Tony Marshall and Jack Trimble were two of the last fliers to be shot down during the war in Vietnam. The former weapons systems officers will soon soar again, thanks to the Air Force’s Freedom Flyer program that helps to make sure the flights that ended in their capture won’t be these heroes' last.
Over the last 44 years, the 560th Flying Training Squadron has helped nearly 200 former POW’s to fly again.
While these men prepare to refresh their skills at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, the memories of their last flight remain vivid.
“I was totally angry because if they shot me, nobody would know what happened, they wouldn’t know that I survived,” Marshall told NBC News of what he felt moments after he was cornered in the Vietnamese jungle.
Both Marshall and Trimble were imprisoned for just under a year. Not every survivor’s experience was the same.
Lt. Col Gene Smith spent 5 1/2 years behind bars. When asked how often he thinks about the "dark days," the answer was not ambiguous.
“Every day,” he said. “When I brush my teeth, I think about it, because I have a toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste that I can use as much as I want to.”
These men find solace in each other — and in sharing their knowledge and experience with a new generation of fighter pilots.
“You can’t imagine being tortured for five, six, seven years,” said Lt. Col. Charlie Huff, who helps run the Freedom Flyer program. “You think they’ll never be normal. But they were.”
These warriors are now making new memories, coming together and flying once again.