National Donut Day: A POW’s Story
This first appeared in The Havok Journal November 10, 2018. Published with permission from Angie Williams, wife of Vietnam POW and Founder of National Donut Day, LTC Orson Swindle, USMC (Ret.)
November 10, 1775, is also the Marine Corps’ Birthday…and National Donut Day.
As most of you know, my husband, Orson, was a Prisoner of War in Hanoi for 6 years and 4 months. Ironically his shoot down date is Veteran’s Day, November 11, 1966. So this was a big week for him. As we all know, being a prisoner is a tough experience, but the POW’s also have some funny stories to share, and the following is one of them:
In September 1969, after Orson had been a prisoner three very hard years (the early years were by far the worst) Ho Chi Minh died. Orson was at Son Tay with about 55 other men. One day in October he was called in for an interrogation, which he said was more of an “English lesson” for the interrogator as opposed to one of the beatings they received when Ho Chi Minh was calling the shots. The interrogator began by bragging about his country and its 4,000 year history and belittling the USA saying, “Your country is very young, it doesn’t even have very many heroes or holidays.” Knowing that the Marine Corps birthday was coming up on November the 10, Orson began to spin a story.
He pretended to take umbrage, saying “No, no, no…. you are quite wrong… we have many holidays in our country, as a matter of fact, one is coming up very soon. There will be festivals and children will dress up in costumes and it’s very important to us.” The interrogator became interested so Orson proceeded that it was called, “National Donut Day.”
Before you can really appreciate this you need a bit of background. Before Ho Chi Minh’s death, the prisoners were practically starved to death. They were eating nothing but rice and swamp grass soup (as they call it) and sometimes pumpkin soup. Orson says they estimated that he went down to a little as 120 pounds. At shoot down he was something like 175 and 6’2”. So this is unbelievably thin. The men were hungry all the time. Very hungry. About twice a year they would get what they considered an incredible treat, it was nothing more than old French bread. that had become hard and moldy, but the cooks would deep fry it and roll it in sugar and the prisoners called the result “sticky buns” and to them it was mana from heaven.
So when explaining National Donut Day, Orson told his interrogator that “Donuts are a lot like your sticky buns… they are sweet bread, and on National Donut Day everyone has one…. or more of them.” Not sure what the outcome might be, Orson was sent back to his cell, where he immediately started tapping through the wall to all the other POWs saying, “Hey guys, you gotta back me up. I just invented a new holiday and if they find out I was pulling their leg, there will be hell to pay — tell all the guards that National Donut Day is on November 10 — don’t let me down! Pass it on!” A few weeks went by, and to everyone’s great surprise, on November 10 the prisoners at Son Tay prison — known for being one of the worst —and also for the failed rescue attempt — were served sticky buns and — Orson was the hero of the day!
Orson had forgotten all about this story, and I had never heard it, but in March 03, a fellow POW, Bob Stirm, an Air Force Col was interviewed in a San Francisco paper and in it he described the origin of National Donut Day.
“Orson Swindle grew up in Camilla, a small town in South Georgia. He graduated from Georgia Tech in 1959 and joined the Marines. He earned his wings in 1964 and arrived in Vietnam in February 1966. He flew more than 200 missions in an F-8E Crusader. On what was supposed to be his last mission, he was shot down Nov. 11, 1966. Looking back on that day, he said, “I broke the cardinal rule of a pilot. Never parachute onto a target you just bombed.” – Quoted from SMDailyJournal.com by Chuck McDougald
I had the great honor of working with Mr. Swindle’s son, Kevin Swindle at United Distributors for the Beer and Bourbon Festival benefiting the National Ranger Association. We do not post this to take away from the meaning of today. We post it from the perspective of a hero and his family. Today, and everyday, we honor and remember those whom have yet to come home. You are never forgotten.
This was originally published on The Havok Journal on September 16, 2016