View Full Version : A Hero Looks Back

12-29-02, 08:50 AM
Name: James Vincent Di Bernardo <br />
1LT United States Marine Corps <br />
Unit: Armed Forces Television Network - Hue Detachment <br />
Date of Capture: 03 February 1968 <br />

12-29-02, 08:51 AM
Prisoners were isolated in their cells and never had enough to eat; many were ravaged by dysentery and war injuries. In an effort to break him psychologically, his captors showed him posters of Americans protesting the war and asked him for his reaction, Di Bernardo said.

His reply: "They're not people I know." Another time, an interrogator put a gun to Di Bernardo's head. "I could kill you now," he said. Di Bernardo's response: "That would be the best thing that could happen. The war would be over."

Fellow prisoner Bill Baird was nearly dead already.

Shrapnel had torn though Army Spc. Baird's spine when he stepped on a land mine. Four toes were blown off and chunks of flesh as big and as deep as a soup ladle were gouged out. Dysentery plagued him.

Di Bernardo said he could hardly complain about his condition when he looked at his cellmate lying helpless.

Reached at his home in Fredericksburg, Ohio, Baird said Di Bernardo cared for his physical needs -- sharing rice rations, putting splints on his feet -- and boosted his resolve to live with tough love.

"He told me I could either make something out of the situation or I could lay there and die," said Baird, 50. "If it hadn't been for him I would have given up and died. He was like a second father to me. To this day, I'm grateful to him."

As the war wound down and it became clear that Americans would be released, Di Bernardo began to write a list of captured Americans.

Eventually, 105 names were listed, along with their dates of capture and medical conditions. The list, compiled on 15 pages of rice paper smuggled out of prison, became a reference later used to determine the fate of the POWs. The document is displayed at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. Di Bernardo also made and smuggled out architectural drawings of several Vietnamese prisons.

Di Bernardo's actions in saving Baird and thwarting his captors' attempts to coerce his cooperation earned him two Navy commendations. He also is featured in a training film about how Marines are supposed to resist the enemy if captured.

President Richard Nixon commended Di Bernardo's bravery as well.

"No words can compensate you for the ordeal you have passed through for your country," Nixon wrote in a note dated March 8, 1973, five days after Di Bernardo was released. "The captivity you have undergone for more than five years required a strength of faith, patience and patriotism which can never be fully comprehended by others."

After returning from Vietnam, Di Bernardo served as director of public affairs at Camp Pendleton, El Toro and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. He retired from the Marines as a major in 1978.