Coordinates: 21°1′31″N 105°50′47″E / 21.02528°N
105.84639°E / 21.02528; 105.84639
Prison (Vietnamese: [hwa᷉ː lɔ̂]) was a prison used
by the French colonists in
Vietnam for political prisoners, and later
Vietnam for U.S. Prisoners of War during the
During this later period it was ironically known to American POWs as
Hanoi Hilton. The prison was demolished during the 1990s, though
the gatehouse remains as a museum.
1 French era
2 Democratic Republic of Vietnam, 1954
3.1 Notable inmates
3.2 Post-war accounts
4 Hỏa Lò in the late 1970s and early 1980s
5 Demolition, conversion and museum
6 See also
8 Further reading
The French name "Maison Centrale" above the gate of Hỏa Lò
Museum reconstruction of
First Indochina War
First Indochina War prisoners in Hỏa Lò
The name Hoa Lo, commonly translated as "fiery furnace" or even
"Hell's hole", also means "stove". The name originated from the
street name phố Hỏa Lò, due to the concentration of stores
selling wood stoves and coal-fire stoves along the street from
The prison was built in
Hanoi by the French, in dates ranging from
1886–1889 to 1898 to 1901, when
Vietnam was still part
of French Indochina. The French called the prison Maison
Centrale—literally, Central House, a traditional euphemism to
denote prisons in France. It was located near Hanoi's French
Quarter. It was intended to hold Vietnamese prisoners, particularly
political prisoners agitating for independence who were often subject
to torture and execution. A 1913 renovation expanded its capacity
from 460 inmates to 600. It was nevertheless often overcrowded,
holding some 730 prisoners on a given day in 1916, a figure which
would rise to 895 in 1922 and 1,430 in 1933. By 1954 it held more
than 2000 people; with its inmates held in subhuman conditions,
it had become a symbol of colonialist exploitation and of the
bitterness of the Vietnamese towards the French.
The central urban location of the prison also became part of its early
character. During the 1910s through 1930s, street peddlers made an
occupation of passing outside messages in through the jail's windows
and tossing tobacco and opium over the walls; letters and packets
would be thrown out to the street in the opposite direction. Within
the prison itself, communication and ideas passed. Indeed, many of the
future leading figures in Communist North
Vietnam spent time in Maison
Centrale during the 1930s and 1940s.
Democratic Republic of Vietnam, 1954
Following the defeat at the
Battle of Dien Bien Phu
Battle of Dien Bien Phu and the 1954
Geneva Accords the French left
Hanoi and the prison came under the
authority of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Thereafter the
prison served as an education center for revolutionary doctrine and
activity, and it was kept around after the French left to mark its
historical significance to the North Vietnamese.
Main article: U.S. Prisoners of War during the
Vietnam War, the first U.S. prisoner to be sent to Hỏa
Lieutenant, Junior Grade
Lieutenant, Junior Grade Everett Alvarez Jr., who was shot
down on August 5, 1964. From the beginning, U.S. POWs endured
miserable conditions, including poor food and unsanitary
conditions. The prison complex was sarcastically nicknamed the
Hanoi Hilton" by the American POWs, in reference to the well-known
Hilton Hotel chain. There is some disagreement among the first group
of POWs who coined the name but
F8D pilot Bob Shumaker was the
first to write it down, carving "Welcome to the
Hanoi Hilton" on the
handle of a pail to greet the arrival of Air Force Lieutenant Robert
The "Little Vegas" area built for American POWs in 1967, shown in a
final inspection in 1973 shortly before the Americans' release.
Beginning in early 1967, a new area of the prison was opened for
incoming American POWs; it was dubbed "Little Vegas", and its
individual buildings and areas were named after Las Vegas Strip
landmarks, such as "Golden Nugget", "Thunderbird", "Stardust",
"Riviera", and the "Desert Inn". These names were chosen because
many pilots had trained at Nellis Air Force Base, located in proximity
to Las Vegas. American pilots were frequently already in bad shape
by the time they were captured, injured either during their ejection
or in landing on the ground.
Hanoi Hilton was one site used by the
North Vietnamese Army
North Vietnamese Army to
house, torture and interrogate captured servicemen, mostly American
pilots shot down during bombing raids. Although North
a signatory of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949, which demanded
"decent and humane treatment" of prisoners of war, severe torture
methods were employed, such as rope bindings, irons, beatings, and
prolonged solitary confinement. When prisoners of war began
to be released from this and other North Vietnamese prisons during the
Johnson administration, their testimonies revealed widespread and
systematic abuse of prisoners of war.
Regarding treatment at Hỏa Lò and other prisons, the communists
countered by stating that prisoners were treated well and in
accordance with the Geneva Conventions. During 1969, they
broadcast a series of coerced statements from American prisoners that
purported to support this notion. The North Vietnamese would also
maintain that their prisons were no worse than prisons for POWs and
political prisoners in South Vietnam, such as the one on Côn Sơn
Island. Mistreatment of
Viet Cong and North
Vietnamese prisoners and South Vietnamese dissidents in South
Vietnam's prisons was indeed frequent, as was North Vietnamese abuse
of South Vietnamese prisoners and their own dissidents.
Beginning in late 1969, treatment of the prisoners at Hỏa Lò and
other camps became less severe and generally more tolerable.
Following the late 1970 attempted rescue operation at Sơn Tây prison
camp, most of the POWs at the outlying camps were moved to Hỏa Lò,
so that the North Vietnamese had fewer camps to protect. This
created the "Camp Unity" communal living area at Hỏa Lò, which
greatly reduced the isolation of the POWs and improved their
See also: Alcatraz Gang
John L. Borling, USAF pilot, POW for 6 1⁄2 years, retired
Charles G. Boyd, USAF pilot, POW for almost 7 years, retired General;
the only Vietnam-era POW to reach the four star rank.
George Thomas Coker, US Navy pilot
Bud Day, USAF pilot,
Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor and Air Force Cross recipient,
political activist, was cellmates with McCain
Jeremiah Denton, US Navy pilot, Senator (R-AL)
Leon F. "Lee" Ellis, USAF fighter pilot, motivational speaker and
Norman C. Gaddis, USAF pilot, POW for almost 7 years, retired
Lawrence N. Guarino, U.S. Air Force officer, veteran of three wars and
Doug Hegdahl, Inmate who played a fool to memorize all the names,
personal information and capture dates of the prisoners there
Sam Johnson, USAF fighter pilot, Representative (R-TX)
Lance Sijan, USAF fighter pilot,
Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor recipient.
Joseph Kittinger, USAF pilot, record-breaking parachutist
William P. Lawrence, US Navy pilot,
Chief of Naval Personnel
Chief of Naval Personnel and
Superintendent of the United States Naval Academy
John McCain, US Navy pilot, Senator (R-AZ) and 2008 Republican
presidential nominee, spent parts of his five and a half years as a
Robinson Risner, USAF fighter pilot, POW from 1965 to 1973. A
Lieutenant Colonel when shot down and captured, he was the senior
ranking POW, responsible for maintaining chain of command among his
Howard Rutledge, US Navy pilot, held there for part of his
7 1⁄2 years of captivity, co-author of In the Presence of
Mine Enemies: 1965–1973 – A Prisoner of War with his wife
James Stockdale, US Navy pilot,
Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor recipient, 1992 Vice
Presidential candidate. He and Lawrence were the most senior-ranking
US Navy POWs.
After the implementation of the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, neither the
United States nor its allies ever formally charged North
the war crimes revealed to have been committed there. In the 2000s,
the Vietnamese government has held the position that claims that
prisoners were tortured at Hoa Lo and other sites during the war are
fabricated, but that
Vietnam wants to move past the issue as part of
establishing better relations with the U.S. Tran Trong Duyet, a
jailer at Hoa Lo beginning in 1968 and its commandant for the last
three years of the war, maintained in 2008 that no prisoners were
tortured. However, eyewitness accounts by American servicemen
present a different account of their captivity.
After the war, Risner wrote the book Passing of the Night detailing
his 7 years at the
Hanoi Hilton. Indeed, a considerable literature
emerged from released POWs after repatriation, depicting Hoa Lo and
the other prisons as places where such atrocities as murder; beatings;
broken bones, teeth and eardrums; dislocated limbs; starvation;
serving of food contaminated with human and animal feces; and medical
neglect of infections and tropical disease occurred. These details are
revealed in famous accounts by McCain (Faith of My Fathers), Denton,
Alvarez, Day, Risner, Stockdale and dozens of others.
In addition, the
Hanoi Hilton was depicted in the eponymous 1987
Hollywood movie The
Hỏa Lò in the late 1970s and early 1980s
The prison continued to be in use after the release of the American
prisoners. Among the last inmates was dissident poet Nguyễn Chí
Thiện, who was reimprisoned in 1979 after attempting to deliver his
poems to the British Embassy, and spent the next six years in Hỏa
Lò until 1985 when he was transferred to a more modern prison. He
mentions the last years of the prison, partly in fictional form, in
Hanoi Hilton Stories (2007).
Demolition, conversion and museum
John McCain's flight suit and parachute, on display in the museum part
of the Hoa Lo site
Most of the prison was demolished in the mid-1990s and the site now
contains two high-rise buildings, one of them the 25-story Somerset
Hanoi serviced apartment building. Other parts have been
converted into a commercial complex retaining the original French
Only part of the prison exists today as a museum. The displays mainly
show the prison during the French colonial period, including the
guillotine room, still with original equipment, and the quarters for
male and female Vietnamese political prisoners. Exhibits related
to the American prisoners include the interrogation room where many
newly captured Americans were questioned (notorious among former
prisoners as the "blue room") is now made up to look like a very
comfortable, if spartan, barracks-style room. Displays in the room
claim that Americans were treated well and not harmed (and even cite
the nickname "
Hanoi Hilton" as proof that inmates found the
accommodations comparable to a hotel's). Propaganda in the museum
includes pictures of American POWs playing chess, shooting pool,
gardening, raising chickens, and receiving large fish and eggs for
food. The museum's claims are contested by former prisoners' published
memoirs, and oral histories broadcast on
C-SPAN identify the room (and
other nearby locales) as the site of numerous acts of torture.
^ a b c d e Logan, William S. (2000). Hanoi: Biography of a City.
University of New South Wales Press. ISBN 0-86840-443-8.
^ a b c d Zinoman, Peter (2001). The Colonial Bastille: A History of
Imprisonment in Vietnam, 1862–1940. University of California Press.
ISBN 0-520-22412-4. p. 52.
^ a b "Vietnam's
Hanoi Hilton – Hell on Earth". Archived from the
original on May 11, 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-23.
^ a b c Coram, Robert (2007). American Patriot: The Life and Wars Of
Colonel Bud Day. Little, Brown and Company.
ISBN 0-316-75847-7. p. 178.
^ Zinoman, The Colonial Bastille, p. 54.
^ a b Logan, Hanoi, p. 145.
^ Tours of Vietnam: War, Travel Guides, and Memory – Page 1 Scott
Laderman – 2008 "Following the 1954 Geneva Accords that put an end
to French suzerainty in Indochina, Hoa Lo Prison, as the institution
was called by the Vietnamese, fell under the authority of the
Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the independent Vietnamese ..."
^ a b c Frisbee, John L. (February 1989). "Valor en Masse". Air Force
^ Hubbell, John G. (1976). P.O.W.: A Definitive History of the
American Prisoner-Of-War Experience in Vietnam, 1964–1973. New York:
Reader's Digest Press. ISBN 0-88349-091-9. p. 18.
^ (later Navy Rear Admiral Robert H. Shumaker)
^ Honor Bound: American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia,
1961–1973 – Page 96 Stuart I. Rochester, Frederick T. Kiley –
2007 "There is disagreement among the first group of PWs as to who
actually named Hoa Lo the
Hanoi Hilton, but the nickname ... the
message "Welcome to the
Hanoi Hilton" on the handle of a pail to greet
the arrival of Air Force Lt. Robert Peel."
^ a b Rochester, Stuart I.; Kiley, Frederick (1999). Honor Bound:
American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia, 1961–1973. Annapolis,
Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-694-9. pp.
^ a b c Lieut. Commander John S. McCain III, United States Navy
(1973-05-14). "How the POW's Fought Back". U.S. News & World
Report. Archived from the original on 2008-10-13. Reposted under
title "John McCain, Prisoner of War: A First-Person Account",
2008-01-28. Reprinted in
Library of America
Library of America staff (1998). Reporting
Vietnam, Part Two: American Journalism 1969–1975. Library of
America. pp. 434–463. ISBN 1-883011-59-0.
^ Parker, Adam (2008-10-19). "Former
Vietnam POW recalls ordeal,
fellowship". The Post and Courier. Retrieved 2009-06-27.
^ a b c Karnow, Stanley (1983). Vietnam: A History. The Viking Press.
ISBN 0-670-74604-5. p. 655.
^ Mahler, Jonathan (2005-12-25). "The Prisoner". The New York Times
^ a b "U.S. Fliers Well Treated,
Hanoi Says". The Washington Post.
United Press International. 1969-06-06.
^ Karnow, Vietnam, pp. 655–656.
^ a b Glines, C. V. (November 1995). "The Son Tay Raid". Air Force
Magazine. Archived from the original on 2008-04-24.
^ a b "'
Hanoi Hilton' jailer says he'd vote for McCain". USA Today.
Associated Press. 2008-06-27. Retrieved 2008-07-25.
Nguyễn Chí Thiện
Nguyễn Chí Thiện Hỏa Lò/
Hanoi Hilton Stories Yale
University, Southeast Asia Studies, 2007 "During the roughly fifteen
years spent as a political prisoner in Vietnamese labor camps from
1960 to 1977, Nguyen Chi Thien composed hundreds of poems. Released
following the fall of Saigon, Thien delivered a manuscript of these
poems to the British Embassy in Hanoi. He was arrested at the gate and
taken to Hoa Lo – the well known “
Hanoi Hilton” Prison, where he
spent six of an additional twelve years of imprisonment, often in
^ Passport Vietnam: your pocket guide to Vietnamese business Page 13
Jeffrey E. Curry, Chinh T. Nguyen – 1997 "(Hundreds of Vietnamese
died in Hoa Lo prison — the famous "
Hanoi Hilton" — long before it
was used as a prison for American pilots. It is being turned into a
commercial complex, but its original French colonial walls are being
^ Frommer's Southeast Asia – Page 270 Daniel White, Ron Emmons,
Jennifer Eveland – 2011 "Hoa Lo
Hanoi Hilton) For sheer
gruesome atmosphere alone, this ranks near the top of the must-see
list. ... To the west is the guillotine room, still with its original
equipment, and the female and Vietnamese political prisoners'
Wikimedia Commons has media related to
Coram, Robert. American Patriot : The Life and Wars Of Colonel
Bud Day. Little, Brown and Company, ©2007. ISBN 0-316-75847-7,
Denton, Jeremiah A; Brandt, Ed. When Hell Was In Session. Readers
Digest Press, distributed by Crowell, 1976.
ISBN 978-0-88349-112-6 ISBN 978-093528000-5
Lenzi, Iola (2004). Museums of Southeast Asia. Singapore: Archipelago
Press. pp. 200 pages. ISBN 981-4068-96-9.
McDaniel, Eugene B. Scars and Stripes. Harvest House Publishers, May
1980. ISBN 0-89081-231-4
Public buildings and places
Hoàn Kiếm Lake
Văn Miếu - Quốc Tử Giám
Cổ Loa Citadel
Imperial Citadel of Thăng Long
Presidential Palace and Presidential Palace Historical Site
Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Hỏa Lò Prison
Religious and worship sites
Cửa Bắc Church
Hàm Long Church
Phùng Khoang Church
Quán Sứ Temple
St. Joseph's Cathedral
Trấn Quốc Temple
Parks and green areas
Ba Vì National Park
Trúc Bạch Lake
Vietnamese Women’s Museum
Museum of Fine Arts
Museum of Ethnology
Museum of Vietnamese Revolution
Ho Chi Minh Museum
Museum of Vietnamese History
Bát Tràng ceramic village
Vạn Phúc silk village
Noi Bai International Airport
Hanoi Railway Station
Long Biên Bridge
Mỹ Đình National Stadium
National Convention Centre
Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi
Hanoi Opera Hote