Everett Alvarez Jr. sometimes goes days without thinking about the hell he endured — nearly nine years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, one of the longest periods of captivity in U.S. military history.
“I’m too busy,” says the former Navy commander, who is 77 now and runs his own multimillion dollar IT and management consulting company in Northern Virginia.
But this month it’s been impossible for Alvarez to avoid those memories, thanks to Donald Trump. The Donald, who’s running for the Republican presidential nomination and actually leading in national polls, attacked Alvarez’s old comrade, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). McCain, Trump declared, is “not a war hero” just because he was captured and held as a POW.
Alvarez says his “jaw hit the floor” when he heard those remarks from Trump, a guy who got repeated draft deferments during Vietnam. Hating on veterans publicly? A total throwback to a different era.
“You’re free to say and do what you want,” Alvarez says. “But today? You don’t go there.”
Because in today’s America, we treat service members with far more respect and honor than we did when the Vietnam War was coming to an end.
“Back then, when we came home, the kids who went over there were called the bad guys, the baby killers, the guys with the black hats,” remembers Alvarez, who was released in 1973 and awarded a Silver Star, two Legions of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, two Bronze Stars, and two Purple Hearts for his service.
“After Watergate settled down, Americans looked back at it and started to experience regret,’’ he says.
Except for Trump, who apparently has no regrets — and no shame either.
Alvarez is an amazing man. He’s the grandson of — are you ready for this Trump? — Mexican immigrants who grew up in Salinas, Calif., where there is a high school named after him. He had already been in the Hanoi Hilton for two years when McCain was shot down and brought to the infamous North Vietnamese prison.
They were locked up, cuffed, beaten and tortured at the same time there. Alvarez was the first American pilot shot down over the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964. He spent 15 months in solitary confinement. He nearly starved on a diet of feathered blackbirds. His hands, even after repeated surgeries, are still unsteady because of the way they were constantly restrained in that prison.