DOWNEY – Ernest Brace, a civilian who was captured during the Vietnam War while flying supplies for the CIA and who later tapped code through a wall to fellow prisoner John McCain, has died. He was 83. Brace died of a pulmonary embolism on Friday in Klamath Falls, Oregon, where he retired in 1989, his family said.
Brace was born on Aug. 15, 1931, in Detroit. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in April 1947, at age 15, and was trained as an Aviation Radar and Radio Technician.
Brace entered the Naval Aviation Cadet Program in March 1950 and was commissioned a 2nd Lt in the Marines and awarded his pilot wings on August 16, 1951. Lt Brace flew F4U-4 Corsairs and AD-2 Skyraiders with VMA-121 during the Korean War, flying 100 combat missions between April 1952 and March 1953.
During Korea, he was shot down near Wonson on November 7, 1952, and was rescued by the USS Kidd off the North Korean coast. After Korea, Brace flew night-fighters and then helicopters before leaving the service in November 1961.
He next served as a test pilot with North American Aviation and then flew helicopters around Los Angeles before becoming a USAID/CIA Contract pilot in Southeast Asia as an Advisor to the Thai Border Patrol Police in 1964.
Ernie was captured by the North Vietnamese while flying supplies to an advanced base in Northern Laos on May 21, 1965, and was taken as a prisoner of war, despite being a civilian. After spending 2,868 days in captivity, including nearly five years in solitary confinement, he was released with the other Laotian captured POWs held in Hanoi on March 28, 1973.
He spent the next year in Balboa U.S. Naval Hospital in San Diego, recovering from his injuries as a POW.
After hospitalization, Ernie joined Evergreen International as an Operations Manager, returning to Vietnam in August 1974 to arrange transfer of Air America aircraft and pilots to United Nations missions in Africa. From 1976 to 1978, Ernie directed a helicopter operation under the U.S. State Department in Mexico to control narcotics. He joined Sikorsky Aircraft in 1978 as an international Marketing Manager, and was assigned to Singapore from 1982 to 1984.
Ernie was assigned as Program Director to the Peoples Republic of China in 1984, and lived in Beijing with his wife until June 1989, when they returned to the U.S. He worked with the U.S. Military in Kuwait in March 1991, just after the cease fire ending the Persian Gulf War. He later retired to Oregon.
In 1978, Brace was awarded the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service for his actions as a POW in Vietnam.
He published a book titled “A Code to Keep” in 1988 which details his experience as a POW.
Published: Dec. 11, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 35