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May 19, 1989

Follow-up: 15 Years After Captivity in SE Asia; 50 Years After World War II Flight Training

JAMA. 1989;261(19):2776-2784. doi:10.1001/jama.1989.03420190038007

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ON FEBRUARY 14, 1973, the first 20 American prisoners of war (POWs) arrived from Vietnam at Clark Air Base in the Philippines (JAMA. 1973;224:972-974).

Since then, those men and their almost 650 fellow prisoners have afforded the Navy a unique opportunity to study the long-term effects of extended captivity. More than 15 years later, their bodies still bear scars from combat injuries and, in some cases, from being tortured by their captors. But, the study suggests, the POWs have readjusted to American life, even prospered, and their overall health is good.

Theirs had been one of the more grueling experiences of the conflict in Southeast Asia. Most were Air Force, Navy, or Marine pilots who managed to eject themselves from crippled jet aircraft, although some were Army helicopter crew members or ground troops and one was a seaman who fell overboard.

Some had spent as long as 7 wretched years