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Alice M. Stratton MSW, MA
Richard A. Stratton MA, MSW

Seaman Douglas Hegdahl, the most junior prisoner of war held alive in North Vietnam, was released August 4, 1969. His was the only legitimate early release from North Vietnam during the course of the war. Hegdahl had been ordered by his seniors to accept an early release in an effort to get unbiased information out about prison conditions and more importantly the names of prisoners being withheld by the North Vietnamese. He had been a cellmate of Richard A. Stratton, my husband, in Hanoi.

I visited Doug in the Bethesda Naval Hospital shortly after his return and he brought me up to speed on what had been going on with Dick. The stories of torture and deprivation were most unsettling. However, I agreed with Doug and Dick that the story should be made public even at the risk of retribution visited upon Dick for such disclosures.

Up to this point I have been receiving letters from Dick on a sporadic basis via various “peace groups” sympathetic to the North Vietnamese. These letters were obviously forced but none the less more than welcome in that they proved that he was still alive. However, shortly after Doug went public with the truth about the horrendous conditions in the North Vietnamese prison camps and the torture of my husband, all communications with Dick stopped.

After fourteen months of silence, I became really worried and was at a loss as to what recourse I might have.  In December of 1970 Ross Perot was in San Francisco and the word went out among the POW wives that he would be available to any of them that might want to see him for any reason. So I mustered up my courage, contacted Mr. Perot’s staff and requested an appointment.Mark Hopkins Hospital

On the designated day I drove up to San Francisco’s Mark Hopkins Hotel and checked in with Mr. Perot’s people.

I didn’t know exactly what I was after, but did know that I had to do something. When my turn came I was ushered into his suite where he had set up office. He was sitting at a desk directing his aides, answering the phone and shuffling papers.

 Ross Perot

 Quickly placing me at ease he asked after my well being and what brought me to his office. I gave a quick review of what had happened to Dick, that the source of my information was Dick’s cellmate, Doug, and the nature of my fears.  I felt the communists had vindictively taken retribution out on Dick for Doug’s revelations and that they might even have killed him. I told him that I did not really know what I expected of him.

Mr. Perot picked up the phone, called Paris and contacted his staff. He had assisted in sending Doug Hegdahl to Paris to harass the North Vietnamese Delegation to the Paris Peace Talks about prisoner mistreatment. He tasked Doug with demanding an accounting from the Vietnamese for Dick’s condition, which he did. Within 20 minutes of my entrance into his office, a plan was in motion.

Later I found out that Dick, shortly after Doug’s intervention, had been confronted in prison by a high ranking, fact finding interrogator who insisted that he had been lying about his torture and who was confounded by the obvious torture scars present on his body. This worthy abruptly broke off the interrogation with the comment: “You indeed are the most unlucky of the unlucky.”

Dick feels that Doug’s publicity and Parisian intervention ensured that Dick would be produced alive at the end of the war. Notably absent from the releasees in 1973 were any great numbers of injured or maimed prisoners. We both feel that Mr. Ross Perot was a major factor in ensuring the continuity, integrity and viability of our family.

Alice M. Stratton
Atlantic Beach FL
July 4, 2003