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Douglas Brent Hegdahl III aka "The Incredibly Stupid One"

Started by Solar, April 14, 2018, 07:22:01 AM

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Guys, this is a fascinating story, I encourage you to read it, you won't regret taking the time.

pretend to be stupid, as one incredible man did.

Douglas Brent Hegdahl III was born on September 3, 1946, in Clark, South Dakota. He once told a reporter that he'd never been "east of his uncles' Dairy Queen stand in Glenwood, Minnesota or west of his aunt's house in Phoenix, Arizona."

So when a Navy recruiter approached him in 1966, it was like a godsend since Hegdahl had always wanted to see Australia. What he got instead was boot camp in San Diego. As a concession, however, they assigned him to the USS Canberra (a city in Australia) before shipping him off to Vietnam.

To understand what happened next, we first have to backtrack. On August 2, 1964, three North Vietnamese Navy torpedo boats attacked the USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin. The destroyer fought back, killing and injuring several North Vietnamese. Fortunately, no Americans were hurt. Two days later, it happened again.

At around 3:30 AM Hegdahl woke up for his 4 AM mess duty shift. Despite the rough weather, the high seas, and the guns blazing, he stepped out on deck. Depending on whom he later told the story to, it was either to take a breath of fresh air or to chuck garbage off the fantail – both of which violated protocol.

Now there's a very good reason for banning sailors from going top deck during gunnery operations – to prevent the possibility of them falling off. That is exactly what happened to Hegdahl.

Fortunately, he was a good swimmer. And while he may have forgotten protocol, he did remember his survival lessons. He removed his boots, bound them to his neck (in case he needed them on land), and stripped off his pants to make a life jacket.

It didn't work. So he put them back on hoping to avoid sharks. Fortunately, he was found by North Vietnamese fishermen at around 6 PM. Unfortunately, they handed over to the authorities who began interrogating him.

It didn't turn out well... for the North Vietnamese. Hegdahl exaggerated his country accent and manners, expressed fascination with their farms, and claimed that there were no water buffaloes in South Dakota.

Hoping to get a bit of propaganda from him, they told him to write something condemning the US. Hegdahl happily agreed, but there was a problem – he claimed to be illiterate. Having established his farming credentials, and considering how most Vietnamese farmers were illiterate, they believed him. So no propaganda... yet.

But hope springs eternal, so they got an English-speaking comrade to teach the American how to read and write. After a while, however, the man gave up. He claimed that Hegdahl was hopeless and gave him a new name – "The Incredibly Stupid One."

So they wrote a confession about his war crimes, including that of shelling Ho Chi Minh's home. He signed it in an illegible scrawl, making sure they added "Commanding Officer, USS Canberra."

He was kept at The Plantation – a satellite camp of the Hanoi Hilton where most American POWs were kept. It was there that he met Joe Crecca – an Air Force Officer who was a master of mnemonic aids.

Hegdahl later became roommates with Captain Richard Allen Stratton who explained how all the POWs had made a vow – that either they all be released together or none at all. It didn't take Stratton long to realize that his new roommate wasn't quite the buffoon he pretended to be.

Convinced that he was hopelessly stupid, Hegdahl was allowed by the Vietnamese to roam the camp freely. When guards weren't looking, he'd put dirt in gas tanks to disable vehicles. Claiming to be interested in communism, he asked for glasses so he could read about it.

He put them to good use by memorizing the layout of the camp and linking inmates to cellblocks. He also memorized the names of 256 POWs, their service, rank, social security number, and other personal details about them to the tune of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm."

So when North Vietnam decided to release some POWs as a goodwill gesture on August 5, 1969, Stratton ordered Hegdahl to go. He refused, but the rest insisted.

In February 1970, the US held secret negotiations with North Vietnam about the possibility of ending the war. Hegdahl was there and used his memory to pressure the North Vietnamese into releasing their POWs.

Stratton and many others were released, all thanks to the "Incredibly Stupid One."

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