Colonel Bud Day: Soldier who was held prisoner by the Vietcong for over five years


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The Independent Online

George "Bud" Day, who died on 27 July aged 88, spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and was John McCain's cellmate. One of the most highly decorated US servicemen since General MacArthur, he was later a tireless advocate for veterans' rights.

Day received the Medal of Honor for escaping his captors for 10 days after his aircraft was shot down over North Vietnam. He earned more than 70 medals during service in the Second World War, Korea and Vietnam.

In Vietnam, he was McCain's cellmate at a camp known as the Plantation and later in the infamous Hanoi Hilton, where he was often the highest-ranking captive and was hung by his arms for days, tearing them from their sockets. He was freed in 1973, a skeletal shadow of the once dashing fighter pilot. His hands and arms never functioned properly again. "I was just living day to day," he recalled. "One really bad cold and I would have been dead."

McCain said he owed his life to Day. "He was the bravest man I ever knew, and his fierce resistance and resolute leadership set the example for us in prison of how to return home with honour."

Born in 1925, in Sioux City, Iowa, where the airport is named after him, Day joined the Marines in 1942 while in high school. He entered the Iowa National Guard in 1950 and attended flight school. He did two tours as a bomber pilot in the Korean War. He was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967; he bailed out, but the landing broke his knee and arm and left him temporarily blinded in one eye.

After the war Day retired to the Florida Panhandle in 1977 and practiced law, becoming a crusader for veterans' health care benefits. He was active in McCain's failed 2000 and 2008 Republican presidential bids and in 2004 campaigned against his fellow Vietnam veteran John Kerry.

Day retired from the Air Force with the rank of colonel, never attaining his general's star. He said he believed he wasn't promoted further because he "told it like it was ... When I returned from prison, there was a huge amount of the Air Force leadership that were not combat-oriented. They were quasi-political managers."

Campaigning for McCain in his 2008 presidential bid, Day drew comparisons between the lessons of Vietnam and the dangers of an early pull-out from Iraq. "They cut off funding to the South Vietnamese Army and we ended up being defeated, and that's really very relevant to what's happening right now," Day said.

Day worked throughout his life, accepting an appointment to head the Okaloosa County Public Defender's Office in 2009 at the age of 83.