Golden Gate Wing Guest Speaker Archive

Presentation Date: January 26, 2006

CAPT Cole Black USN (Ret.)

Speaker Photo

* Enlisted in Navy; aviation electronics technician, Petty Officer First Class. Selected for OCS, then flight training; earned Wings of Gold February 1957
* Pilot in Light Photographic Squadron 62, Cecil Field, 4 years
* VF-211 @ NAS-Miramar, flying F8E Crusader jet ("Last Gunfighter")
* Air Wing 21 aboard USS Hancock, CVA-19, to Vietnam
* Flew many missions during initial strikes of Vietnam War & into his 2nd tour
* Only 7 days before completing 2nd combat tour, shot down & captured
* Spent 2,428 days, 18 hours, 35 minutes (nearly 7 years) as POW of Vietnam
* Repatriated 12 February 1973 (566 military POWs), "Operation Homecoming"
* After rehabilitation @ Balboa Hospital, San Diego, returned to active duty, flying high performance jet fighters @ NAS-Miramar, VF-126
* Numerous assignments, including Exec Officer of USS New Orleans, LPH-11; Exec Officer of NAS-Miramar (Master Jet Center) for 3 1/2 years, starting 1978; Naval Attache' to Mexico 1982-85; key staff assignment in DC to 7-86
* Retired July 1986 as CAPT after 36 years active duty service! Fighter Pilot & Leader, POW, Athlete, Patriot
* Born 28 November 1932; grew up on Minnesota farm near Lake City , MN
* Outstanding athlete: All-State in football & Captain 2 years; baseball & wrestling teams--finalist in state championship, 1950
* Enlisted in Navy; aviation electronics technician, Petty Officer First Class
* Selected for OCS, then flight training; earned Wings of Gold February 1957
* Pilot in Light Photographic Squadron 62, Cecil Field, 4 years
* Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey; earned BS-Marine Engineering
* VF-211 @ NAS-Miramar, flying F8E Crusader jet ("Last Gunfighter")
* Air Wing 21 aboard USS Hancock, CVA-19, to Vietnam
* Flew many missions during initial strikes of Vietnam War & into his 2nd tour
* Only 7 days before completing 2nd combat tour, shot down & captured
* Spent 2,428 days, 18 hours, 35 minutes (nearly 7 years) as POW of Vietnam
* Repatriated 12 February 1973 (566 military POWs), "Operation Homecoming"
* After rehabilitation @ Balboa Hospital, San Diego, returned to active duty, flying high performance jet fighters @ NAS-Miramar, VF-126
* Numerous assignments, including Exec Officer of USS New Orleans, LPH-11; Exec Officer of NAS-Miramar (Master Jet Center) for 3 1/2 years, starting 1978; Naval Attache' to Mexico 1982-85; key staff assignment in DC to 7-86
* Retired July 1986 as CAPT after 36 years active duty service!
* Military awards include: 2 Silver Stars, 3 Bronze Stars w Combat V, 2 DFCs, 9 Air Medals, 2 Purple Hearts, Legion of Merit w Combat V and Gold Star, Presidential Unit Citation, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal w 4 Bronze Stars, Combat Action Ribbon and many more!
* Built successful real estate career; serves as President of national group of Vietnam POWs ("NAMPOWS"); a key organizer of memorial services for VADM James B. Stockdale July 2005 aboard USS Ronald Reagan
* Book Code of Conduct, a novel written by wife Karen, parallels Cole's experiences as a fighter pilot and POW--and the coping of the incarceration and life adjustments afterward; available at GGW/CAF meeting

CAPT Cole Black, USN (Ret.)

By Col. John Crump

"I was a prisoner of war of the North Vietnamese 2,428 days, 18 hours and 35 minutes (nearly 7 years) . I calculated it on a Hewlett-Packard calculator one day. "

Before the January, 2006 dinner meeting of the Golden Gate Wing, the last time CAPT Cole Black was at the Alameda NAS terminal was in September, 1965. In that month, now decades removed, VF-211's F-8 Crusaders had been flown in from NAS Miramar to be loaded aboard CVA-19 USS Hancock for a second combat cruise to Vietnam. The events of that cruise would severely test Cole Black in many ways.

Born November 28th, 1932, Cole grew up on a farm near Lake City, Minnesota.

He attended a rural two-room school house, with three other kids in his class. High school education came at Lincoln HS in Lake City, and Cole says that was a turning point in his life.

"I got my first chance in a gymnasium. I didn't know what they did there, I'd gotten all my exercise on the farm loading hay bales and stuff. I look back at the kids I met there, and they got me interested in things like football, wrestling and baseball, and sometimes I look back and thank those kids, because they got me into competitive sports. And that probably saved my life up the road. If I had not been physically fit at the time, I would probably never have gotten out of my airplane when it was full of bullets and headed for the ground."

Cole became an outstanding athlete. He was All-State in football and team captain for two years, he played baseball and wrestled. And in that last sport, he was a finalist in the 1950 state championships.

When Black graduated from Lincoln High, he had a scholarship for a Wisconsin college, but says recruiters from the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps came to campus to talk with him, and one of them stole his heart away.

"I think I liked the Navy uniform best at the time. A bunch of us joined up with the Navy."

Black says when he and his buddies were ready to board the bus for the Great Lakes, an old boatswain's mate told them, "You guys have joined up with a first-class outfit. You're going to see the Navy and the world in a first class way. And, you' ain't never going to have to use a mule's tail for a compass again."

Cole began spent the first five years of his Navy career as an aviation electronics technician, before being selected for Officer Candidate School, followed by flight training. He earned his Wings of Gold in February, 1957. Then followed four years as a reconnaissance pilot in Light Photographic Squadron 62, at Cecil Field in Jacksonville, Florida and then overseas, flying an unarmed Cougar on missions during his first cruise in the Mediterranean.

Next came a stint at Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, where he earned a Bachelor's degree in marine engineering. Good grades led to Cole's assignment to a fighter squadron, VF-211, the Checkmates.

After more training, came carrier qualifications and then a return to the Checkmate squadron as it prepared to cruise to station in the South China Sea off Vietnam.

The Combat Cruises

"We flew a lot of missions in early '65, and the war was becoming more complex. We lost a few pilots and planes. Aircraft carriers are just like cars and trucks. They need maintenance, and we had to send the Hancock back to the United States for routine upkeep and maintenance."

At home for three and a half months, VF-211 was at Fallon, Nevada sharpening air-to-ground attack skills and practicing dogfighting. Then it was back to Alameda to load up again for a second cruise to Vietnam.

"We left Pearl Harbor, and I still remember that, because we know where we're going. We know the war has intensified. The war became much more real to me, then."

The Hancock, with VF-211 aboard, was back on Yankee Station in the Gulf of Tonkin. The squadron was flying missions much further north, on targets now defended by SAM missiles that were taking a toll on US air strikes.

By June of 1965, the squadron commander had downed a MiG. Black says when the skipper returned to the carrier he came alongside the carrier at about 500 knots, banked it around and made his landing approach with the hook retracted. After going around again, the skipper landed and was hustled off to debriefing.

VF-211's ops officer, nicknamed "Spence" also had a MiG story. After unloading ordinance on a mission, he noticed tracers streaming by his aircraft. Suddenly he noticed the tracers were parallel to his Crusader - - and were coming from a MiG right behind him!

"He lit the afterburner and headed for the water as fast as the airplane would go. He made it down to Danang, with 50 or 60 holes in his plane by that time. But he got down onto the ship and they dragged him into Intelligence.

"They're always interested in the tactics you use to get away. And Spence said, 'Yeah I just drove straight ahead, and was all out of bullets.' "

Cole says he expected to fly a couple more tough missions, and then he'd be back in San Diego as early as the Fourth of July.

On June 21, 1966 Black was flying as escort for a flight of bombers targeting a bridge near Haiphong, deep in North Vietnam near the China border. Cole says everything went well - - not a MiG showed up and the bombers hit the bridge without any trouble - - until a reconnaissance plane was shot down. The pilot of the plane was a good friend of Cole's, and 'Snuffy' Smith who was escorting the recce plane was low on fuel.

"I went up there, saw the airplane burning on the ground and made a turn, being very careful to duck this flak site that was shooting at us down there. Just as I was coming around, I saw the orange smoke flare from the downed pilot. I reported it to the Air Wing Commander, who said to make one more turn and see if he'll come up on his survival radio and tell us if he's okay.

"I came back around, and just as I was going to turn left, I heard my wingman say, 'There they are fellows.' I looked up and there's four MiGs coming at us, a little bit above us, but they hadn't even seen us yet.

"I knew I had to engage them because we didn't want them jumping on the bombers. So I bent that airplane around to the right as hard as I could pull it. I was going to pull inside of the flak site. About halfway through the turn my wingman said, 'You took a hit, Nickel, you've got smoke trailing.'"

Black says at that moment he didn't really care. He continued his turn and then tried to roll out, but the controls were really sluggish. He booted the rudder and got the plane level, but then had another problem.

"I looked in this rear view mirror and there's another MiG coming in at about 5 o'clock. He was already shooting at me, so I pulled back on the stick and got the nose up maybe ten degrees, and that took all the rest of the hydraulic fluid in that airplane.

"When the Crusader loses all its hydraulic fluid, it goes into a violent nose-over pitch, and of course that throws the pilot up against the canopy. I'm stuck up there, and I know I've lost it then. My last transmission on the radio was, 'This is Nickel One. I'm getting out. And then I went for that curtain."

"The canopy came off the airplane, but the damn seat didn't go. Now I'm sitting in the seat, still doing 500 knots and headed toward the ground. The face curtain blew out so I could see the ground, and I was very highly motivated. I got that face curtain and yanked on it once more with all of my strength, and the next thing I heard was the bang of the parachute. I came out of the airplane, the chute opened and made one swing before I was on the ground.

"That's why I say those classmates back in school who taught me that physical fitness was probably a good thing, helped save my life that day."

On the Ground

Black says he stripped off his parachute and harness, then escaped and evaded for probably all of five minutes. He immediately started up a tall hill, 'chute in hand, with the intention of burying it in some high weeds.

Suddenly from out of the weeds, rose two armed North Korean militiamen, one of whom said, "Hand up." Black says he suspected they'd captured other airmen before, because despite becoming excited about seeing the .38 caliber pistol Cole wore strapped across his chest, one of them came around behind to carefully disarm him. Then they took his boots, and tied the pilot's hands with his boot strings.

Cole was taken to a nearby village, until he was before what appeared to be a village elder. The man stood about a foot away, stared at Cole, then came closer.

"He looked me right in the eye and said, in perfect English, ' War is Hell.' "

The man turned and left, and Cole didn't see him again. The rest of the evening in the village, Black remembers the villagers were trying to speak to him in Chinese and French… but not English. He recalls these villagers as primitive people who kept him in a pig cage but otherwise didn't treat him harshly.

Black says his right foot hurt (he later learned he'd broken a bone in it), but otherwise seemed okay, with the exception of becoming dehydrated. Before long, Cole's captor brought him a goatskin bag and gestured for him to drink from it.

Cole says he took about three gulps of what he realized was beer.

"I stopped and tried to give it back to him, thinking 'If I drink all his beer, he'll probably kill me.'

But the man motioned for Cole to continue to drink the beer, which the pilot says he did. Soon, soldiers came to take Black away, and as the village prepared for a celebration, Cole found out what his life was the worth. The reward to the villagers for delivering Black was a one hundred pound sack of rice.

Black was then off to Hanoi. He says he was tightly tied up and put in the back of a jeep. Twice, the jeep stopped in villages where Cole was beaten and posed for propaganda pictures.

"They took a young soldier and a young lady in uniform, and they dragged me back in the bushes. I thought they were going to shoot me because they both had weapons.

"The next thing I know, we're turned around and they're dragging me back up, one under each arm and they're pulling me along. As soon as they pulled me out of the bushy area, they'd lined three or four jeeps up and they had a movie camera. They're taking pictures of the heroic Vietnamese children catching the American air pilot!"

The Hanoi Hilton

By sun-up the next morning, Black had been delivered to the infamous "Hanoi Hilton". The first room Black was taken to had been dubbed the "Green Room", a torture chamber, possibly sixteen feet square, with all the tools of the trade to make people do what the captors wanted them to do.

As best as Cole remembers, because he lost track of time, he was in that room for five nights. He had had no food, and little to drink.

"I was tied up and punished until my arms and shoulders were rendered useless, partially dislocated. I was pretty badly hurt. I thought I got to the point where I told the interrogator, ' Why don't you just shoot me, and get it over with.'

"He just told me, 'Nah. It's easy to die. You're going to find out it's very hard to live. We're going to reduce you to a dog.'

Cole says a little later he found out what that last comment meant. The room into which he was brought held an interrogation table, straps, leg irons, manacles, and a hook in the ceiling from which to hang prisoners. Cole says he didn't have to hang from the hook.

"I tell a story about Charlie Plum, a young aviator who was tough, and tells a story about his visit to that room. When they got done with him, he was laying on the floor, legs in irons…probably bleeding from a few places and hurting everywhere. He's laying on the floor and looks up at the interrogation table. He looked up at the bottom of the table and there, scrawled in English, were the words, 'Smile. You're on Candid Camera.'

"Charlie said he looked at that and said, 'If someone went through what I went through and was still able to have any humor left in 'em… It was like a shot in the arm. I can still hack it, I'll still keep going. I'll still resist these buggers.' And that's what he did."

Black says after the five days and nights in the cell, his tormentors must have thought they were finished with him. He was dragged out to another section of the Hanoi Hilton they called 'Heartbreak Hotel', the first real prison cell he stayed in, and

Where he had his first 'meal' since being captured.

In front of his cell was a porcelain bowl with some 'evil looking' green stuff in it, and a loaf of bread sagging into the bowl. A rat was chewing on one end of the bread.

"The guard wanted me to carry that into the cell. But I couldn't use my hands because they'd hurt my arms and hands so badly I couldn't pick anything up. So he chased the rat away with his foot, slid the dish through and pushed me through the door, and slammed it. I found myself in my first prison cell with my first real meal.

Black says he knew from survival training he needed to eat and drink to survive, no matter what was offered. He says got down on his hands like a puppy, stuck his face in the dish and ate every bit of the food, except for the piece of bread the rat chewed on.

After a few days, in which Cole says he'd been left alone, he was blindfolded and driven by jeep at night to a prison camp they called "Zoo Camp". He says he would later know there were other camps, with names like "Plantation" and "Dogpatch".

A couple of days later, on July 6th, 1966, was the 'Hanoi March'. Black says 72 POWs were marched to a little park in downtown Hanoi where they were beaten by civilians with rocks, bottles and clubs. He recalls many of the prisoners were badly hurt by the beatings, and a lot of cameras were taking pictures, which offered the US military proof that many of the men were indeed still alive.

"We ended up getting pushed into the stadium that night, and it was really a good thing we got in there. We ended up on the cinder track and there were a couple of medics trying to help the people who were badly hurt.

"I got busted in the eye a couple of times and had blood running down my face and the front of my shirt. I had a cut lip and could stick my tongue out through my lip. That looked kind of gross.

The POWs were then blindfolded, loaded into trucks and taken to different places. Cole says when they removed his blindfold, he was back in the Green Room.

"I thought they were going to kill me. I didn't think I could handle that again. But it was my lucky night.

"They took a lot of people to the Zoo Camp and tied them to trees outside and beat them that night. They just wanted to show us that the Vietnamese people didn't like us. We were already convinced of that."

In the Green Room, Cole was told he was going to meet some very high-ranking officers of the Vietnamese People's Army. The interrogator told Cole he must 'show good attitude', and do everything he was told.

Three chairs were on one side of the interrogation table, with a stool on the other side of the table. A soldier with a tray brought three bottles of beer and a pack of cigarettes, which were placed on the table. Then three younger officers, in sharp uniforms, entered and told the interrogator to leave.

Cole quickly found out the three officers spoke English, which led him to suspect they were MiG pilots. He says they stared at him, in his bloody shirt, as if in disgust at the way he'd been treated. One asked him if he flew combat, at low altitude… to which Cole just nodded his head 'yes'.

Cole says as the three officers eyed him, he recalled from his last mission the sight of another Navy jet chasing a MiG - -

"He was right on his tail and the MiG split-essed too low and went right into the ground. And I said, 'You know, they don't like that low altitude combat.

"They all three stood up and pushed their beers over to me and told me to drink it, and then they left. The door came shut, and I did what any American fighter pilot would do, I drank all the damn beers. I called that my first liberty."

About four months after that night, Black got his first cellmate as a POW in Zoo Camp. James Halls Young, an Air Force F-101 Voodoo pilot, and Black were to share the same cage for three and a half years.

During that time, the prisoners named not only the camps, but also the guards and interrogators. There was "Knobby"; "the Rat", who looked like a rat; and "the Rabbit", who had ears Cole described as gigantic.

Passing the Word, and Humor

A key tool which kept the prisoners on their toes and able to withstand their hardships was their use of tap code.

"Best we can figure out it was devised in the Revolutionary War. You take the alphabet and divide it up into a five-by-five block, 25 letters, leaving the letter 'K' out. It made a matrix, and if you want to tap a 'C', it's the first line, third letter (one tap, pause, three taps)."

The POWs used many abbreviations to shorten the labor of tapping, and Cole says these messages, as well as the very act of communicating were vital to morale and became the lifeblood of the prison camp.

"When you first got there, it's pretty easy to become depressed. I found that maybe the guy that was trying to cheer me up might have a broken leg and arm, but he's trying to cheer me up. That was the kind of people we had in there."

Cole says the penalty for getting caught communicating was severe, punishment that made sleep and normally performing other body functions virtually impossible.

"They used to call it 'heavy iron discipline.' That meant they'd put you on a concrete slab, put your legs in irons and manacle your arms behind you and leave you that way. Some guys were left that way for 90 days. The only time they'd let you out of those was when they'd bring the food."

Black credits the survival of the POWs he knew in North Vietnam largely to humor among those professional soldiers.

"We had jokes passed, even the riskiest communication… if someone had a good joke, they'd manage a way to get it sent though the walls of the prison, so everyone could laugh a little bit. And we laughed there. We cried there, too, but there were times when the humor put us in better stead."

One summer season, Black says the POWs found little green peas in their swill, making them think , "This is a good sign. They're trying to get us fattened up now by feeding us peas in the soup. That's really above and beyond, instead of just swill.

"So every day we'd have a pea count. Each cell would forward how many peas they got, and if the pea count went up, it was just like the stock market… If the pea count went down, dammit, now we're going back downhill again.

"There was always a comedian in the group. When things were really going to hell, there was some guy who would step up. I really found it to be beneficial to morale."

Highest credit to the ranking POW, Admiral James Stockdale "Admiral Stockdale took many hits for us guys. He did what I call, 'standup and be counted'. It didn't make any difference what the penalty was going to be, Admiral Stockdale did what was right. They could be hauling people our, beating people, and he wouldn't give an inch until he had to.

"He was a philosopher in many respects, and that's what kept him going. He had private quarters nearly all of his stay over there. He was badly hurt when he got shot down, and was badly hurt from mistreatment. But he was a remarkable man."

"I have the utmost respect for Admiral Stockdale."

POW Camp Patterns

Black says the daily routine consisted of a meal at eight or nine o'clock in the morning - - a dish of rice and one of swill, or a loaf of bread. About four o'clock in the afternoon, the menu would be repeated. Hopefully, Black says, the meals would be interrupted by an air raid.

"Every time I'd hear an air raid go off, that would boost our morale to hear American airplanes over Hanoi. Sometimes we'd peek out through cracks and see a couple of fighters go by, and I'd say, 'Gosh, I wish I was in that Crusader over Hanoi right now, because if I knew if I was flying over in my F-8, in forty minutes I could be back aboard the Hancock getting a cold drink of water and something to eat.'

"I used to dream about cold water because my stateroom on the Hancock, right outside the door was a water fountain with the coldest water on the ship. And if you get thrown in a cage like that… you never see cold water. Thank the Lord they probably did boil water, so we didn't get sick from it."

Black says medical treatment was provided for the American POWs, though its intent was aimed at preventing them from dying.

"If you were going to die, they were going to try to keep you alive, because their bargaining chip was us prisoners. I received medical treatment up there, so I'll tell you what the kind of medical treatment I got was.

"I got bit by a Communist dog, which was kind unusual. I happened to be on the dishwashing crew, and I was trying to carry dishes to wash them in this dirty little area in which we washed dishes. This little black Chow came up and bit me in the back of the foot, really got his teeth right in the heel area.

Black says he looked at the dog and it was frothing at the mouth and looked sick. His cellmate said the dog had rabies. Black says he called, 'bakshi, bakshi' (doctor, doctor) to the guard, but was told there was no doctor. The guard did bring iodine to apply to the puncture wounds.

Early the next morning, Black says the cell door clanged open and the camp commander, interrogator and the camp doctor came in, and they decided Black should have rabies shots - - 21 injections in the belly. The doctor had to stick the flyer about 100 times to successfully inject the 21 doses of serum.

A series of camp moves came after an American raid at the Son Tay prison camp. The camp was vacant, but the raid apparently scared the North Vietnamese into closing the far flung camps and consolidating POWs at the Hanoi Hilton. Instead of locking prisoners in small cages, they were grouped together in large cellblocks.

"Morale soared and the resistance posture was really well organized. We made them let us have church services and things like that in the camp."

Beginning of the End

B-52 strikes on Hanoi, just before Christmas in 1972, announced the end of the war. Black says he was in a camp near China called "Dog Patch", when the saturation bombing raids began, each time leveling about 6 square miles of city, and forcing the Vietnamese to negotiate. Black praises then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for including seven POWs being held in Laos (nicknamed LULU's, for Lost Union of Laotian Unfortunates) to be among the POWs to be returned - - or US bombers would lay waste to Hanoi.

"Kissinger said they need to be included as part of the package, or there will be B-52 s over Hanoi tonight. And Li Duc To said, 'Okay'."

The 12th day of February, 1973, Cole Black was among the first 120 POWs to be released, based mainly on their length of imprisonment. In all, 566 POWs were repatriated.

"They marched us over to the C-141. It was the most beautiful plane I'd ever seen. I'd never seen one before, because it was on the drawing board when I got shot down.

They had the best looking Air Force nurses you've ever seen on the plane. They were going to take care of us until we got to Clark Air Base in the Philippines.

"It wasn't really until we were 'feet wet' over the water when the pilot said, 'Clark Air Base in three hours and fifteen minutes.' The cheer went up. We'd made it out of that damn place and were going home. Really, this time, because we'd had a lot of false leads before. Back to the real world… back to the United States and Operation Homecoming (organized and commanded by LT GEN John Gonge, USAF, our GGW speaker February 2005).

Power of the President

Black says when the repatriated POWs arrived at Clark Air Base in the Philippines, they got hospital rooms, white sheets and safety razors to clean up with.

"But they weren't feeding us anything, because they thought the rich foods would make us sick. We were getting toast and very wimpy type foods. The second day we were there, we got Col. Risner cornered and we decided we should call the President.

We had a telephone in every room and you could call anywhere in the world. Pac Bell paid for all of it. We got together in Robby Risner's hospital room and dialed the White House. We got a hold of president Nixon in the Oval Office. Robby's a honey-tongued person, a much better speaker than you find hardly anywhere. He was our spokesman and he talked to the President, and thanked him for our freedom."

Black says Risner and Nixon made some small talk, and then the President said, "We're glad you guys are coming home. Is there anything else in the world I can do for you."

Cole says the chow hounds in the group said to ask for beer, ice cream, steak and eggs. So Risner told the President, "These guys are complaining again, already. They must be in pretty good shape. They want to have some beer, ice cream, steak and eggs…"

To which President Nixon responded, "I'll see what I can do."

The next morning, Black says, " The whole breakfast area in the hospital was set up with a hot bar of scrambled eggs, poached eggs, omelets, any kind of egg you could have possibly wanted, and little breakfast steaks. At the next table they had ice cream of every flavor you've ever seen. And they had strawberries, chocolate, butterscotch, nuts, whipped cream. And at the far end they had Budweiser and Coors."

Black says 'breakfast' for one of the men was a plate loaded with ice cream, covered in chocolate, butterscotch, cherries and other toppings. He got two beers and headed for the table to down it all.

"I call that the Power of the President."

Black says the fighting personnel in Vietnam wanted to end the war quickly, and he believes that without the political constraints, the war could have been ended in about two months in 1965.

"We could have brought that war to an end and saved thousands of lives in 1964. Instead of that we screwed up, because of American press and American public opinion."

Forgiving Captors

"The people that treated us badly, were doing their job. The people further up were the ones who told them to do that. The dumb little guard who's packing the rifle, even the guy who's tying you up - - they do a good job. They do what they're told and make you talk. But if you could get a couple of those uneducated Vietnamese guys, we called them a goon squad… give you about a half an hour with a Vietnamese goon squad, you'd probably talk. My old skipper used to say, 'Man if they catch me, they're going to have to muzzle me to shut me up. They want all kinds of information out of you, and a lot of it you don't even know. So you're really a dead pigeon, and finally you have to say something."

"I can't say I wouldn't like to spend a little time alone in a room with one of those guys, one at a time and see how it would work out, but… they were doing their job. War is hell, you know."

Since Returning

After rehabilitation at Balboa Hospital in San Diego, Cole returned to active duty, flying high performance jet fighters with VF-126 at NAS-Miramar. Then came a number of Navy assignments, including Executive Officer of the USS New Orleans, LPH-11; Exec. Officer of NAS-Miramar (Master Jet Center) for 3-1/2 years; Naval Attache' to Mexico 1982-85; and a key staff assignment in 1986 in Washington D.C.

Cole Black retired from the Navy in July, 1986 as a Captain, with 36 years of active duty service. Among his military awards are 2 Silver Stars, 3 Bronze Stars with Combat V, 2 DFCs, 9 Air Medals, 2 Purple Hearts, Legion of Merit with Combat V and Gold Star, Presidential Unit Citation, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with 4 Bronze Stars, and Combat Action Ribbon.

As a civilian, Black built a successful real estate career. He currently serves as President of the national group of Vietnam POWs, "NAMPOWS", and he was a key organizer of memorial services aboard the USS Ronald Reagan for VADM James B. Stockdale in July, 2005.

Code of Conduct is a novel written by wife Karen, paralleling Cole's experiences as a fighter pilot and POW, his coping with incarceration and life adjustments afterward.