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1,871 days of torture

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Alexi Bosarge
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan.—  Five years, one month and 15 days — that is how long Ted Gostas was captive in solitary confinement in North Vietnam. He was tortured and abused as he watched his troops die.


“I had 10 days left in my tour when I was captured in February of 1968,” said retired U.S. Army Maj. Gostas, 80, who was assigned to the 135th Military Intelligence Battalion during the Vietnam War.


For the last time, Gostas discussed his capture and the tragic events that followed to the Airmen of McConnell during a prisoner(s) of war/missing in action remembrance ceremony.


Gostas described the panic of his men as the North Vietnamese soldiers waited outside the house he and his men were in, while operating in Hue City. Gostas made the executive decision to have all of the top-secret documents in the house quickly burned in the fireplace as the whizzing sounds from bullets penetrated the air around them.


He didn’t know then, but the fear he felt in that moment would never leave.


“They came up the stairs, tied our hands behind our back with piano wire and led us off [to the jungle],” said Gostas. “From then on it was absolute hell.”


Gostas ended up spending 1,871 days with North Vietnamese soldiers, who provided him with only two small rice balls and approximately four ounces of water a day. He was kept in a hole in the ground with 35 fellow prisoners in a space meant to house nine people.


During four and a half years of solitary confinement, Gostas was beaten repeatedly. He was told that he was to be sentenced to death, and made to wear a cloth target over his chest. His health began to deteriorate from all of the abuse. At one point he had 18 abscessed teeth, which began to affect his heart.


“Of my 18 abscessed, three were pulled by Doctor Fly Kushner, who had two B-52 door gunners who were also captured. They held me down while he ripped out the teeth along with part of my jaw bone with no anesthetic,” said Gostas.


After five long years, Gostas was finally released in March, 1973. He went through years of shock therapy to help with all of the psychological suffering he endured. After a full recovery, he began painting his emotions and participating in speaking engagements to express to others what it means to be a POW.


Gostas gave his last speech Sept. 19, 2019, at McConnell, giving Airmen from the installation the opportunity to hear his story.


“To hear him speak for the last time was very special, but also sad,” said Chief Master Sgt. Rebecca McNelley, 22nd Security Forces Squadron chief enlisted manager, who attended the remembrance ceremony. “It’s sad because it honestly is a limited time offer and a rare opportunity to meet someone like Ted. His generation is fading fast.”


Gostas said that his love and appreciation for the military still continues to grow. He wants Airmen to learn from his experiences, which is why he chose McConnell to be the last stop for his story.


Although this may be the last time that Gostas tells his story, through his book, “Prisoner,” his story will forever live on and serve as an inspiration to all that have the opportunity to learn about him and all of the trials he has gone through.


“We must never forget our past,” continued McNelley. “It’s heroes like him who bring to light how insignificant our own problems are and give us inspiration and strength for our rainy days.”