1,882 days; five and a half years. That’s how long Vietnam veteran Wayne Smith was a prisoner of war.
“We were in pretty bad shape, we certainly were,” said Smith.
He shared his story with us and dozens of people at Punta Gorda’s Military Heritage Museum.
The Air Force captain’s aircraft got shot down in 1968, just hours after this photo.
Now, he’s detailing his time in solitary confinement when communication was rare, but crucial.
“We used to break our knuckles by tapping on the walls and someone found out that actually, you could put the cup up against the wall, yell through it, and the other guy could listen to the other side,” said Smith.
Captured one warehouse over: prisoner of war survivor, Senator John McCain.
“We talked about anything,” said Smith. “It was important to stay in touch with each other.”
For two years, his family didn’t know if he was alive. Then, a released POW remembered his name.
“One of the things we thought was so important, any time we could, we would pass along names so in case someone made out, then we would tell the families,” said Smith.
Released during Operation Homecoming in 1973, the Naples man has shared his experience with people all over Southwest Florida.
A story, at one point, he didn’t know if he’d ever tell.
“We made it. And we survived because of each other,” he said.
Honoring those missing in action, and the men and women who gave so much.
“It is important that we never forget,” said the Military Heritage Museum’s Executive Director Gary Butler. “Never forget those who are missing in action and those who gave so much.”
The museum has expanded its POW display at its new location. It gives visitors a glimpse of what it was like in confinement.
“It is so intense, so emotional,” said Butler. “You get a glimpse, a glimpse of what it was like.”