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Service & Sacrifice: 227 days as a prisoner of war

“First thing we teach in survival (training) is you got to have that will to live. The will to survive. Will to get back home.”

TENNESSEE, USA — Afraid to go to war in Vietnam? Not Air Force pilot William A. Gauntt.

“I volunteered for that service,” said the combat veteran who was fired on many times by the enemy but always returned to base across dozens of missions.

“The most exhilarating feeling in the world was to have been shot at, without result, that’s what I did for 129 missions,” said the retired Air Force lieutenant colonel.  

The decorated pilot received the military's highest award for heroism in the sky, The Distinguished Flying Cross, three times over.

Credit: John Becker
The flight journal includes a log of the final missions flown by Air Force veteran William Gauntt in Vietnam before he was shot down and taken prisoner.

On mission No. 130, then Captain Gauntt said his plane was hit by enemy fire, he bailed out and was taken prisoner.  

The Texas native, now living in East Tennessee, would spend 227 days in captivity. He credited his training in the Air Force and even survival skills he learned in elementary school scouting with helping him endure almost seven-and-a-half months in captivity.  

“I knew that I could overcome anything that they could throw at me,” Gauntt said.

He noted some people might call what he experienced “torture” but he went on to say, “At times I was mistreated, but I grew up with two brothers.”

The fate of his fellow aviator on board the downed flight remained a mystery for decades. 

It wasn't until the early 90s that the military recovered the remains of 1Lt. Francis W. Townsend. It took another decade before the remains were identified, and the Air Force captain was buried in his home state of Texas. 


Credit: John Becker
Vietnam veteran William Gauntt identifies himself in a vintage photo.

In addition to 10News' on-camera interview with William Gauntt about his experience at war in Vietnam, the now 76-year-old veteran took time to answer the following 10 questions about the impact his military service has had on his life.

1.  What one person influenced you most in life?

Bill McDowell, who was a WWII Marine, a school teacher in my hometown of Mt Pleasant, Texas, a scout leader, ran a summer camp, was a construction worker, and a father substitute.

2.  Do you feel honored and respected for serving your country?

Certainly, yes.

3.  How can people thank you for your service?

By remembering other veterans and their service

4.  How do you honor your fellow service men and women?

By participating in ceremonies honoring our veterans

5.  How do you think this generation of military men and women is different from yours?

This generation does not have the same educational and patriotic viewpoint that we have, although they are more inclusive of minorities in the military now.

6.  What influence did your military service have on the rest of your life?

I was in the Air Force for 27 years. My military experience taught me how to deal with difficult situations in civilian life.

7.  Does your family have a history of military service?

My father, my brother, and my brother-in-law all served in the military.

8.  Would you encourage younger generations in your family to join the military?

I would not push or encourage them, but I would be supportive if any of them decided to join the military.

9.  How has your opinion of war changed?

I am less supportive of a war that protects and defends foreign interests at the expense of our citizens.

10.  How did your military experience shape your religious faith?

It has strengthened my belief that there is only one true God who cares for the life of every person.

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