Former prisoner of war reflects on capture

Retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Pete Camerota poses for a photo during Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Recognition Week at Ramstein Air Base, Sept. 16. Camerota was a POW for 86 days, during the Vietnam War.

Story & photo by
Senior Airman Milton Hamilton
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

In honor of Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Recognition Day, a former prisoner of war came to Ramstein Air Base, Sept. 16, to share his experience and visit one of his last duty stations before he retired.

At the time of becoming a prisoner of war Retired Maj. Pete Camerota was a Captain assigned to the 22nd Bomb Squadron, 22nd Bomb Wing, at what was then designated as March Air Force Base, California.

He was forced to eject from his B-52 over Vietnam on Dec. 22, 1972.

“My very first thought when my parachute opened was, ‘Oh my God, I’m hanging in the straps here, and Joy, my wife, is 10,000 miles away from home and she’s pregnant,’” said Camerota.

Camerota then did what he was trained to do and checked the functionality of his parachute and looked for a place to land.

Camerota evaded his captors for 12 days before being apprehended, after suffering from dehydration and malnourishment.

“I absolutely believe the Survival, Evade, Resistance, and Escape training I went through was a big help,” said Camerota. Camerota was held in captivity for 86 days, 16 of those days in solitary confinement, in the same POW camp as former Senator John McCain.

Before being placed in solitary confinement, Camerota was interrogated constantly and was encouraged to cooperate to receive a more favorable treatment.

“In a survival situation you resist as much as you can without getting yourself hurt,” said Camerota. “I was already exhausted and had fallen asleep by accident during one line of questioning, then I realized I could feign sleep as a resistance tool.”

Camerota was released during Operation Homecoming March 29, 1973, and was briefly hospitalized to recover from injuries at March AFB. He received a Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor decoration for his courage and selflessness during his time in Vietnam.

After being released and reunited with his wife, Camerota was still committed to service and wanted to go to pilot training. He credits his wife for being an amazing support system, allowing him to stay in the Air Force and pursue his career goals even though they both had just gone through a traumatic ordeal.

“My wife’s support was as important to me as the Air Force was,” said Camerota. “The Air Force let me do what I could do. My career path was set and worked out very well for me and my family.”

Camerota continued his career in aviation, eventually spending his last assignment as a C- 21A pilot instructor pilot, mission coordination and safety officer with the 58th Military Airlift Squadron at Ramstein from 1984-1987.

In the U.S., National POW/MIA Recognition Day is observed on the third Friday in September. It honors those who were prisoners of war and those who are still missing in action.