Minnesota POW Recalls Secret Code with Fellow POW John McCain

August 27, 2018 10:27 PM

Back in 1973, after eight years in captivity in Vietnam, Navy Lt. Commander David Wheat returned to Duluth to a hero’s welcome.


“It’s much more than I expected, it’s been a long trip home,” Wheat said to a WDIO-TV reporter back then. “It’s wonderful, it’s just wonderful, words can’t say how great it is to be home.”

RELATED: McCain Pens Farewell Letter Read by Aide

At a prison dubbed the 'Hanoi Hilton,' the Navy pilot Wheat used a secret code to talk with other prisoners that included John McCain.

"We'd communicate, exchange names and any new development on anything, you always have to communicate, communicate, communicate," Wheat said.

Wheat said he’d get up on his cellmate’s shoulders, use the hand-signals that they had created for every letter in the alphabet, to signal through a window to prisoners in other buildings.

"That was my first to face, from a slight distance," Wheat said of how he first met McCain was by code.

RELATED: Flashback Friday: Operation Homecoming Brought POWs Home in 1973

After their time in Vietnam, Wheat said he stayed in touch with McCain running into each other at POW reunions.

"He was a hard-working guy; he believed in his country, he wanted to do what was best for the country," Wheat said.

McCain accepted the Republican nomination for president in St. Paul in 2008, after that event, Wheat said the two met on the campaign trail.

Wheat described one of those meetings with McCain, where the Senator would joke that McCain was “the better pilot” than Wheat since he was shot down two years after.

RELATED: McCain, Minnesota Will Always Be Linked

“Just throwing a joke out there, that’s just the guy he was,” Wheat said.

Now 78-years-old, Wheat said he’ll miss McCain’s sense of humor and his love of country.

“We sometimes think politicians are above us all, this-that and the other thing,” Wheat said. “He was more down at the people level. We're going to miss him."


Eric Chaloux

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