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Prisoner of War Metal Comb

Prisoner of War Metal Comb

Catalog #: 2004.0083.14    Accession #: 2004.0083
Credit: Division of Military History and Diplomacy, National Museum of American History

Dimensions / Weight

Dimensions: 1.25" H x 7.25" W x 0.062" D

Physical Description

Metal comb with etching.

Specific History

Metal comb produced by the North Vietnamese in commemoration of 4,070 U.S. aircraft shot down. This comb was presented to Prisoner of War Captain William "Bill" Wilson, U.S. Air Force, as a parting gift upon his release. He was a POW from December 22, 1972 until March 29, 1973. The North Vietnamese did not present gifts to POWs shot down prior to 1972. It is supposed to be made from the skin of B-52s and F-4s, and the number etched into it is the number of US planes shot down as claimed by the North Vietnamese. Side one: "XAC MAY BAY MY THU 4,070." Side two: Etching picture of a bird on a branch on handle; "KHONG CO GI QUY HAN DOC LAP TU DO"

General History

A Prisoner of War (POW) is someone who is captured and imprisoned by an enemy power during a time of conflict or war. The Geneva Convention in 1949 defined who was to be considered a POW and determined how they were to be treated. The policies brought forth by the Geneva Convention were based on the international humanitarian law, or laws of war. Americans were held as prisoners of war in North Vietnam, but also in Cambodia, China, Laos, and South Vietnam. From 1961 to 1973, the North Vietnamese and Vietcong held hundreds of Americans captive. In North Vietnam alone, more than a dozen prisons were scattered in and around the capital city of Hanoi. American POWs gave them nicknames: Alcatraz, Briarpatch, Dirty Bird, the Hanoi Hilton, the Zoo. Conditions were appalling; food was watery soup and bread. Prisoners were variously isolated, starved, beaten, tortured—for countless hours—and paraded in anti-American propaganda. "It's easy to die but hard to live," a prison guard told one new arrival, "and we'll show you just how hard it is to live."


Country: Vietnam
War: Vietnam conflict
Service: Air Force
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