HANOI, Vietnam — Former South Bend mayor and Indiana Governor Joe Kernan made his first trip back to the place where he was held as a prisoner of war for 11 months in 1972 and 1973, after his Navy reconnaissance plane was shot down. During those 11 months Joe Kernan spent most of his time in a Hanoi Prison called "the Zoo". As Kernan prepared to enter the site last week, his wife, Maggie, said she was worried. "There's bits of dread, there's curiosity. Fear of what you'll see," she said. Joe Kernan did not see what he expected during. Some things had not changed over the last 37 years. "I mean that's the wall and you can see the barbed wire around the bricks and the top of the wall," he said. Much more is different. The prison buildings are no longer there. The ground has been cleared for a 27-story apartment building. "I spent the most time here, but it was also where I was joined up with other guys and that was huge," Kernan said. His time at the site taught Kernan to be optimistic. Even on the prison ground, the Kernans were willing to laugh. "I got you a souvenir," Maggie Kernan said, offering a piece of barbed wire to her husband. "It was another gift in 1972 that arrived at the same site that Joe Kernan really wanted to talk about. "One of the guys said, 'I think there's a package with your name on it," he recalled. The package that arrived in prison that day was from Bill Kenealy, a Notre Dame classmate. The two played together on the Irish baseball team. Nicknamed Wheels, Bill and his wife went to the prison site with the Kernans. The package from Wheels had a handkerchief with a personal message. For the first time, Kernan was certain his family and friends knew he was alive. "Wheels it was a great day, so thank you, my friend, I love you," he said as the two hugged. This story and this trip brought tears to many. Maggie Kernan took a reflective walk, her emotions bubbling to the surface. "I can't really put it into words," she said. As she looked out over the grounds her husband was forced to live in, it brought back terrible memories, including the anguish she suffered at home. She wondered if she would ever see the man she loved again. "It's good to know more about it, but I'm glad we've done this, and I don't think I could do it again," she said. Kernan's plane was shot down on May 7, 1972. That day his reconnaissance plane was taking pictures of a site targeted by American bombers. Monday night at 6, Kirk will take you to that site, and you'll see the meeting between Joe Kernan and a woman who apparently lived there at the time of the bombings. Tuesday morning at 6, he'll show you what happened when the Kernan's met face to face with one of the Vietnamese prison guards.
Joe Kernan surveys an empty lot in Vietnam, but remembers the site as the prison called "The Zoo" where he spent much of his imprisonment as a POW. The site is being redeveloped into a 27-story apartment building.
WSBT-TV Photo/DEMARCO BROWN