American POW Paul Galanti unobtrusively gives the finger, to show his disdain for being used in a propaganda event filmed by an East German film crew in North Vietnam; ca. June 1967
After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1962, then-ENS Galanti reported to fighter jet training, learning to fly the A-4C Skyhawk. In November 1965, he deployed on the carrier USS Hancock to South East Asia. On his 98th combat mission in Vietnam, he was shot down and captured by the North Vietnamese. He spent almost seven years, from 17 June 1966 to 12 February 1973, interned in the infamous Vietnamese prison camp dubbed the “Hanoi Hilton.”
American prisoners of war have long been used as propaganda tools by the enemy — a weapon of war that has sometimes met with success, but has just as often left the enemy looking dim-witted and brutal.
When an East German camera crew arrived at his cell Navy Commander Paul Galanti was ordered to pose for photos.
A stencilled sign reading “Clean, Neat” had been painted on his wall and a makeshift bench, a luxury he did not normally have, was brought in.
“My interrogators wanted me to be interviewed by them and I said I’d be glad to speak with them because I speak German and I’d tell them all about the torture and bad treatment. They came back and said I was not to say anything to them,” Mr. Galanti said from his home in Richmond, Va., yesterday.
The captured aviator had no intention of being a propaganda tool for the enemy. As he sat with his hands resting between his knees he stared into the camera and had a flash of mischievous genius.
“I gave a catcher’s signal with both middle fingers extended and glared at the camera the whole time. I extended my middle finger on each hand to make certain that anybody who saw that picture didn’t think in any way, shape or form that I was doing it voluntarily.
“It was a message from me.”
Life Magazine published this image in October, 1967, but airbrushed his middle fingers so as not to offend its readers:
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