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Interview With Ross Perot, Former POWs

Aired July 3, 2004 - 21:00   ET


ROSS PEROT, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The American people are deeply concerned about what they read and what they hear about the treatment of the prisoners of war.

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Ross Perot and his 35 years of extraordinary service to the brave men and women of the U.S. armed forces. The lives he helped save. The prisoners of war he championed and more, including unforgettable stories from former POWs themselves. Plus, General Hugh Shelton, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Anthony Principi, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. A tribute to true American heroes is next on LARRY KING LIVE.


KING: What a special pleasure I have tonight of hosting this program. We get to do a lot of great shows over the years and this will rank with them because of the people we have as guests. Here in New York, Ross Perot, the former presidential candidate who ran on the Reform Party ticket. Brigadier General Robbie Risner, what a career, former Vietnam POW, a lieutenant colonel shot down over Vietnam, held in captivity, four years in solitary confinement. Commander Paul Galanti, former Vietnam POW, senior officer when he was shot down in June of 1966, seven years in captivity. In Dallas, Congressman Sam Johnson, colonel, U.S. Air Force, retired, Republican of Texas. Former Vietnam POW also held seven years.

Ross Perot was recently honored for his 35 years of extraordinary service to the men and women of the United States armed forces. A star-studded gathering of military brass of Dallas. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the leadership from all branches of the military, presented with the Eisenhower Award by the Business Executives for National Security. Many of those present were people Ross has personally helped over the years. We don't know anybody who does more for veterans than Ross Perot.

What was it like to get that award?

PEROT: Well, it was a beautiful evening and it was just an honor to be there with all of those people who have sacrificed so much for our country, and certainly a great honor to have all the military services there. So it's a wonderful evening, but the best part was seeing all these great people again. KING: Let's find out a little of these individual stories. Brigadier General Robbie Risner, we had a great deal honoring you one night. A lot of surprises set up by your friend Mr. Perot. You were held in captivity, four of the years in solitary confinement, and you were tortured. You had both arms pulled from the sockets?


KING: How were you captured? What happened?

RISNER: Well, I was shot down twice. The first time I made it to the Gulf of Tonkin, where I baled out in the water. Of course, my engine was knocked out -- and was picked up by American amphibian. Later I was shot down again at Thanh Hoa, captured, I spent -- I was taken into the Hanoi Hilton, which was the prison, the old Ho Lo prison and...

KING: How long?

RISNER: Seven and a half years.

KING: Four in solitary.

RISNER: Four in solitary.

KING: When you were shot down the first time, did you have the chance to then come home? Did you have to fly again?

RISNER: Oh -- well, yes. I flew again...


RISNER: No, I chose to fly. I didn't get hurt or anything in the first debacle and I would like to (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KING: What kept you going?

RISNER: Well, I'll tell you. It's very simple -- or I can talk about it at length, but it was God and country. Faith in God and love of country. And before I went over there, I never took time to talk about patriotism, it was something you didn't talk about, especially if you felt it in yourself.

KING: You weren't a flag-waver.

RISNER: No. No, I don't think very many people were. But once we got in the 7x7 foot cells, no one to talk to for a prolonged period, we found out it meant a great deal to us. In fact, if you talk to most of the POWs they'll tell you the same thing. What brought them back, what helped them survive was God and country. Simple as that.

KING: Think you could have handled it, Ross?

PEROT: Well, you never know until you're tested, but he's really understating who he is. He fought in World War II, he fought in Korea, one of our aces. General MacArthur set up a duel between Robbie Risner and China's top ace. I think it's the last personal air-to-air duel that will ever be fought. Robbie met him in the air, decided to fight him defensively, because Robbie had more fuel, and follow him back over the Yalu River. You could have 100 MiGs give you a warm greeting then, and Robbie decided to shoot him down over his only airfield. He did that, and then he realized there were what, 19 MiGs on the ground? That's just my memory. Robbie did a big 360 and got 14. Now that doesn't count, but I can go on for hours about this guy.

KING: How many guys fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam? Very few.

PEROT: Not many.

KING: Not many. Congressman Johnson, how were you captured?

REP. SAM JOHNSON (R), TEXAS, FORMER POW: Well, I tell you what, we were on a napalm run and I was at about 50 feet, about to drop on a barge that was ferrying trucks across the river down there, about 50 miles north of the DMZ, and when I got hit and I pulled up, my backseater said we were doing about 650, and when I pulled up, got hit about four more times and lost control of the airplane. And so I told my backseater to get out. Larry Chesley (ph) was his name. He didn't get out. I told him again, he didn't get out. And so I bailed out. I saw him get out just before the airplane hit the ground, but we landed right in the middle of a whole division of North Vietnamese regular troops, so we were captured within 30 seconds.

KING: And you were also held seven years, right?

JOHNSON: Yes, sir. And I think the most astounding first part of the mission that -- you know, you're scared to death, they blindfolded me one night and took me out in the woods and they claimed we were war criminals and put me -- took the blindfold off. I was standing in front of a slit trench and they said "We're going to shoot you," and they put clips in their guns and charged them. And I guess I was praying to God harder than I ever prayed in my life. I really got to know him, and when the guy said "fire," when the officer said, "fire," the guns went click-click-click-click, and I praised the Lord and laughed at them. I shouldn't have done that.

KING: Boy, I tell you, that's -- how were you captured, Paul?

CDR PAUL GALANTI, US NAVY, (RET), FORMER POW: I was shot down on a mission northeast -- it was supposed to be a cakewalk.

KING: Piece of cake.

GALANTI: The target -- actually, my skipper was Tex Birdwell (ph), a Texas A&M grad and he didn't believe -- there is no such thing as aborting the target, so I said, "The weather is bad and it's a worthless target anyway. Go hit the railroad cars at Qui Vinh (ph)," and that's where I got shot down. So I remember coming down in the parachute and I said, "Well, I can't wait to get back and tell the skipper that, 'Yeah, those were good targets.'" KING: How long were you held?

GALANTI: I was held for almost seven years. Six years and...

KING: All of you seven years.

GALANTI: No, Robbie was a lot longer than I was. What kept me going for the whole time -- I mean, I didn't know about the stuff that Mr. Perot was doing then -- but what kept me going was, I was 26 years old when I got shot down, I know that my hero here was on the cover of "Time" magazine, he was a squadron commander. He was an old guy, he was probably 40 years old. And I said, if that old guy can make it, I can make it. And we had probably the best bunch of leaders young guys could ever have in Hanoi. From then Colonel Risner, Commander Stockdale, our cag (ph), Jerry Denton (ph). We just had incredible leaders.

KING: I know Jerry, and I know Stockdale, of course.

GALANTI: And my senior ranking officer ended up being my boss after I came home. He made admiral, was superintendent of the Naval Academy when I was stationed there, and there was nothing that was better in my entire Navy career than having -- being on a first-name basis with my boss' boss.

KING: Were there times you were treated well?

GALANTI: It depends on your definition of well.

KING: Better than others.

GALANTI: There were times when they left us alone pretty much. And the senior officers never got an easy ride. The guys like us, every once in a while they just would leave us alone, they -- the treatment was not good...

KING: General, were you bothered all the time? Like solitary, now you're all alone four years, right? How do you handle that?

RISNER: Like I told you, God and country and exercise. I exercised and prayed most all day.

KING: Did you ever give up hope?

RISNER: No, never did.

PEROT: I've got to tell you Robbie's story.

KING: Hold on, let me get a break and come back. We'll be right back with Ross Perot, BGN Robbie Risner, CDR Paul Galanti and Congressman Sam Johnson. The three, Risner, Galanti and Johnson all POWs in Vietnam. Ross Perot the winner of the Eisenhower Award. Back after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RISNER: At no time during my imprisonment had I failed to support my president, my country and my president's policy. And never have I been prouder of my country and my president.




GALANTI: Freedom at last. That's what it's all about. Thank you and God bless, Mr. President.


KING: We're back with extraordinary Americans. All right, Ross Perot, what's the Risner story?

PEROT: When we got together right after the men came home and had a -- they came together not to be honored but to honor the Son Tay Raiders who tried to save a group of them from a prison camp. That says a lot about these men. Not to be honored, but to honor the Son Tay Raiders. Well, I got to meet them all and see them and again and again the young officers would come up to me and point to Robbie and say, "He's the only reason I'm alive." And I said, "Why?" They said, "He inspired me to live when I had given up." And I said, "Well, was he in the box?" "Yes." And I said, "How could -- could you hear him?" And they said, "No." I said, "How could he inspire you?" "Tap code." Now imagine trying to inspire somebody with a tap code.

KING: You had a tap code.

RISNER: Oh yes.

KING: Example, what did you do?

RISNER: Well, we tapped on the wall and if they were, say, further than 50 feet away, they turned a tin cup upside down.

KING: How did they know when you were -- what were you doing? Morse code?

RISNER: No, it was the letters in a five letter line and five lines, and you'd tap first -- the first tap was a series of taps that meant which row you wanted to tap in. Then you'd tap across to the letter. If you wanted to tap "A," it would be one one.

PEROT: And I've got to tell you one more Risner story. They finally let him out of the box. He was the senior officer in the camp. You know what he did? He ordered church services the first Sunday, which were strictly forbidden. But the men came together and were singing a hymn. The North Vietnamese stormed in and grabbed Robbie to take him back in the box, and all of these men who had lived in hell and knew exactly what they were going to do to them stood at attention and sang the "Star Spangled Banner," which was totally forbidden. When Robbie came home, I said "Robbie, what was going on in your mind as they dragged you into the box?" His eyes were twinkling, he says, "Perot, with those guys singing the 'Star Spangled Banner' I was nine feet tall, I could have gone bear-hunting with a stick." There is a nine foot statue with a stick on the base at the Air Force Academy. Every cadet knows that story, and once a year a miniature is given to the outstanding fighter pilot in the Air Force.

KING: Were you there, Sam?

JOHNSON: Oh yes, and I tell you what, we got up in the windows and sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and songs of that magnitude, and the whole camp was in the windows singing to the tune of -- I guess close to 350 of us at the top of our lungs -- and those Vietnamese came in in full battle garb, with gas masks and helmets and all that. I thought they were going to gas us. They didn't, but the next day on the loudspeaker they told us they would allow us a church service every Sunday.

And what you don't know and haven't been told and Robbie knows -- Robbie used to be our preacher, and I say he preached as good as any preacher I know, and it wasn't right out of the King James Bible, but it was close enough for government work.

KING: Did you signal -- were you part of that signaling system, Sam, did you used to signal things?

JOHNSON: Oh yeah, I was one of the room communicators, we called ourselves, and you got to where you were pretty fast with that and you know Jerry...

KING: The tapping?

JOHNSON: Oh yes.

PEROT: And Sam was coughing. Sam, tell them...

KING: What did you do?

JOHNSON: We were in a little place called Alcatraz, 11 of us, and Jerry Denton and James Stockdale and those guys were in there with me and Denton decided we weren't talking fast enough by tapping, and so he developed what we called a cough hack spit code. That is to say, the letter of the alphabet in five rows of five letter each, we used a clearing of the throat for one and two and a cough hack spit for three, four and five. And we used to sign off at night with "God bless you" kind of like this. (COUGHING). Which if you follow that box is GBU.

KING: I would imagine Paul, the Vietnamese thought this must be a pretty weird group of people.

GALANTI: They were really impressed with us. They looked (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and they couldn't understand where we were coming from. We didn't have Marxism and Leninism to keep us going, but every time they'd try to holler at a senior officer, the next guy would stand up and they pretty soon ran out of place to stick guys like Robbie in the bad guy camps. The Alcatraz that Sam was talking about was under the Defense Ministry. They put that camp there just so they could get all of these bad guys out of the way. But that didn't hold enough of them, so then people were (UNINTELLIGIBLE), just trying to emulate these guys. They all wanted to be like Robbie.

KING: Ross, why did you -- what involved you to help these people? You were in the service, right? You were in the Navy, right?

PEROT: Yes. And we were taught from the time we put the uniform on you never leave a man behind, and we had people who had been over there a long time. We knew they were suffering terribly, and it was an insignificant thing for me to do, but what really got me involved, a number of the wives came to see me.

KING: A-ha!

PEROT: And they were...

KING: That works every time, doesn't it?

PEROT: They were really concerned about their husbands. They went with me on the Christmas trip. Phyllis was all over Europe and places -- these girls were on a crusade and they would be in Paris and all over -- the whole world found out about the plight of these men because of their wives.

KING: Sam Johnson, what kept you going?

JOHNSON: Well, I think it was knowing the Lord was with me and knowing that when my family was at home and I wish I would have known that Ross had been helping them like he was. You know, they did form the National League of Families, which Ross helped with, too, I think and that organization was what started people wearing bracelets with our names on them and...

KING: Oh, that was the organization.

JOHNSON: Yes, and they started getting the word out across the nation you may remember...

KING: Sure.

JOHNSON: And so everybody in the country started getting behind the effort and you know, Ross started that.

KING: Did all you guys know each other? All the prisoners? Like, did you know John McCain?

JOHNSON: I lived with him for the last year and a half in the same room.

KING: Enough is enough, right?

JOHNSON: You said that, I didn't.

KING: We love John.

JOHNSON: Johnny is a good guy, but he and I have different political philosophies sometimes.

KING: When you had a chance to leave early and you didn't...

JOHNSON: That's right.

KING: We'll be right back and get the stories of these individuals, great Americans, Ross Perot's involvement with them and more on this edition on LARRY KING LIVE right after this.


RISNER: Let me say that we have a comradeship among us. And a loyalty and an integrity that may not be ever be found again in a group of men.




PEROT: The American people are deeply concerned about what they read and what they hear, about the treatment of the prisoners of war. And for the North Vietnamese to open up the prisons, to let the Red Cross teams come in, talk to these men directly, would do a great deal, I think, in making the first significant step toward peace.


KING: How did you get involved with the POWs?

PEROT: I was asked by the government, I was asked by the president to do something...

KING: What president was that?

PEROT: Nixon was president and he -- to do something to embarrass the North Vietnamese into changing the brutal treatment of the prisoners. I talked with a bunch of my team member who...

KING: At the company?

PEROT: At the company. And many of them had already fought in Vietnam and one young man named Tom Meurer (ph) came up with the idea of taking food, medicine and Christmas packages from the families to all the POWs and we cleared that with the White House and then we started the whole plan and got all that put together and first went into Vientiane, Laos, because there was a North Vietnamese embassy there.

And we met with them there to get permission to go into North Vietnam and they were very reluctant to, but they told us if we would deliver all these things to Moscow, Russia, before December 30, they would allow the Russians to bring them to our men. So we got back on the plan, flew over the North Pole, got all the way next to Russia and then the Russian ambassador, when we landed in Sweden told us that they would not allow us to come into Russia. But the good news is the whole world -- this is -- there was no other news in the whole world -- for the first time understood the brutal treatment our prisoners were receiving and the North Vietnamese became very sensitive to that treatment.

KING: How did you know that they were getting brutal treatment?

PEROT: We learned it from a number of different ways and we had some-two prisoners of war that they released early and those men came to see me and after I got fully debriefed by them it was obvious to me that this really needed to be done.

KING: What does Ross Perot mean to veterans?

RISNER: Well, I probably could -- have you got all night? I could tell you a lot about Ross Perot and I don't even know a tenth about him, but he's helped more people than I can even imagine.

KING: So if you're a veteran, Ross is your friend.

RISNER: No better friend in the world than Ross Perot.

KING: And he'll hire you.

RISNER: You bet you.

KING: When did you first meet him?

RISNER: Shortly after I returned. However, I heard of him while I was in the POW.

KING: He was trying to get all of you out.

RISNER: I heard about the rich, wealthy Texan and some of the things he was trying to do simply were -- it was amazing.

KING: Congressman Johnson in Texas...

JOHNSON: Ross has got a heart bigger than Texas and he is one of the greatest patriots I know. And I tell you what, Ross took care of the wives, too. Surely my wife was particularly taken care of by his organization and she helped him, to, with trying to get the prisoners out of Vietnam.

KING: Ross, is Sam Johnson your congressman?

PEROT: He is, and we are very proud of him, he has done a wonderful job.

KING: And Commander Galanti, how long have (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

GALANTI: Virtually since I have been home. Of course, we heard about him through the grapevine from new shoot-downs about this Naval Academy graduate, which is what I heard first, I didn't hear the rich part first, but ever since we had been home, my wife had pictures of him all over the house, and I asked "Who's this guy?" And he came to Richmond to help kick off a Bring Paul Home campaign that -- I came home to a huge parade because everyone thought I was going to my home thanks to -- when Ross came to Richmond, everybody figured I had to be there with his incredible campaign. They raised 450,000 letters to the North Vietnamese from Richmond, Virginia, which is not -- that was not a large town at the time.

KING: To get you out?

GALANTI: Every school kid, every bank stuffed envelopes, it's all because Ross got it fired off.

KING: Let me get a break. When we come back, we'll ask our three gentlemen how -- what it was like the day they got out, how they heard they were getting out. And then, in our last two segments, they'll be gone, but with us will be General Huge Shelton, United States Army, retired, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Anthony Principi will join us. We'll be right back. Don't go away.


PEROT: I became interested in and involved with the prisoner of war situation as a byproduct of meeting a four and a half year old boy that had never seen his father and to me it was just-represented the ultimate tragedy of war, that in 1970 men still are unable to resolve their differences on a rational basis, and here is a child who is denied a father.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Mr. and Mrs. America never forget that it is the patriotic fervor you have demonstrated, it is the consideration and understanding, and most of all, the patience you have shown in all these difficult years that have brought us home with honor, and brought us home with pride. God bless you all.




KING: How did you learn you were released, General Risner?

RISNER: Well, there was quite an entry into this. The Vietnamese -- first, the camp commander had me brought to his office. And he said, "I know you're very sad." And I said why should I be sad? He said, "Because Henry Kissinger didn't show up in Paris to initial the agreement. And therefore, you won't be going home till Christmas." I said we never expected to go home until Christmas. You've lied, cheated and punished us the whole time we've been here. I said why should we believe? And the next thing he said was, "You're a very good actor."


KING: How did you learn, Sam, that you were going home?

JOHNSON: Well, the same way Robbie did. They just got us all out in the courtyard at one time. I'm sure Robbie remembers that 350 of us at one time. They'd never let us out before like that. And the camp commander who spoke English, spoke in Vietnamese through an interpreter and they read the whole peace agreement to us.

Of course, they put the caveat at the end: you know that the United States will abdicate the agreement and you'll be here the rest of your life. That's the way they talked all the time.

KING: What did it feel like, Paul?

GALANTI: Oh, the neatest thing about is our senior officer said show no emotion when they when they read it. We knew we'd be going home, we could tell.

KING: They said don't show any emotions?

GALANTI: They said don't show any emotions. They're going to try and take pictures of us looking happy; and they'll use it for propaganda. So the camp commander read this proclamation to us, and we just stood there and just looked at it. They said, (IN VIETNAMESE). And the interpreter said (IN VIETNAMESE). And he looked back at us and said, "Do you understand?" I said yes, we understand. "Go back to your room." And so we all went back to our room.


GALANTI: Didn't show any emotion, and as soon as we got inside that door, we just blew the roof off the place.


KING: Now, Ross, you were telling us Sam knows something about what they thought of you.

PEROT: Oh, they gave me a name. Sam, could you tell him the name the Vietnamese gave me that they used over the loud speakers.

JOHNSON: Oh, gracious. Ross, I'm blank right now.

KING: Pirate?

PEROT: Yes, Ross Pirate.


JOHNSON: Oh, that's right! (LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: Yes. Yes. I thank you.

PEROT: That came from you recently, so that's how the only reason I know that story.

JOHNSON: Well, he was a pirate.


JOHNSON: You know, he was a pirate from the start. Just like we were.

KING: Now, none of you knew him till you got home, right?

RISNER: Right.


KING: Boy, that must have been something to meet the guy who worked so hard.

PEROT: When the first plane landed in the Philippines, I got a call from Captain Jerry Denton who became Senator Denton. His exact words were, "Ross, I had two calls. I called my wife and I called you on behalf of all the men to thank you." And my response was well, Jerry, if you just had two calls, you shouldn't have called me. You should have called the men who went to Son Tay, because they risked their lives for your and they were never thanked. His response was, "You're right."

I said well, Jerry, why don't you all come together for the first time, not to be honored, but to thank the Son Tay Raiders? He said, "Done." Three weeks later, the biggest parade in the history of San Francisco was held for the Son Tay Raiders and the POWs were the hosts. And that was the weekend I'll never forget.

KING: Have you been back to Vietnam?

RISNER: I've been back one timed.

GALANTI: No desire to go back.

KING: No desire.

Sam, have you been back?

JOHNSON: No, sir. I have not.

KING: What do you make of being friends with them now, General? We are friends with them.

RISNER: Well, I understand that.

(LAUGHTER) KING: Does that bother you? Or does that plagues of the war?

RISNER: Well, at the time I thought were premature. But now, I glad we are. You know, one of the ex-POWs became the first ambassador.

KING: Yes.

RISNER: And when I went back, the first thing I wanted to do -- we first landed in Saigon, which they call Ho Chi Minh City, and then we went to Hanoi. And immediately, I wanted to take this team I was with and show them where we were kept. They had two gates. The first gate was opened and went inside. But they wouldn't let us in. I wanted to show them the cells and so forth. They wouldn't let us in the second door. And then I had a very peculiar thought. I thought for seven and a half years, I tried to get out of this place. And now they won't let me back in.


KING: Sam, you wouldn't go back. Why?

JOHNSON: Well, I just haven't had an opportunity. And frankly, they're still persecuting the Christians in mutton yards over there. And I'm not -- I don't think they've shown that they're ready to be part of the world of nations.

KING: So you have not forgiven.

JOHNSON: I have forgiven. I just think that they're a communist nation and we better be careful in how we deal with them.

KING: How do you feel, Paul?

GALANTI: I don't have that many feelings one-way or the other about the country. I love the people. One of the young men that was the only Vietnamese pilot that was kept with us, ended up becoming best friends. And ends up working for Ross in another life. And they're wonderful people.

But that system stinks. And I just, you know, I have a real problem going back there. And every time I hear a communist North Vietnamese or the Chinese say something, I just switch the meaning around 180 degrees. Just like it was back when we were POWs. I mean I just didn't believe anything they said. And usually when if I switched what they were saying 180 degrees, it was right.

KING: You ever regret that war, General?

RISNER: I have only one regret. And that's I felt since I came back the war was not run like Desert Storm. If you remember, Desert Storm, they chose a general to run it. And then they said sik'em! Well, he did it! And he did the job instead of trying to run the war from some padded chair in the White House. They should have turned it over to someone and told him what he wanted to accomplish, and let him go. And then we'd won the war and today, South Vietnam would not be possessed by the North Vietnam.

KING: You feel the same way?

GALANTI: Exactly.

KING: And you too, Congressman?

JOHNSON: Yes, sir.

KING: Well, I salute you all. I don't know what can we say but a grateful nation says thanks to Brigadier General Robbie Risner, Commander Paul Galanti and Congressman Sam Johnson, colonel U.S. Air Force, retired. All prisoners for long periods of time in North Vietnam.

Ross Perot, the recipient for the 35 years for his extraordinary service of the Eisenhower Award.

When we come back, Ross will be joined by General Hugh Shelton, U.S. Army, retired, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi, combat decorated Vietnam veteran himself. He spoke at the recent event in Dallas that honored Ross.

We'll be right back.



GEN. RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: But I do want to thank Ross Perot for one other thing. And that is the fact that we have all the Joint Chiefs together tonight, which is a rarity. I can't get it done in Washington.


MYERS: Ross, because of you we can get it done in Dallas. And there will be a meeting at 11:00 in my room, guys.



KING: We're back with Ross Perot, the recipient of the coveted Eisenhower Award.

Joining us now in Washington, General Hugh Shelton, U.S. Army retired, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, frequent guest on this show.

And we welcome for the first time here in New York, Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi, the combat decorated Vietnam veteran, who spoke at that event in Dallas honoring Ross Perot.

I understand your two boys are in Iraq?

ANTHONY PRINCIPI, SEC., DEPT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: They were in Iraq. They're back home now.

KING: What was that event like?

PRINCIPI: Oh, it was a great event. To have the chairman and the Chiefs of Staff of all of the services, and to have the privilege to represent the 25 million men and women who served in uniform, to say thank you to someone who cares very, very deeply about our nation's veterans. It was a great, great pleasure and privilege.

KING: Probably no one -- not to toot his horn, but probably no individual -- individual has done more for the American veteran than Ross.

PRINCIPI: No one in my knowledge in history. As the former POWs were saying, I too was in Vietnam in 1969 in the Mekong Delta near the Cambodian border. And we heard about this man from Texas who was trying to get our POWs freed. And our moral was lifted. Our spirits were lifted. And since 1969, he's been caring about men and women in uniform.

KING: Still to this day.

PRINCIPI: Still to this day. I hear from him quite often.

KING: General Shelton, what did you make of what you heard in the first segments of this show, hear these men?

GEN. HUGH SHELTON (RET), U.S. ARMY, FRM. JOINT CHIEFS CHMN.: Well, first of all, Larry, I would say what jumps out at you is what great Americans they are. And it's the values that we as Americans hold that they hold so near and dear to them, that helps sustain during that period of time. It was their faith, it was their family, it was their belief that America would do everything it could to get them out. And hearing their personal stories of how they endured the torture, and endured the captivity, that I think strengthens us all. It really is a reflection of the great men and women that serve even today in uniform.

KING: Were you in Vietnam, General?

SHELTON: I was there for two years. I certainly was from '67 up till '70 for two of those four years.

KING: Did you know about Perot and his activities?

SHELTON: Oh, certainly. I think everyone that served in uniform during those days that read the newspaper, or "The Stars and Stripes" or whatever it was, had heard of Mr. Ross Perot and his attempts to assist the prisoners of war.

KING: Do you wonder how these men endured, Secretary?

PRINCIPI: Oh, you have to. You have to wonder. The great faith, they're really an inspiration to all of us. And there are 45,000 ex-POWs still alive today. Most of the World War II, most of them in their '80s and '90s. And 11,000 haven't come to us for any benefits at all. And we're outreaching for them...

KING: Why not?

PRINCIPI: ... so I'm glad you have this show. I don't know. They came home from the war, from World War II and they got on with their lives. And they have...

KING: Eleven thousand?

PRINCIPI: ... eleven of the 45.

KING: Are entitled to benefits.

PRINCIPI: And they have not...

KING: And still alive?

PRINCIPI: Still alive and have not received any benefits at all. And we're trying to outreach to them to get them to come and take advantage of the health care and the benefits that they've earned by their service.

KING: Can you guess why Ross?

PEROT: Well, the V.A. for years has been a big bureaucracy. And it really, really, really needed to be completely changed and dramatically improved. And I've worked with many heads of the V.A. over many years, and I'm sure it's a very difficult. And I consider it an almost impossible challenge, until Secretary Principi came in; I have never seen such dramatic improvements and changes.

And when I go into V.A. hospitals now, for the first time I see patients smiling. That's a good indicator right there. And they've linked up with all kinds of top universities and have some -- they can bring in some of the best of the best doctors from the private sector. But more than anything else, the bureaucracy is gone. And I can tell you a thousand stories. I'll tell you one if I get the chance.

KING: General Shelton, do we do enough for our veterans?

SHELTON: Well, I'm not sure Larry that you can ever do enough for the veterans, and for to accommodate them for the sacrifices that they've made for this nation. But I will certainly second what Ross said about the V.A. and about Secretary Principi's leadership. I think it's had a magnificent turn-around under his leadership.

And I do believe in today's environment, we're seeing more and more resources being given to the secretary. And of course, that's what it's going to take in order to allow him to carry out his plans.

KING: We're going to take a break. When we come back with our last segment, we're going to have -- show you about a special guy whose name is Colonel Bill Davis. Don't go away. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COL. BILL DAVIS, SPECIAL FORCES, U.S. ARMY: I was in exercising, I was bench-pressing about 250, 260. Which isn't that heavy but it's OK. And that day, I was working out with weights in the morning. That day, I had an exposure. That evening, I could not raise the window in the bathroom.



DAVIS: During the war, I'm talking on three radios at the same time. And now after the war, I go back to my office and I'm having a problem remembering my own phone number.

DR. ROBERT HALEY, U.T. SOUTHWESTERN MED. CTR.: They said well, that's Bill Davis. He was our top, you know, Special Forces guy in the Gulf War. And he came back so impaired he couldn't function. And we just really wondered what's wrong with him. And General Shelton then said, "Well, what do you think? Do you guess you could bring Bill down to Dallas and tell us what he's got?" And I said in a New York minute and Ross Perot will pay.

DAVIS: Little by little, I was knowing these things were wrong. But it was kind of like -- and as good as the people in Washington, Bethesda, Walter Reed were trying to help, it was something is not right, but we're still not sure yet.

And then entered Dr. Haley.

HALEY: In looking at it, it was very clear there is a Gulf War Syndrome. It looks very strongly like it was a chemical exposure that did it. Most likely, sarin nerve gas.

DAVIS: The prognosis is this. Focus on the cans and to hell with the cannots. That's the prognosis.


KING: That's Colonel Bill Davis, Ross. He suffers from what they call Gulf War Syndrome, right?

PEROT: Yes. Yes.

KING: What is that?

PEROT: It's exposure to chemical weapons and biological weapons, a combination of these things. And for years, we were in total denial. We knew Saddam Hussein had them, because we gave them to him to use them against Iraq. No question.

KING: Irony.

PEROT: Now, but we had the perfect 100-hour war. And then until Secretary Principi and the new administration came in -- now the military cared deeply about these men from Day 1. A group came to see me one year after they came home. They brought -- they looked like people coming out of Dachau at the end of World War II. They brought pictures of themselves going into combat; they looked like Superman going in. They brought pictures of children that had been born with deformities that were just terrible. And the thing that hurt them the most though, was that they would say to these Special Forces that they couldn't handle the stress of a 100-hour war. And they wrote it off to that.

Our government spent -- not the military, not the V.A. But the bureaucracy spent $160 million, hired a tobacco lobbyist and denounced it as stress, until this administration came in.

KING: Now, General you introduced him to the doctor doing research, right?

SHELTON: Well, actually he introduced me to Dr. Haley. And he said I've got a study that I'd like for you to see it. And Ross flew Dr. Haley to Tampa, Florida where I was in charge of our Special Operations Command. And Dr. Haley showed me what he had been doing. And I was quite concerned because I'd known a lot of these great soldiers that were having different types of symptoms since coming back from the Gulf. And Colonel Bill Davis happened to be one of those. And that's how we married Dr. Haley up with Bill Davis.

KING: That's what I meant. You introduced Davis to Haley, right?


KING: Do we know how many veterans are so afflicted, Secretary Principi?

PRINCIPI: Well, there are thousands of veterans who went over healthy and came back over there, on active duty and came back ill. So there's still thousands.

KING: Do you know why the government denied such a thing?

PRINCIPI: Well, I think we had a difficult time early on with -- or in the past recognizing...

KING: Republicans and Democratic administrations?

PRINCIPI: Well, just recognizing that we -- we recognized that the relatively modern, technological battlefield poses dangers other than bullet wounds and shrapnel. And Agent Orange in Vietnam, and of course, exposure to possibly to low levels of sarin gas when we hit the ammo dump at Khamisiyah.

And one of the first calls I received after being appointed by President Bush, was a call from Ross to come to Texas, and to meet with him and Dr. Haley to look at some of the new research that were ongoing. Which I found very, very, very intriguing, and we created an advisory committee to really come to grips with this.

KING: Are we helping him, Ross?

PEROT: Oh, this -- we're working the problem now. Yes. For example, I had to fund Dr. Haley's research. The government wouldn't touch it. Then the -- I heard about all these people that were dying of ALS at an early age and I said we need to study that. And they said we don't want to get into that. And I said well, then give me your records of everybody that has it and I will work on it. And they said oh no. That will violate confidentiality. And I said well, would you just tell that they could send their information to me and we'll have a team start to work on it?

Then one of the first people in Congress to step in was Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. She studied this. She believed these men were wounded. And she worked all alone against overwhelming odds to get funding for research. But it was just obstacle, after obstacle, after obstacle.

But once Secretary Principi came in and the new team came in, all that was swept aside. And they worked on it night and day; because we need to be sure we can protect our men and treat our men in future wars. We can't take this risk again. And certainly, we owe everything we can to treat the men who were wounded before.

KING: General, how is Bill Davis doing?

SHELTON: Well, Bill -- I got just a note from him the other day. He's doing very well. Right now, he's very ill. But overall, Bill has made remarkable -- a remarkable recovery. He still has to fight it. No question about it. And I'm not sure, you know, what the long- term prognosis is. But he's a great American. And in that typical Special Operations way, he's fighting it with the very best of his ability and with everything he's got.

KING: Couple of other things. Secretary Principi, what do you think about the idea of reinstituting a draft?

PRINCIPI: Well, I -- I think we have the finest military force in the world today. The men and women who are in harm's way in Iraq and Afghanistan, they're all volunteers. They all want to be there. It's heartbreaking to go up to Walter Reed Army Hospital and Bethesda and see some of them. But you have to be inspired by their courage under fire, their courage in rehabilitation and...

KING: But do we have enough people?

PRINCIPI: Well, I think we do. I think the all-volunteer force is working beautifully and I hope we continue it.

KING: General, what do you think?

SHELTON: Well, I think Secretary Principi summed it up very well. I'm 100 percent with him on that. We have got a tremendous Armed Forces today. Having enough people to serve in America's Armed Forces again, gets back to resources. As long as the Congress provides the incentives, the re-enlistment and the enlistments will not be a major problem for America to face. There are some great aspects of the draft. There's no question about it. But I believe we're on the right path with the all- volunteer force today.

KING: Ross, you have a thought on it?

PEROT: No. I concur with what they say. But while we have a little time, I've got to tell a couple of stories on General Shelton.

KING: Well, I don't have a lot of time.

PEROT: I'll keep it brief. I've known a lot of people...

KING: For you it would be an award. Go ahead, I'm only kidding, Ross.

PEROT: ... who care deeply about men and women. I've never had a general who -- he's called me about more wounded sergeants, and corporals, and privates than anybody else. Each one is like his son.

There were over a hundred Nungs, who fought alongside our Special Forces, had to flee to an island off Hong Kong, were there for 25 years. As Hong Kong was going to China, they were about to be sent back to North Vietnam to be executed.

I got a call from Special Forces people. I call General Shelton and ask -- his words were, "Ross, I wouldn't be alive without those people. We have to get them back." The big challenge was State Department said nobody could identify them. Another Four-Star General Wayne Downing, I called him for advice. He says, "Perot, I can identify them. I'll be on the next plane."

To make a long story short, thanks to these generals, all of those Nung-Vietnamese were brought to the U.S.A. And are living a great life in North Carolina. And the Special Forces are still taking care of them.

KING: How do you like the job, Secretary?

PRINCIPI: Oh, I love my job. It's a great mission and you get to serve with people like Ross Perot. And he's always talking about others, but -- and it's never about him.

KING: He's a special guy.

PRINCIPI: It's always about caring for other people. And he is what is best means to be an American.

KING: If the president is re-elected, do you want to stay on?

PRINCIPI: Well, we'll talk about it after the election.

KING: Thank you all very much. Good seeing you, as always, General Shelton.

And congratulations, Ross. PEROT: Thank you.

KING: Nobody deserves it more.

SHELTON: Thanks, Larry.

PEROT: Well...

KING: Ross Perot, General Shelton, our guests earlier and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi.

And I'll be back in just a minute. Don't go away.


KING: Hope you enjoyed tonight's edition of "LARRY KING LIVE." Stay tuned for more news around the clock on your most trusted name in news, CNN. See you tomorrow night. Good night.


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