National Press Club

Ex-POW Alvarez sees "nothing positive" in prisoner exchange

July 18, 2014 | By Ken Dalecki | kdalecki@hotmail.com

Retired Navy commander Everett Alvarez Jr. spoke at a meeting of American Legion Post 20 at the National Press Club, July 17, 2014.

Retired Navy commander Everett Alvarez Jr. spoke at a meeting of American Legion Post 20 at the National Press Club, July 17, 2014.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

"I see nothing positive about it," retired Navy Cmdr. Everett Alvarez, Jr., the longest-held U.S. POW during the Vietnam War, said of the prisoner exchange that freed five Islamic terrorists for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. He was speaking at a meeting Thursday, July 17, of the NPC's American Legion Post 20.

Alvarez, who next month will mark 50 years since his capture by the North Vietnamese after his carrier-based plane was shot down over Hanoi, said he is "fearful (the exchange) will set a precedent."

"It's a shame it's been so politicized," he said of President Barack Obama's decision to release prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for Bergdahl, who was held by the Taliban after leaving his post in Afghanistan in 2009.

Alvarez, who was held by the Vietnamese for eight and a half years, said the truth about the Bergdahl situation may never be known due to the case's politicization.

The highly decorated retired commander, who served as Deputy Administrator of the Veterans Administration from 1982 to 1986, said the department is "doing the right things" to address its short-term problems. Alvarez also cited examples of how politics and bureaucratic turf battles hamper the VA's efforts to make the best use of its resources through steps such as eliminating underutilized facilities and using existing programs such as Medicare.

Alvarez, who was admired by fellow POWs for his refusal to cooperate with his Vietnamese captors despite being tortured, said he has visited Vietnam three times since the war and seen its economic transformation into a bustling economy.

He said he experienced no great emotion upon his return because "we (POWs) let it all out as it happened" through their secret prison communications. "Most of us left those ghosts there" in the infamous "Hanoi Hilton" prison. "God was looking out for me...he still is," Alvarez told his fellow veterans.

Speaker portions of Post 20 meetings are open to all NPC members. The Post is an official Commemorative Partner in the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.