A POW twice: VA physical therapist discovers remarkable connection


When he introduced himself to a patient, the Veteran gave him a closer look and asked if they had ever met:  “I know you from somewhere.”

The two men had never met, but when Keirn repeated his last name, the patient had tears running down his face.

The patient asked Keirn if he had family that served in the military. Keirn replied yes and the patient asked if his nickname was “Pop.”

“Yes, that was my grandfather.”

The patient then told Keirn how Pop had saved his life as a POW in Vietnam and cared for his wounds. He told about the beatings and interrogations Pop took for all the other prisoners and how, “If it weren’t for Pop, I’d never survived.”

Pop Keirn is in the middle of the photo above, leaving for Vietnam from MacDill Air Force Base.

Pop’s extraordinary story

In 1942, a young man named Richard Keirn turned 18 and joined the United States Army Air Forces.

On September 11, 1944, high above the Ore Mountains on the Czech-German frontier, a formation of B-17G Flying Fortresses escorted by P-51 Mustang Fighters clashed with the Germans in a ferocious air battle.

Keirn’s plane was hit and the Captain ordered everyone to bail out. Keirn was taken as a prisoner of war and was held prisoner until the camp was liberated just after victory in Europe (VE) Day on May 8, 1945.


Keirn returned home to start a family but reenlisted during the war with Vietnam.

Twelve days after being “in-country,” Keirn filled in for another pilot on sick call and was the command pilot for a mission over Hanoi. When his Phantom took a hard-vertical hit, Keirn parachuted to the side of a mountain and was captured the next day.  He fractured both ankles, sustained flash burns on his face and upper body, and carried a piece of shrapnel in his leg until he was released.

Keirn’s wife and two teenage children were told the military had lost contact and he may be dead. His grandson tells of that emotional moment in this video. It wasn’t until a famous photo surfaced during an abusive POW parade through Hanoi that Keirn’s family found out he was alive.

Capt. Richard P. Keirn, POW in Hanoi, 1965.

Capt. Richard P. Keirn, POW in Hanoi, 1965.

Keirn spent the next seven years as a POW until finally returning home in February of 1973. He retired as a colonel in June of 1976 after 33 years of service.

“Junior” then “Pop”

As a POW in WWII, his nickname was “Junior” because he was one of the youngest officers.  As a POW in Vietnam, his nickname was “Pop” because he was older than most and was viewed as a fatherly figure.

He cared for many of the POWs while in camp and many attributed their survival to his guidance.  As fate would have it, one of those young Vietnam POWs would later meet Keirn’s grandson at the VA hospital in Tampa, Cory Keirn.

Cory Keirn’s call to service is indelibly engraved in his DNA. Although his father, Steve, did not want him to join the military because of what Pop had endured, he found another way to serve.

Cory loves serving Veterans and active duty soldiers every day. Just like his grandfather, he takes care of those who have sacrificed everything to protect our freedom.

About the authors: Megan Kon, is a public affairs specialist and Dr. Cory Keirn is a physical therapist at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, Florida.  


VAntagePoint Contributor

— VAntage Point Contributors provide insight and perspective on a wide range of Veterans issues. If you’d like to contribute a story to VAntage Point, learn how you can submit a guest blog at http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/how-to-submit-a-guest-post/


  1. duane    

    Great story. Anyone that should have been a veteran and dodged should not be allowed in the same room with men such as these. I’m talking about you Johnson, Clinton, Bush the Younger and Trump the ass.

  2. Peter Cavicchia    

    “Pop” was part of a generation of Americans who stood up to their obligations as well as the traditions our country was founded upon. The did the right thing in bad times as well as good toward their fellow citizens. Pop and his peers and others loved this country it’s flag and always showed both respect.
    He truly is an example Duty Honor Country and Love to fellow Americans regardless of color race or creed!
    God Bless him!
    A Viet Nam Veteran ‘67-68

  3. Lelan Miller    

    Great leader, great story, great service to all of us. I hope someday I can be of service helping Veterans!

  4. Dawn Miller    

    Wonderful story. Thank them both for their service.

  5. Thomas Towle    

    A true hero. Not the pinheaded Hollywood, TV, and pro sports fakes that some people put on a pedestal simply because they exist.

  6. Steve Eaton    

    Great men like him will never be found in our counrty again with these NFL Clowns showing disrespect for our flag and nation! Semper Fi. Steve Eaton.

  7. Stephen A Dohrmann    

    I salute “Pops” for his dedicated service & bravery. His compassion & support for his fellow warriors is truly inspirational. He exemplifies the exalted stature of AMERICAN HEROES.

  8. CD Russell    

    Wow…great leader. He lives on in so many hearts now. God bless!

  9. Ronald (@BeaconRonald)    

    Fate intervenes in all our lives. the Keirns family as well as all veterans are truly proud of their service.

  10. Gary Rolla    

    God bless Pops and those like him who serve others not just themselves.

  11. Larry Stewart    

    Great story of courage. Thank him for his service

  12. Mildred Grace    

    Thank you, Richard for the heartfelt Comment. I wholeheartdly agree!!!

  13. Richard Ekman    

    He is a hero that kids should be told about, not these multimillionaire bonehead sports figures who just can’t stand for the anthem of the country that helped make them the millionaires they are.

    1. Rudolph lopez    

      Very true. I broke down when I read this story.

    2. Ernest Poinson    

      please before you comment on the topic learn about it i my self am a veteran like you but I support those “boneheads” and so do many Americans and other vets alike. What they kneel for is what we as Americans should not stand for, this social injustice that has plagued our great nation is eating away at the fabric of our society. I know it’s there for I have not only felt it on the civilian side but military side too. Please don’t be like others and use us as a scape goat to help support inequality.

  14. Terry A Arnold    

    A truly heartwarming story! God Bless “pop.” And all of the POWs!

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