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Fellow POW In North Vietnam Now Campaigns For Senator McCain .

Among the nearly 24-hundred delegates headed to the Republican National Convention in September is a retiree from Lancaster who has ties to candidate John McCain dating back 40 years, to 1968. Neither could imagine their role in this year's bid for the White House. W-O-S-U's Tom Borgerding reports

In early 1968, at age 23, Thomas Moe, was flying bombing missions over North Vietnam. The young Air Force pilot had completed 80 missions before his luck ran out in late January or early February of '68. He says a weapons malfunction took down his plane and another close by. He was captured and brought to a prisoner of war camp, the notorious Hanoi Hilton.

We knew about the Hilton. We had photographs posted in our squadron. Pictures taken by our reconnaissance airplanes. And of course, the Hanoi Hilton was already notorious through a couple of articles in Life magazine and so forth. And so when they backed me up to the prison gate, although I was in leg-irons, handcuffs and a blindfold, I could tilt my head back see this Maison Centrale sign over the door and I thought boy this is the big time now. Says Moe.

Moe would remain a prisoner of war for the next five years. He was put in isolation. But, across a narrow walkway, through a peephole that he carved out, he observed another American P-O-W, a young Navy pilot, John McCain had been shot down in late 1967.

I saw my next door neighbor was this, another fighter pilot, all broken up and bent over. Coming back from quizzes in really bad shape, or I was. We always liked to pass on a word of encouragement or whatever. If we're passing by the door on the way to a quiz or something, if the guard got a little ahead of us we'd stop and say hey, chin up or whatever,' and sometimes exchange information, like a name. And so that's how I got to know him. Says Moe.

Moe and McCain watched each other's comings and going for nine months.

The idea of the North Vietnamese is to try to break you down to have you be part of their propaganda machine and to issue statements or what have you. And if you were alone they felt that they had more control over you. It didn't work. We had great communication through tapping through the wall and hand signals and so forth. But that was typical of what happened. So, for the first nine months I was in Hanoi, including most of the time Senator McCain and I lived across from each other, I had no roommate. Says Moe.

40 years later, Retired Air Force Colonel Thomas Moe serves as Chair, Ohio Veterans for McCain. He got involved in politics two years ago after talking to Senator McCain at a reunion of Vietnam fighter pilots at Wright Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton. McCain asked him to join his campaign for the White House. He immediately said yes.

To me, the most inspirational memory I have of John McCain is sitting there watching out a hole in the door and seeing him come back from a quiz, especially those times when he was particularly beat up, bent over, you know, trying to take steps and as he'd approach the door to go in and the guard was fiddling with the lock, he'd look over because he knew I was looking at him and he'd just give me a big thumbs up, you know, we're not going to get down, we're going to get through this. And that memory comes back at me a lot. Q: Have you thought about how it will be to cast your delegate vote for Senator McCain. What do you anticipate? Well you know I hark back to some of the things we've talked about. My, my, the images, my memory of watching Senator McCain through a peephole all bent over and beat up and there's no way either of us could have imagined the situation today. And I've thought about the convention, to be there on the floor, a part of a major state delegation. To actually cast a delegate vote for Senator McCain to me is, to say the least a tremendous honor. And emotionally, really a part of the journey that is so meaningful that we can pick ourselves up from the ashes of some situation like that and be in that position is really profound. Says Moe.

Thomas Moe will cast his delegate vote for Senator McCain at the Republican National Convention in September.

Tom Borgerding WOSU News.