Code of Conduct
I. I am an American fighting man. I serve in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.
II. I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command I will never surrender my men while they still have the means to resist.
III. If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.
IV. If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information or take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am senior, I will take command. If not, I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them up in every way.
V. When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am bound to give only name, rank, service number and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause.
VI. I will never forget that I am an American fighting man, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.
The above is what is known in the US military as the Code of Conduct. It was developed after the Korean War due to the sometimes despicable behavior of US troops who surrendered even though they still had the means to resist and who in some respects collaborated with their communist captors by making statements beneficial to their cause. The code has been changed somewhat in recent years due to the opening up of combat roles to women and the likelihood of women being placed in situations where they are subject to surrender and capture. These words were drilled into the head of young recruits and were required to be committed to memory. Furthermore, each soldier, sailor and airman was issued a small wallet-sized card with the words of that code printed on it. A young Donald Trump learned that code when he was a student at the New York Military Academy as a teenager. So did John McCain when he was a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. I learned that code when I was in US Air Force basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas in the summer of 1963.
I suppose the young men who were required to learn this code came away with their own impressions but mine was – under no circumstances, don’t be captured! And, if you are, don’t tell them anything. I had the same message drilled into me again at the US Air Force aircrew survival school at Fairchild AFB, Washington in 1969. Once again, I came away with the message – don’t get captured. It is because of that code that I understood what Donald Trump meant when he said Senator John McCain is no hero because he was a POW.
In fact, prior to the latter part of the Vietnam War when great emphasis was placed on the POWs, men who were captured were not considered to be heroes – unless they escaped. No medals were awarded for conduct while under control of the enemy, which is what it means to be a prisoner of war. The Medal of Honor could not be awarded to a man for anything that took place while he was under enemy control. (That policy was changed by the Nixon Administration.) The Vietnam prisoners of war were no longer part of the war; they were being held in cells in North Vietnam or in jungle camps in South Vietnam and were under the complete control of the North Vietnamese or Viet Cong. They had no means to resist and were unable to attempt heroic actions. Yes, they were beaten and subjected to horrific actions upon their person – because they no longer had the means to resist. Still, they were making no contribution to the conduct of the war whatsoever and all they knew about it was what they heard from the more recently captured prisoners.
Now, John McCain became a prisoner of the North Vietnamese because he surrendered to them. Yes, he had suffered injury when he ejected from his A-4 fighter but he still had his .38 pistol and could have pulled it our and fought to the death as Arizonan Lt.. Frank Luke did in 1918. Like was awarded the Medal of Honor because he was a true hero, and his heroism was recognized by the German soldiers who captured him after he had killed several of their number with his .45 pistol. Luke did not surrender, John McCain did. There is Vietnamese video of his capture and it shows that in spite of his injuries, he was in relatively good shape.
Once a soldier, sailor or airman surrenders, they are no longer fighting men (and women, in today’s military) no more than the prisoners at Guantanamo are. They are prisoners of the enemy. Some of the Vietnam POWs performed heroic acts prior to their capture and a few managed to escape. Navy pilot Dieter Dengler escaped from his Laotian captors and managed to survive in the bush until he was finally spotted by a friendly pilot who basically ordered a rescue team to check on him. Dengler was a true hero. As for the other POWs, they endured a lot at times, although by their own account, they were being treated generally well during the months prior to their release. But, they surrendered, and that is what Donald Trump meant when he said John McCain is not a hero because he was a POW.
Incidentally, despite Trump’s criticism, McCain is supporting him for president.