A Pilgrimage to Honor and Remember My POW Husband

In 2016, the Naval Historical Foundation is celebrating its 90th year as a non-profit institution. We are highlighting stories that honor our commitment to preserve, educate, and commemorate naval history. Retired Navy Captain and former Vietnam POW Ken L. Coskey remains a central figure in the storied history of this Foundation. This  onth marks the 43rd anniversary of the return of Captain Coskey and the other of the Vietnam POWs to the United States from their long captivity.

On 6 September 1968, then-Commander Coskey was shot down in his A-6A Intruder over North Vietnam during a night reconnaissance mission near the city of Vinh. After being captured by the North Vietnamese Captain Coskey spent four and a half years imprisoned in Hanoi. He was released alongside 590 other Americans during Operation Homecoming in the spring of 1973.

Captain Coskey (1929-2013) served in leadership roles at the Naval History and Heritage Command (then Naval Historical Center) from 1979 to 1982 and as Executive Director of the Naval Historical Foundation from 1987 to 1999. He was a strong supporter of National History Day held each year for thousands of middle and high school students at the University of Maryland in College Park. As a testament to his steadfast commitment to history, the Naval Historical Foundation helped establish the Captain Ken Coskey Naval History Prize to recognize outstanding achievement in the field of naval history to aspiring young scholars. Mrs. Rosemary Coskey, his wife of 27 years, remains an active participant in the event each year.

Mrs. Coskey recently returned from a “Back to Vietnam” trip in January of this year. She has graciously agreed to share her experiences of traveling to Vietnam to honor her late husband and reflect on his incredible life story.

Mrs. Rosemary Coskey at Hoa Lo Prison (Photo courtesy Rosemary Coskey)

Mrs. Rosemary Coskey at Hoa Lo Prison (Photo courtesy Rosemary Coskey)

By Rosemary Coskey

Vietnam is a very popular destination right now.  When I was in Croatia in October our local guide said that was where she had picked for her vacation in January.  Many friends have recently gone there or have plans to visit in the near future.

Because my late husband spent 4.5 years there as a POW, I had been curious.  We had never talked of going there together although many POW families have since been back.  I do wish I could have gone with him but it did not work out that way.

Two years ago my neighbors told me about the recent tour they had just taken with a group of returning veterans.  The trip was such a success they all got together and rented a house on the Outer Banks the following summer to have a reunion.  What bonding!    With such high praise, I decided to take a look at the specifics.


CDR Coskey aboard USS America (CVA 66)

At first I had grave doubts. Would there be too much emphasis on the war in the the south?  That really wasn’t my main interest.  The big negative was that Hanoi was not included on the itinerary.  How could I go to Vietnam and miss Hanoi?  No way.  I decided it would not be the trip I needed to take.

Fast forward two years.  I was in my exercise class talking with a friend about our travels.  She had been on the 2014 trip with my neighbors and casually remarked it had been the best trip of her life!  Wow.  I went home and got in contact with the tour leader to ask about plans for the 2016 trip.  Yes, there was space for one more.  I knew that was my opportunity for an amazing experience.  My doubts receded.  After a couple of weeks in Vietnam with the group, I decided I’d have built up the necessary confidence to proceed to Hanoi on my own.  So, I signed on.  And that’s how I ended up in Pleiku on January 18, on what would’ve been our 30th wedding anniversary.

The group I joined was so gracious and accepting of me.  I didn’t quite fit in but I was wearing my husband’s POW bracelet so they quickly understood.  My fellow travelers were mainly GIs with experiences confined to the war in the south and who had little interest in Navy’s role up north.  There was one former Marine and one Navy corpsman, but the rest were Army.  One man was the son of a pilot whose plane crashed into the side of a mountain in bad weather in 1967.  Sixty years old, he was on the mission of a lifetime to visit the actual crash site, which he did.  It was very moving for him, of course.  He shared his deep emotions with us, as well as some poems he had written describing how it was for a son to lose his father years before.  He now volunteers at the Wall in Washington and is active in the organization Sons and Daughters in Touch.

The tour ended in Nha Trang where the group split up and people went their separate ways.  There were lots of photos and hugs all around.  We had become a big family.  I headed Cam Ranh, the large former U S Army air base now in civilian use.  It was now time to begin my personal journey.

Commander Coskey escorted to airplane at Hanoi's Gia Lam Airport, 1973.

Commander Coskey escorted to airplane at Hanoi’s Gia Lam Airport on the day of his release, 1973.

My days in Hanoi went without a hitch.  A personal guide had been hired for airport transfers and a full day of touring major sights.  He was a 40-old Vietnamese man, husband and father of two young sons, who spoke quite good English.  His father had been a career Army officer serving on the “other” side.  He was kind and showed no animosity toward me, wife of one of the “air pirates”.  I learned that the Vietnamese have great respect for their elders so he was constantly looking out for me.  A very kind soul.  I saw most everything on that one day, including the Hoa Lo Prison.  It was a bit overwhelming, even though just a shadow of its former self.  A new hotel towers over it, taking most of the land it formerly occupied.  I naturally wanted to photograph everything and so my phone battery died midway through.  My faithful guide offered to take whatever additional pictures I wanted on his phone and email them later.  So thoughtful!

After visiting the famous Halong Bay the following day, I still had one more free day to walk around the city alone.  That allowed time for one more visit to the prison where I could spend as much time as I needed to really try to take it all in.

Ken and Rosemary Coskey, 2002 (Photo Courtesy Rosemary Coskey)

Ken and Rosemary Coskey, 2002 (Photo Courtesy Rosemary Coskey)

It’s hard to describe the feeling you get visiting the cells and seeing the displays.  The prison was built in 1896 by the French and most of the focus is on Vietnamese prisoners and their treatment.  But eventually the visitor comes to the spaces devoted to prisoners held during the “American” War.  I had read about and was prepared for the communist propaganda that describes how well the POWs were treated and how content they were—able to practice their religion freely, attend church services, celebrate Christmas, decorate a Christmas tree, receive gifts from home, play chess and basketball, etc.  Indeed, there were photographs and a video playing on a flat screen TV, backing back up their claims.  Of course, we know better but it is their museum after all, not ours.  Visitors should prepare themselves, but that’s another subject.

I was able to walk into dark, dank cells with concrete slabs for “beds” and try to imagine what it must’ve been like to face the heavy door, bolted shut, and those 4 walls for days, months, or years.  The weather was unseasonably wet and cold that day and I was bundled up.  But the prisoners were issued pajamas and rubber sandals.  It made my heart ache for them.  It was quite interesting to overhear comments of other visitors, mostly Americans.  At times I felt the urge to say “My husband was one of them.”  But I didn’t want to interfere with their visit or distract from my own purpose.

What I missed most, of course, was the company of my husband.  It would have meant so much to hear his personal recollections.  On my own, however, the visit was certainly the best it could be and well worth the trip.

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  1. Doug Coskey


    Rosemary – I’m really pleased that you made this trip. You are so adventurous! I look forward to a future time when we can talk about your trip, and your thoughts about how Uncle Ken would have reacted had he been able to join you.

  2. Margot Kerby


    Our hearts go out to you, Rosemary, and to the memory of our dear friend, Ken. We are so pleased that you were able to make the trip — a real tribute to Ken. Thank you for sharing this information and your love.

  3. Rex Witcher


    I was in Vietnam at the same time Ken was captured. I could not imagine how it must have been in that Prison. I flew in and out of Tan sa nut at night for six months and back to Lexington Park Maryland, where I finished my career and went back to join my family in Colorado. I think of you and Ken when we had our last reunion in Washington DC. Ken, Paul, Swede, Tom Tomlinson and myself all went through Flight training, from there to VS21, then back to Pensacola to be instructors, then to the Naval Postgraduate School, then we went our separate ways. They were like brothers to me. I have the fondest of memories. We didn’t get to see each other much since, but that didn’t keep me from thinking of them as family.

    I am very glad Paul sent me your tour of Vietnam.

  4. Rosemary Coskey


    Thank you all so much for your kind comments. I am deeply moved by your words. Your remembrances of Ken lift my spirit immensely. March 14 will be the anniversary of his release and “Welcome Home” from Vietnam. I am very grateful to the Foundation for reminding us of all the POWs who sacrificed those years spent in captivity. Fortunately, many went on to lead exemplary and even very happy lives. I like to think that Ken was one of those.

  5. Kimberly Van Roekel


    Hi Rosemary, I am sorry for the loss of your husband CDR Kenneth Coskey. When the Vietnam War was going on, at that time, I don’t know if you remember or not, they had the POW/MIA Memorial Bracelets. Well, I have your husband Kenneth’s. I wore this bracelet from when I was about in 3rd grade until his release in 1973. Since that time, I have been carrying the bracelet around with me for 48 years! I just wish I could have returned it earlier. I did contact the Navy a while back in regard to returning it to the family and was given an address where to return it but there was no guarantee that it would get back to the family. So I am reaching out to you. Is there anyway that I can get this bracelet to you if you would like to have it?

    • Rosemary Coskey


      Dear Kimberly,
      Thank you so much for writing and for wearing my husband’s bracelet so many years ago. Many Americans wore the bracelets an a spirit of patriotism and never forgot about those serving in danger and hardship during the war. You are very kind to offer the bracelet. We have felt that a bracelets could serve as a good starting point for conversations with young people who might then be encouraged to learn more about our country’s history. For most people, that war has now receded quite far back in our history. But the lessons of war are worth teaching and remembering. I wish you the best.

      • Pauline Migliore


        Dear Rosemary,
        I, too, wore a POW bracelet bearing your husband’s name. I remember watching the newscast and seeing he was released the day before my 18th birthday. I’m so glad to have found information about him via the internet. Best to you and your family.
        Pauline Migliore, Detroit, Michigan

      • Chris foster


        Mrs Coskey
        I was helping my parents move and found a POW braclet in a box with CDR KENNETH COSKEY 9-6-68 inscribed on it. I googled this name and found this site. First I want to thank you for your husbands service to our country. His service has kept us a free nation. I wish I would have found this before his passing I would have liked to thank for his services. I would be happy to return this to you if you would like it. My email is Chris.foster1961@yahoo.com

  6. Pingback: NHF Facilitates Donations Ahead of This Year’s POW/MIA Day Remembrance | Naval Historical Foundation

  7. Rosemarie Kibitlewski


    I wore a bracelet with Dr Coskey’s name and date of capture. I prayed for him every day and cried when they broadcast his name as he came off the plane. I still have the bracelet -what a different time it was. Blessings to Mrs Coskey and her family for their sacrifice.

    • Rosemary Coskey


      To Rosemarie Kibitlewski:
      I just discovered your kind comments about my husband. It is very moving to read them. Thank you so much for writing, and for your prayers and tears. Please keep up your patriotic spirit and love for our wonderful country. I wish you the very best!

  8. Rosemarie Caruana


    My heart aches for you Mrs. Coskey. I wore the bracelet with his name & date of capture the whole time he was captured and prayed for his release every day. I also watched as they announced his name when he came off the plane. I was so happy he was home!

    • Rosemary Coskey


      To Rosemarie Caruana.
      Thank you so much for the comments. I was just searching online for some information about my husband and came across your posting. Your kind sentiments are so moving. I cannot thank you enough for wearing the bracelet and keeping Ken in your thoughts and prayers. He was one of the lucky ones–he came home.
      Rosemary Coskey

  9. Elizabeth Weisser


    I too wore a POW bracelet with your husbands name and date of capture. I remember rushing home from middle-school every day to scan the New York Times listing of POWs released. Sadness for so many days and weeks when reaching ‘C’ in the alphabetical listing to not see Kenneth Coskey in print. And, then that day when his name appeared. We corresponded when he returned and in his graciousness he told me to hold onto the bracelet. The NYTimes listing, the bracelet, and his letter/family photo are in my memory box.
    I too went to Vietnam/Cambodia/Laos this past winter to see and learn. Even in it’s ‘cleaned up’ state, the Hoa Lo Prison is haunting and humbling. It’s hard to fathom how the prisoners survived. For those who did (and didn’t), my heart is full of gratitude.

  10. Donna Buscemi


    Mrs. Coskey
    As I watched the Vietnam Documentary that just finished tonight I thought about the POW bracelet I wore in highschool. I had your husband’s bracelet as well. And I just Googled him and found your article. I am so sorry to hear of his passing. I remember writing him when he got home and he wrote back. I didn’t expect a reply I just wanted to wish him well. I guess that letter from him says a lot about him. I don’t know how many of us had his name on our bracelets. Im guessing he probably responded to all who welcomed him home.

  11. Charles F. Johnson


    I’ve thought about Cmdr Coskey and prayed for him constantly. I was the first crewman on the helicopter from HC7 on 9/8/68 that rescued Lt Cmdr McKee but was unable to rescue Cmdr Coskey. He will remain in heart and memory forever even though we never met. I am so sorry for what he must have endured during his captivity.

  12. Brenda K DeWitt


    I just now found my POW bracelet from years ago and found this page! I had Cmdr Coskey on my bracelet and prayed for him everyday. I was in my teens and never followed up to see if he was released. Today, at age 61, I found the bracelet and found this website. I thought maybe family would want the bracelet but reading these posts, I think you had many followers with his bracelet. Glad he made it out of there. If anyone reads this and wants the bracelet for a keepsake, please email me at b_dewitt@sbcglobal.net. Prayers to the family!

  13. Lyliss Mann


    I have his bracelet too. Was a teen when I got it. Was so excited when I saw him on tv as he got off the plane. I have kept the bracelet because he meant so much to me for so long.

  14. Reply

    dear mrs. Coskey, I am one of the young girls who wore your husbands braceltet, I was not lucky enough to find anything about what had happened to him, so was so happy when one night I would key his name in and found this sight. would lovw to meet you and learn more about this wonderfull man who fought for his country when so many left the usa, but I am not to judge we were all afrade of what would happen to us at the age of 17, 18. you rember the times we were going throught. I would still love to meet you. have a blessed day. Linda Lyle

  15. Theresa Brown


    HI Mrs. Coskey
    I am reaching out to you because my husband just showed me a POW bracelet he was given in the late 60’s. He wore that bracelet for years and never took it off so he would remember to pray for him. When I looked up the name, I found it was your husband Commander Kenneth Coskey. My husband wanted me to reach out to you and let you know when he got the bracelet he prayed every night for you husband’s safe return and was thrilled to find his story. We are so sorry for your loss but wanted to let you know my husband’s story.

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