In February 1966, U.S. Navy pilot Dieter Dengler was shot down over “neutral Laos,” crashing in the dark heart of territory controlled by the communist Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese army. Dengler found himself on the wrong side of the Annam Cordillera mountain range, with 80 miles or so of inhospitable jungle to traverse before reaching the coast of the Gulf of Tonkin, in which his aircraft carrier Ranger steamed. As news of the shootdown spread aboard the warship, there was widespread agreement that the missing pilot — capable, daring, and prepared — would somehow make it back alive. The German-born pilot was already a legend at the Navy’s Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (SERE) school in the California desert, where he had set a record by breaking out three times from a mock POW camp.
Hero Found is the dramatic true story made famous in acclaimed director Werner Herzog’s feature film, Rescue Dawn, and documentary, Little Dieter Needs to Fly, of this extraordinary Navy pilot who led a mass escape from a POW camp deep inside Laos, becoming the longest-held American to escape captivity during the Vietnam War. It is a tale of courage and survival against impossible odds.
Listen to Bruce being interviewed by NPR’s Diane Rehm