Porter Alexander Halyburton '63
In 1963, Porter Halyburton graduated from Davidson College, soon thereafter to join the U.S. Navy. After receiving his wings as a Naval Flight officer, he deployed in May 1965 aboard the carrier U.S. Independence to the waters off Vietnam.
Six months later, after flying 75 combat missions over Vietnam, Lt. Halyburton's F-4 Phantom fighter was downed by anti-aircraft fire. Wounded and exhausted, he was captured by the North Vietnamese and imprisoned in the infamous Hao Lo prison, subsequently dubbed by American POWs as the Hanoi Hilton. Interrogations and beatings became a daily occurrence, food was inadequate, living conditions abysmal, and communication with fellow prisoners forbidden.
When his captors determined that even this life was too good, they assigned Major Fred Cherry to his cell, certain that a white southerner and a badly wounded black Air Force officer would find only misery and disdain in each other's company. They would, in fact, become friends for life, as Porter found great solace in caring for his cellmate over the next eight months.
When the city of Hanoi was bombed for the first time in June 1966, Porter and his fellow POWs were marched through the streets amidst a hail of stones, sticks, mud, fists and spit. Many would have preferred to die that day rather than experience the three years that followed. Held in a series of primitive prisons, encountering unspeakably barbaric treatment, Porter would later write, "Even when we were not being tortured or punished, we spent the daylight hours of each day in our long clothes with our arms handcuffed behind us. Meager meals were eaten in the dark in fierce competition with the rats and cockroaches."
In 1969, conditions grew less harsh, and Porter could write, for the first time, his wife Marty and daughter Dabney, born only months before his departure over four years earlier. As their numbers grew, the POWs developed a clandestine culture that countered the isolation of solitary confinement and supported those subjected to torture or fighting disease. Even as the Vietnamese moved them from one place to another, and manipulated them to bolster the international protest against the war, the American POWs persisted in their resistance and in their hope for freedom.
With an end to the bombing of North Vietnam, the U.S. and North Vietnamese signed the Paris Agreement in January 1973. Two weeks later, Porter was released. On March 17, his hometown of Davidson welcomed him home in an outpouring of love and respect. He had been a prisoner of war for 7 ½ years.
Because your service to our country has been recognized by award of the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, two Bronze Stars, three Purple Hearts and seven Air Medals;
Because the Department of the Navy in 1997 awarded you its Meritorious Civilian Service Award;
Because you, the 40th of nearly 600 Americans eventually imprisoned in North Vietnam, courageously supported and sustained those imprisoned with you;
Because you saved the life of your friend Fred Cherry;
Because you celebrated Christmas, repeated the Lord's Prayer, and recited the Pledge of Allegiance, even in solitary confinement;
And because your perseverance inspires us and benefits us in ways we are only now coming to understand,
the Davidson College Alumni Association is proud to present you, Porter Alexander Halyburton, its Distinguished Alumnus Award, on the occasion of your 35th Reunion.