Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

We Came Home

by Tom Browning

(Edited from an article originally published in 1973)
I was born in Holyoke, Massachusetts on 25 October 1941 to Sgt. and Mrs. C. K. Browning. My Dad left shortly thereafter for Europe and WW II where he was a navigator/bombardier on a B-17B, was subsequently shot down and spent 19 bleak months as a POW in Stalag 17B. Since he remained in the Air Force after its formation in 1947 we traveled around a great deal but ended up in Orlando, Florida in 1955 where I lived with them and three younger sisters through graduation from high school in 1960.

After high school, I was off to the Air Force Academy. On 3 June 1964, I received my commission and a B. S. degree in Engineering Science. The next two years found me at Vance AFB, Enid, Oklahoma, in Pilot Training, then at Nellis AFB, Las Vegas, Nevada for F-105 school. Then in late May 1966, I went off to fight a war.

In the late afternoon of 8 July 1966, my F-105 took a direct hit from 85 mm anti-aircraft fire, burst into flames, went out of control, and I ejected. While on the ground, before I was captured, I buried my wedding ring and a small Bible given to me the night before I left, which I always carried. I reasoned that they would rob me of everything (which they did), and that if I couldn't keep them, I certainly didn't want the North Vietnamese to have them.

The gory details of my six and a half years of confinement aren't much different from those of many of my fellows, so I won't bore the reader with them other than to mention one personal note: I wasn't allowed a letter until 15 April 1970. The letter told me that I had a son named Scott. Earlier, on 5 February 1969, I had received a picture of him in a small package.

Twelve February 1973 was the big day when the third of three Air Force Medical Evacuation C-141's took me with 27 others from Hanoi's Gia Lam Airport to Clark AB in the Philippines and FREEDOM! Five days later at 0030, I was united with my son for the first time at Maxwell AFB, Alabama. These two events are undoubtedly the happiest of my life, followed by the night of 2 March when I returned to Orlando with many old and new friends and home!

As for the future: I plan to stay in the Air Force and we have high hopes for raising a family in a happy home.

What sustained me? Faith. Faith in God; faith in the government and people of the United States; faith in my wife and family; and faith in my fellow POWs.

During my captivity I was at times as depressed and dejected as I feel a human being can be. It was a profound faith in God and belief that He would see me through that helped raise me from these depths of despondency and helped sustain me through the years. Although imprisoned for six and a half years, there was never any doubt that someday I would be going home. There was never a doubt that the United States of America, from the President, himself, through the vast majority of American citizens, would never let us down and would do everything in their power to insure that we came home under honorable conditions. It would be impossible to explain to the uninitiated how unshakable bonds of friendship can be built through dismal walls without so much as a handshake or fleeting glimpse. But this was a fact in many cases. I was prepared to take my lumps for the sake of my fellows and what we believed and they would do the same for me; and we did. This faith was knowledge and from this knowledge I derived strength.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their thoughts, prayers and concern. We have answered some 1000 cards and letters from bracelet-wearers and well-wishers, and again, thank you for caring.
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