Hero Found by Bruce Henderson
Hero Found is the incredible true story of Lieutenant Dieter Dengler, the human spirit, the desire to survive, and the will to endure unthinkable pain and suffering. It is a fairly easy read, shifting back and forth between Dieter’s story and other events of the time which help provide backstory.
Lieutenant Dieter Dengler was born in 1938 in Germany. Growing up during and post World War II, he learned resourcefulness (an understatement), persistence, and determination out of necessity just to survive. Having been inspired by an allied fighter he saw as a young boy he dreamt of flying. When he was 16 years old he worked and stole his way to passage to the United States.
He went to an Air Force recruiting office and enlisted, only to find out that although he was told he would fly, only officers can be pilots. He completed his enlistment, moved to San Francisco, and enrolled in college studying aeronautics. He was accepted into the US Navy Aviation Cadet Training Program and upon graduation was assigned to fly the A-1 Skyraider, also known as the Spad.
After getting shot down and captured, Dieter escaped from the Pathet Lao only to be recaptured and turned over to the North Vietnamese and placed in a prison camp. True to his SERE, Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape training he organized a successful escape of the prison camp. He was on the run in the jungle for 23 days before being rescued, six months after he was shot down. When he was rescued he had lost 59 pounds and was within a day or two of dying.
You will read about his mom teaching him and his siblings how to survive on their own in the forests of post war Germany.
His “resourcefulness” will amaze you. After coming to the United States, he would “swap out” parts on his Volkswagen with others parked along the side of the road. When he went skiing in California, to save money, he would put a couple cans of dog food against the engine block and open the warm dog food when he got to the ski resort because with “enough ketchup” it tasted “almost like corned beef.” He was legendary in the Navy SERE training, not only for his ability to escape and evade recapture, but as the only person to gain weight during the training.
The 2006 film “Rescue Dawn” tells his story beginning with getting shot down, to his escape and rescue. If you only want to hear that part of it, start halfway through the book. But, if you skip the first half you will miss everything that made Dieter who he was and enabled him to do everything he did after being shot down.
The audio book is just under 11 hours, with the paperback version coming in at 336 pages.
The College of San Mateo where he attended has an excellent short write up on Dieter here.