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thedrifter
12-31-06, 08:50 AM
Former POW grew from his experience

By BILL OSINSKI
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 12/27/06

The handsome jet jockey hit the call button at his seat on the commercial flight. He asked the flight attendant what they called her cute little powder-blue uniform.

The Eastern Airlines attendant thought he was a bit brash. She knew he was some sort of hotshot, having seen him board with a police escort.

"They're called hot pants," she snapped back. "Where have you been?"

Art Hoffson, then a U.S. Air Force Captain, explained that he was not up with the latest fashion trends. He'd spent the past five years, from 1968 to 1973, as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

That exchange touched off a romance, and about a year later, the pilot and the flight attendant were married. Art and Susie Hoffson stayed together for 32 years, until his death on June 2 after a long illness. Art Hoffson, who retired from the Air Force in 1995 with numerous medals and military honors and the rank of Colonel, was 63.

Susie Hoffson, who moved to Lawrenceville with Art about seven years ago, said she is convinced that the lack of medical care while he was a POW significantly shortened her husband's life.

Art Hoffson was 25 when his F-4 jet was shot down near the Ho Chi Minh Trail in North Vietnam.

For much of the first three months of his captivity, he was kept in a 3-foot-deep hole inside an underground meeting room, Hoffson recalled in a 1973 interview. Every day, scores of North Vietnamese marched by him, and they spat on him and threw rocks and sticks at him, he said.

Later, he was transferred to a prison in Hanoi, where he continued to endure degradations and beatings by his captors.

"He was a rock-hard guy," said his friend and cellmate Bob Jones. Jones also was an Air Force pilot shot down about the same time as Hoffson. There were from 10 to 15 POWs held in a cell about 20 feet by 30 feet, said Jones, who is now retired and living in Florida.

"He was not the first to speak out usually, but when he did, everyone would listen," Jones said. Hoffson would simply refuse the demands of his captors to do things such as participate in films that would be used for propaganda.

One way Hoffson learned to cope was by developing the ability to fall deeply asleep within seconds after lying down on the straw mats on which the POWs slept, Jones said.

Susie Hoffson said her husband was able to grow emotionally and spiritually from his POW experience.

"He never felt sorry for himself," she said. Even when he was confined to a wheelchair for the last two years of his life, he would do things like go to the hospital and remark how his problems were small compared to those of other patients, she said.

"I take great comfort in knowing that Art's life gave a clear example of love and generosity," she said.

One thing Art Hoffson was able to bring out of Vietnam was a poem he'd written on a scrap of paper.

One verse reads:

"So light a candle for our lot

Some love, a prayer, but pity not

For we're strong men, all brave, all true

Who place their hopes and dreams with you."

Besides his wife, Hoffson is survived by their son, Brian Hoffson, of West Palm Beach, Fla.; and a sister, Sandra Marts, of Kennett Square, Pa.


Ellie