Ernest C. Brace
It is often said that it is darkest before the dawn, and Ernie Brace can testify to the truth in that statement. He spent a dark seven years as a prisoner of war before finding the light of redemption upon his return.
Ernest C. Brace was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1931. Growing up during World War II, he developed a keen interest in airplanes. After high school, he joined the Marine Corps and earned his wings at age 20. Sent to Korea, he flew Corsairs and Skyraiders in combat, where he became the first pilot to fly 100 missions. He was later shot down and ditched at sea and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions in combat. However, due to an error in judgment involving a flying accident, he was discharged from the Marine Corps in 1961, ending his military career.
By 1964, Brace found employment with Bird & Sons, a USAID, and CIA contractor, where he flew a PC-6 Turbo Porter on supply missions into Laos and Thailand. On one of these missions in May 1965, he was captured by North Vietnamese forces that had overrun the airfield at Boum Lao. Despite his civilian status, Brace’s captors marched him across northern Laos to Dien Bien Phu to spend three years of living hell, tied up in a cage measuring three feet by seven feet by five feet high. Following the military code of conduct, he did everything to resist his captors, including three escape attempts. Each attempt was followed by harsher punishment, culminating in a week of being buried up to his neck in the jungle. By the time he was moved to the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison in 1968, he could barely walk, but he still resisted. Placed in solitary confinement in a cell next to future Senator John McCain, Brace helped carry on a communication network between prisoners that would have meant severe punishment if he were caught. For the next four years, he was kept isolated from the outside world because he was captured in Laos, where neither the U.S. nor North Vietnam was supposed to have a presence. Yet, he maintained the military code of conduct and assisted others, earning him the respect and admiration of his fellow POWs.
When finally released in 1973, Ernest Brace was the longest-held civilian POW of the war, imprisoned for 2,868 days. He was awarded the Distinguished Public Service Medal and found redemption with a presidential pardon for his Marine Corps discharge. After a year-long hospital recovery, he returned to aviation, working as the Vice President of Operations of Evergreen International Airlines. With Evergreen, he returned to Vietnam to transfer Air America assets to UN missions in Africa and directed a program to control narcotics traffic in Mexico. Later, as the International Marketing Manager for Sikorsky Helicopters, he worked extensively in Asia and assisted the U.S. military in Kuwait after Operation Desert Storm. Now retired to Klamath Falls, Ernest C. Brace’s courage, devotion to country, and adherence to a code of honor, stand as an inspiration to free people everywhere.