A cup and a tube of toothpaste: POW's only possessions now at the Smithsonian

Tin cup "was a lifeline for so many years"

Eye on Veterans
April 10, 2018 - 8:41 am

Courtesy Smithsonian Institution

During the Vietnam War, Sam Johnson -- now a congressman from Texas -- spent seven years as a prisoner of war.  During much of that time he was imprisoned, sometimes tortured, at the infamous camp Americans sardonically nicknamed "the Hanoi Hilton."

When finally released, Johnson secretly absconded with what had been his only personal possessions as a POW: a small metal cup and a tube of toothpaste.  More important than holding water or food, metal cups like Johnson's helped American prisoners clandestinely share information and encouragement.  "We would hold our cups against the wall," he remembers, "and it served as an amplifier to hear the tap code."  Johnson wrote about his captivity in the book Captive Warriors.

This is what it sounded like when Johnson recently donated the two items to the National Museum of American History:

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