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The Patriot Ledger, March 29, 2005

War never really ended: ‘Overdue' tribute for Vietnam POW

By DENNIS TATZ
The Patriot Ledger

QUINCY - Former POW Alan Brudno was a hero to those who knew him.

And for those who never got a chance to meet the Quincy man, yesterday was the time to finally pay tribute to a native son who died nearly 32 years ago.

Rabbi David Jacobs of Temple Beth El, who first talked to Brudno in 1957, said he could sense even then that the young man was special.

‘‘He was one of the morning stars of his generation,'' Rabbi Jacobs told a gathering of veterans and others in the North Quincy High School auditorium. ‘‘He was a great patriot. He suffered greatly. He was a true martyr of the American cause.

Brudno, a North Quincy High and Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate, was a 25-year-old Air Force pilot flying an F-4 Phantom when he was shot down over North Vietnam in 1965.

He spent 7˝ years in captivity and endured torture and starvation before being released. It was one of the longest stints as a POW for an American serviceman held by the North Vietnamese.

But for Brudno, who had dreamed of becoming an astronaut, the Vietnam War never really ended.

A recipient of the Silver Star and other medals, he committed suicide on June 3, 1973, the day before his 33th birthday. He had been home for only four months. His death, the first of a Vietnam War POW, made national headlines.

‘‘The war is not over for many who served in Vietnam,'' Brudno's brother Robert said yesterday. ‘‘We must never, ever blame the war on the warriors again.''

Brudno said the psychological wounds from combat are better understood now.

Decades after Alan's death, Robert Brudno finally won the battle to have his brother's name added to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington. The mission was accomplished this past Memorial Day.

‘‘He was determined to return home with honor,'' Brudno, who now lives in Maryland, told the crowd. ‘‘He won the respect of his fellow POWs.''

One of those fellow POWs was in the audience and eager to tell how Alan Brudno touched the lives of his comrades.

‘‘Alan was loved and respected,'' retired Marine Lt. Col. Orson Swindle said. ‘‘We knew him as an incredible, bright and clever young man.

Swindlewas in the same prison camp with Brudno, but they were kept apart and did not meet for four years.

‘‘He was everything I had heard he was,'' Swindle said. ‘‘He was proud to be a U.S. Air Force officer. He was deeply burdened by what we all endured. We came back to a society that had changed dramatically.''

Swindle, who exchanged messages with Brudno by tapping on a wall that separated them, said many veterans returned home to strained relationships after being brutalized in captivity.

‘‘For all of us, Vietnam would be a permanent part of our lives,'' Swindle said. ‘‘There was always the burning question: Was it all in vain? Alan Brudno brought honor to Quincy. You can be proud of Alan and others like him.''

Yesterday's ceremony was scheduled to take place under the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Clock Tower in Marina Bay; it had to be moved inside because of rain. A wreath honoring Brudno was placed at the memorial.

The names of 47 other Quincy residents who died in Vietnam also were read aloud at the ceremony.

‘‘This is a day that is long overdue,'' U.S. Rep. William Delahunt said. ‘‘We have much to learn from the story of Alan's life.''

Dennis Tatz may be reached at dtatz@ledger.com.

Copyright 2005 The Patriot Ledger
Transmitted Tuesday, March 29, 2005