Eastern Iowan Who Spent 3+ Years as POW is Subject of New Documentary [WATCH]
This eastern Iowa man's story would've never been known had he not survived years of captivity to tell it. He does just that in a compelling new documentary that will be released soon.
Believing he would be drafted anyway, Dan Hefel entered the U.S. Army at the age of 19 on December 3, 1968. Hefel, who lived near Buena Vista, Iowa at the time, said he thought "I can get back home and be young yet."
Four months later Sergeant Hefel was in South Vietnam as part of an Airborne division. After being hospitalized twice with malaria he was transferred, at his request, to an aviation platoon. Hefel would be behind an M60 machine gun, as a Huey door gunner, when his life took a terrifying turn.
At approximately 3:30 p.m. on February 5, 1970, the helicopter Hefel and three others were in suffered an engine malfunction, caught fire, and crashed in South Vietnam. All four were injured and, an hour after the crash, they were all captured by members of the North Vietnamese Army.
The following morning, Sgt. Hefel and two other captives say they heard a gunshot, which stopped the cries of the copter's badly injured pilot, Captain James M. Lyon. His personal effects were given to Captain John Parsels, the helicopter's co-pilot, a couple of weeks later. Lyon is still considered Missing in Action.
Hefel suffered a broken back, a broken right arm, severe burns to both legs, and other injuries in the crash. He, Parsels, and Tom Kobashigawa, helicopter crew chief, were now prisoners of war (POW). It would take the North Vietnamese Army a week to get them to a camp in South Vietnam because none of the new POW's were able to walk. Hefel would be paralyzed from the waist down for five months.
On the birthday of Hefel's mother, March 24, 1973, his parents were told their son would be released. Six days later, on his dad's birthday, Dan Hefel was reunited with his family in Denver, Colorado. He was a prisoner of war for 1,143 days.
Hefel, one of the last 19 Vietnam prisoners of war to return home, tells his own story in a new documentary. It's an amazing case of great will, perseverance, and patriotism. "The Final 19: Dan Hefel Documentary" (trailer below) will be available on Amazon Prime beginning on Sunday, February 5.
Hefel now lives in Guttenburg, Iowa. We thank him for his service and sacrifice.