SpyCast 8.30.22
Ep 554 | 8.30.22

“POW’s, Vietnam and Intelligence” – with Pritzker Curator James Brundage

Show Notes


James Brundage (LinkedIn; Twitter) joins Andrew (Twitter; LinkedIn) to discuss prisoners-of-war and intelligence. He is the Curator at the Pritzker Military Museum & Library in Chicago. 

What You’ll Learn


  • The intelligence dynamics of “prisoners-of-war”
  • Tap codes and other ways to covertly communicate
  • Using POWs for propaganda
  • Debriefing POWs after their release 


  • Comparing across time (WWII, Korea, Vietnam, etc.)
  • Comparing within time (German/Japanese/American POW camps during WWII)

And much, much more…

Episode Notes

What intelligence questions are generated when we discuss “prisoners of war”? The prisoner’s side asks: what happened? Are they alive? If so, where? What did they know? Can they compromise operations? Can we get them out? The other side asks: what do they know? Can they tell us anything we don’t know? Are they misleading us? The prisoner asks: where are we? Are there any friendlies? Can we share information to escape? 

To answer these questions, this week’s guest is James Brundage who curated the May 22-Apr 23 exhibit, “Life Behind the Wire: POW” which explores life in captivity. He is a public historian who has also worked at the Obama Presidential Library, the Chicago History Museum & the James Garfield Historic Site


Jeremiah Denton Jr. was shot down while leading an attack over North Vietnam in 1965 and the title of his memoir, When Hell Was in Session, gives you an idea of what he endured during his captivity. As part of a propaganda campaign, the North Vietnamese arranged for him to be interviewed by a Japanese reporter. He blinked T-O-R-T-U-R-E in Morse code. Needless to say, the intelligence community took great interest in the video footage. He passed away in 2014. 

Quote of the Week

"So roughly 1% of the POW population perished in Europe at the hands of the Germans versus in Japan…the death rate was almost 40%. A lot of that was the conditions of the camp…in Vietnam, of the more than 700 American POWs, there were 73 who perished in POW camps in North Vietnam, which is roughly 10%." – James Brundage


*Andrew’s Recommendation*

  • The Railway Man: A POW’s Searing Account, E. Lomax (Norton, 2014) 
  • A powerful, powerful memoir. Lomax had nightmares about his WWII experience for over half a century.


*Beginner Resources*


  • Spies on the Mekong, K. Conboy (Casemate, 2021)
  • War of Numbers, S. Adams (Steerforth, 2020)
  • Tap Code, C. Harris & S. Berry (Zondervan, 2019)



Oral Histories

Primary Sources

*Wildcard Resource*