Nineteen-year-old Douglas Hegdahl joined the Navy in 1966 to see the world. He soon got his wish. Within a few months he found himself on the gun line off North Vietnam in the cruiser USS Canberra (CAG-2). Wanting to get a better view of a night bombardment, the young sailor went out on deck and was knocked overboard by the blast from a 5-inch gun mount. After spending a few hours alone in the South China Sea, Hegdahl was picked up by North Vietnamese fishermen and ultimately delivered to a Communist prisoner of war camp in Hanoi.
At first, he seemed out of place as a seaman apprentice among the other POWs who were mostly aviators, older and more senior in rank. But before long, his fellow captives realized they had a real asset in young Hegdahl. That he was able to commit small acts of sabotage without being caught was impressive enough, but more significantly, he had a phenomenal memory that enabled him to memorize the names of the more than 250 POWs then imprisoned in North Vietnam.