of the Provisional Revolutionary Government, I was actually held for the full ten months by the North Vietnamese…”

That last statement could confuse many who believed there was one overall enemy – the “Viet Cong.” But, there were actually two distinct enemy factions – the regularly trained and organized North Vietnamese Army, plus the National Liberation Front, which operated as the Provisional Revolutionary Government in South Vietnam. The second became known as the Viet Cong, and it was this faction that used guerilla warfare. North Vietnam provided “support.”

Mott was sent north, on foot, through the jungles and mountains lining the grueling Ho Chi Minh Trail. Months later, he arrived in Hanoi and was interned in a camp euphemistically named the Plantation Gardens. Then he was moved to the infamous Hoa Lo prison, which POWs renamed the Hanoi Hilton. The sadistic torture and abuse systems used by the North Vietnamese have since become legendary.

The most difficult part of imprisonment for Mott was not knowing if his family knew what happened to him. “Were they aware that I was alive, uninjured and a prisoner of war? I was not allowed to write to them,” he said, “nor to receive letters or packages from them during the ten months I was captive.” In fact, the U.S. government did not know that Mott and Thomas had been captured. Mott’s family didn’t find out he was alive until the enemy turned over their lists of POWs following the cease-fire.

On March 27th, 1973, Mott and his crewmate became part of Operation Homecoming, during which the Vietnamese released 591 Americans. Mott remained active in the Air Force and flew a total of more than 100 missions. He retired in 1996 with the rank of Colonel.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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