Strange Bedfellows: The Hanoi Hilton Then And Now.
The Main entrance to the Hanoi Hilton POW Prison in Hanoi.
The Hanoi Hilton, or Hoa Lo (“Hell’s Hole”) Prison, as it was more locally known, was built by the French in the late 1800s to hold Vietnamese political prisoners, during the French period of Vietnamese colonisation.
During the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese used the Hanoi Hilton to imprison, torture and interrogate American POWs, many of whom were shot down during the bombing raids over Hanoi. Other POWs were transferred into the prison from elsewhere, including some very lucky ones from Laos, which is of course relevant to my Vietnam War/Backpacker crossover novel, BACK.
The Hanoi Hilton’s most famous captive was probably US Senator John McCain, who was held there from 1967-1973, after being shot down over Hanoi and hauled out of a nearby lake by an angry mob.
Although most of the prison was demolished in the 1990s, the gatehouse and some prison buildings still remain and they now house a small museum.
The words over the door “Maison Centrale”, mean “Central House” which was a euphemism then in use for French prisons.
During the Vietnam War inmates sarcastically coined the term “Hanoi Hilton” for the prison. However, on this visit I was surprised to see that a new, enormous hotel and shopping complex has been erected on part of the old prison grounds.
Called the Somerset Grand Hanoi, it soars above the prison and boasts its location as: “Towering over the charming French-inspired Old Quarters” of Hanoi, but strangely fails to mention its more notorious prison neighbour in whose grounds in now partly squats.
Perhaps the prison’s ‘Hanoi Hilton’ nickname was more prophetic than sarcastic after all.
See the trailer for our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. Set in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam, the film deals with the possible fate of US servicemen left behind after the US pulled out of the Vietnam War.
For POWs left behind in Laos, see also:
© Peter Alan Lloyd
BACK Parts 1 and 2:
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