The memory of one of only two American soldiers to survive being a POW in two different wars is being kept alive by his family.
Col. Richard Keirn was only 19 years old when his B-17 Bomber was shot down by the Germans in 1944, WTTV Fox 13 reports. Keirn spent 11 months as a prisoner of war.
According to the station, Capt. Keirn was also captured during his service in Vietnam, when his F-4 Phantom was shot down in 1964 by a surface-to-air missile.
Keirn’s son, Steve, who lives in Tampa, recalled for WTTV the torture his father endured during his captivity.
". . . in Vietnam he was treated like an animal."
- Steve Keirn
"In Germany he was treated like a prisoner of war under the Geneva Convention, but in Vietnam he was treated like an animal," said Steve Keirn.
Keirn and other POWs in Vietnam were tortured. Steve said his father's captors dislocated his shoulders.
"Then they'd hang him from a beam and hang him by his elbows and just let him hang there for hours at a time," Steve said.
They also pulled off his fingernails and withheld food. Keirn would spend eight years as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese.
Steve Keirn told WTTV that his father went to Vietnam weighing more than 220 pounds; when he returned, he weighed just 125 pounds. Over two wars he had been awarded five Purple Hearts along with numerous other honors. Richard Keirn remained in the Air Force, attending the war college. He retired as a full colonel.
He died at 75 and was laid to rest on Memorial Day with full military honors. Before he died, he wrote a book titled, "Old Glory Is the Most Beautiful of All." The book is an account of his experiences.
Now, Steve tells his father’s story, which was a kept a secret years ago. To protect from anti-war activists, his family was asked to keep quiet about Col. Keirn, according to the station.
"I answered the phone one day and a guy threatened my life. He said you, your family, and your dad will pay for the crimes your dad committed as a war criminal in Vietnam," Steve told WTTV.
But Steve doesn't carry a grudge. Why? Because his father never did.