In yesterday’s post about the proposed three-engine interceptor version of the A-5 Vigilante, I included the story of a recon Vigilante pilot shot down over Vietnam. I’ll repeat it here:
Only 9 of the 36 of the aircrew shot down were rescued, with others either killed or taken prisoner. In one case, the rescue was a grim adventure like something out of an action movie. Lieutenant JG Francis Prendergast was the back-seat RAN on an RA-5C that was shot down over North Vietnam on 9 March 1967. According to one version of the story (there are other versions that differ slightly in details), he was captured near the seashore by North Vietnamese militiamen, with two of them assigned to guard him. One was armed with a rifle, the other with Prendergast’s own 0.38-caliber revolver, standard equipment for aircrew and carried externally in a shoulder holster.
Prendergast carried the revolver with the first two chambers unloaded as a safety measure, and as a backup also had a small 0.22 caliber automatic pistol hidden inside his flight suit. When a rescue helicopter and support aircraft showed up, strafing drove off all the North Vietnamese except the guards, who felt safer staying with Prendergast than running for cover.
This proved a fatal mistake. While the two North Vietnamese were distracted by the noise and confusion, Prendergast pulled out the little automatic, cocked it, and shot the militiaman with the rifle in the head. The other militiaman tried to shoot Prendergast with the revolver, only to find that the hammer fell on an empty cylinder, and was shot himself an instant later. Prendergast swam out to the rescue helicopter and was retrieved.
I received this comment on the post:
If that’s an accurate description, it makes Prendergast a war criminal. He had surrendered, but then used violence from a non-combatant status.
First of all, this version of the account doesn’t say he “surrendered,” only that he was “captured.” If he was forcibly compelled to submit or taken while unconscious, for instance, does that affect his status as a prisoner?
In any event, does anyone have any other feedback on this? Should Pendergrast have been charged with war crimes?