Captain Mike Penn, POW, Inspirational Speaker and Motivational Speaker
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Home/Expert Speakers & Trainers/Speakers by Name/Captain Mike Penn/Vietnam Prisoner of War Speech

Captain Mike Penn
Vietnam Prisoner of War
Keynote Speech

Former Navy Fighter Pilot Mike Penn was flying his 75th combat mission over North Vietnam when his A-7 Corsair II was struck by a surface-to-air (SAM) missile and the aircraft went down east of Hanoi. The date was August 6, 1972.

“I almost died nine or 10 times in a five-minute period,’’ Penn told during a riveting presentation.

Now the Chief Pilot for Southwest Airlines in Houston, Penn was captured by the enemy that day; 24 hours later, he was the newest “guest” at the infamous Hanoi Hilton prison.

Penn and another pilot, “the last two guys on the beach,” had just finished dropping their bombs when they saw that the enemy’s guidance radar “had locked them up.” That meant only one thing, he said. Missiles “about the size of telephone poles’’ were coming their way.

Penn took evasive action to avoid the first Surface to Air Missiles closing in on him, but he didn't’t see another set of missiles fired from behind him. One of them struck his A-7 in the tail.

As his aircraft “started shaking a bit,” Penn noticed another SAM coming at him. This missile shot straight past his cockpit, missing it by about three feet, and Penn braced for the explosion. He thought he was a goner.

“But the fuse din’t work. It din’t blow up,” he said.

Penn then activated his ejection system, which sent him on an “incredibly violent” ride down to earth. In trying to describe the sensation, he told the crowd to “imagine riding in a convertible at 500 miles an hour and then standing up in your seat.”

With the way he was ejected, Penn said his chute shouldn't’t have opened. But it did. And he said as he floated downward, hundreds of bullets were flying around him — but none hit him.

He landed in about two feet of water and crawled a couple of hundred feet away. Penn plugged in his radio and told his wingman he had survived the missile strike and was on the ground, also telling him “there was a million of them [North Vietnamese] down here.”

A small group of civilians, accompanied by a lone North Vietnamese soldier, came upon Penn and captured him.

One of his captors, holding a large piece of metal, started running towards Penn and sliced his neck with the makeshift weapon. Again, Penn thought this was the end for him.

But the North Vietnamese soldier stepped in, “grabbed the guy, sat him down and started talking to him.” If the soldier hadn’t of been there, “I would have been done,” said Penn


After that episode, Penn was driven straight to the Hanoi Hilton, "the dungeon known as Heartbreak Hotel." He was put in a 7-foot by 7-foot room that featured "designer leg irons."

Penn's physical condition began to deteriorate. He had broken his leg when his parachute hit the ground, and his neck wound had become infected. And because he "wasn't being cooperative," the North Vietnamese did not supply him with a mosquito net.

"I was covered head-to-toe with mosquito bites," he said, and eventually Penn contracted malaria. He also quit eating.

"I was depressed and sick and had just about given up," said Penn.

Fortunately, an Air Force Captain convinced him he had a lot to live for.

"Something he said just clicked," said Penn. "I decided then that I wanted to get back home to my little boy. I made up my mind to live.''

Another milestone was when Penn was moved into a room with six other pilots.

''After being alone and now I was with six pilots, I knew I had it made then," he said.
As for the Paris Peace Accords, Penn said it was President Nixon's decision to use B-52s to bomb Hanoi that forced the North Vietnamese into ending the war.

Penn and the other POWs were joyous spectators to the bombings.

''It seemed like every plane in the inventory came over the hill and dropped their bombs," he said. "And when they finished, the B-52s came. It was nonstop bombing."

After ''days and days'' of being bombed, the enemy blinked, and began serious negotiations to end the war.

''The only reason for that is President Nixon had the guts to make that decision,'' said Penn. "We bombed them into submission."

Penn said he learned four things while a prisoner.

''One, I'm not nearly as tough as I thought I was.
Two, I'm much more resilient than I thought I was.
Three, you never have a bad day if you have a doorknob on your side of the door.
And four,  you never, ever give up.''

USS Midway

The USS Midway

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Mike Penn


Navy Mike Penn


Mike Penn

Mike Penn



Mike Penn POW

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