Vets Finding Vets Program
Historical Event Presented by Fenton History Center at the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel
Fenton History Center’s Vets Finding Vets Hosts Vietnam POW
By Sharon Witchey
His quotes are memorable: “I went from being a hot shot pilot to hanging upside down.” / “I panicked for the first time in my life….”/ “I went against everything that I was trained to do……”, Air Force Colonel Ken Cordier explains the “most dramatic change of state” when he was shot down with his “back seater” Mike Lane over a rice paddy in North Vietnam on December 2, 1966. For the next 6 years, 3 months and 2 days he was held as a Prisoner of War in and around Hanoi, in North Vietnam. His story is spellbinding.
When first captured, he describes his environment using the letter B. Boards on which to sleep, bricks covering windows, a light bulb shining 24/7, a speaker box spewing Vietnamese propaganda, and a bucket used as a toilet. The lack of nourishing food, fresh air and exercise was a daily trial. As time went on, Cordier learned a tap code that the POWs used to communicate with each other. Sunday was “church day” with an effort made to maintain a sequence of events that made it special. While it was hard to stay optimistic, Cordier says that most of the men “never gave up on God.”
His story is one of “Yankee ingenuity” and resilience. He makes no excuses for his choices before, during, or after his capture. He and his fellow POWs endured and survived. Ken Cordier returned to the United States and proudly continued his service in the Air Force retiring in 1985 as the Air Attaché to the United Kingdom.
His story has been told in video interviews, in books, and during speeches that he gives around the country. It is a story that is riveting and highlights what the word freedom really means. Readers of the Lakeside Ledger will have the opportunity to hear his story and consider his personal reflections when he visits the area on October 21, 2019 at 7pm at the Harbor Hotel in Celoron.
The event is sponsored by the Fenton History Center’s Vets Finding Vets program. The program provides veterans with a no cost one-year opportunity to research genealogy and/or to search for old friends and war buddies. Project Coordinator of Vets Finding Vets, Barbara Cessna, wants to fill the ballroom at the Harbor Hotel with 400 attendees the evening of October 21. It will be an event not to be missed.
Dottie Maitland, a representative from the Harbor Hotel, describes the event as a “tremendous military event.” It was Dottie, a personal friend of Ken Cordier and his wife Barbie, who was the liaison between the Cordiers and Fenton History Center’s Barb Cessna. Dottie was the reunion planner for the National Organization of Vietnam Prisoners of War (NAM POW) for many years.
In 1970 as Ken Cordier remained imprisoned in the “Hanoi Hilton”, a student led group that called themselves Voices Vital in America (VIVA) sold POW/MIA bracelets. These nickel plated or copper bracelets had the rank, name, and loss date of an American serviceman. The owners of these bracelets vowed to wear them until the soldier or his remains were returned to America. As a POW, Ken Cordier’s name was on one such bracelet. Those who attend this special event will learn the story behind Cordier’s bracelet. It will be only one such enlightening moment of this inspiring evening.
The evening with Ken Cordier is open to the public and there is no fee. More information can be found by contacting Barb Cessna at the Fenton History Center at email@example.com or by calling 716-664-6256 ext. 104. Special thanks goes to the Chautauqua Regional Community Foundation for providing the financial support for the administration of Vets Finding Vets.
Article originally appeared in the Lakeside Ledger