Keep your parachute packed: Rotary hears
famed speaker, former POW Captain Plumb

September 24, 2014
Santa Paula News

Just five days before he was scheduled to return home Captain Charlie Plumb was shot down over Hanoi on his 75th combat mission... and he became a POW for six years.

Plump, now an internationally recognized motivational speaker, told the Santa Paula Rotary of his adventures at a recent meeting.

He was introduced by Rotarian Nils Rueckert who noted the former jet fighter pilot also helped start the Top Gun School when it was located at Miramar in the San Diego area.  

Rueckert told Rotarians that “Captain Plumb was shot down over Hanoi on his 75th combat mission in 1967, that’s 47 years ago already, just five days before he was scheduled to return home.”

Plumb ejected from his F-4 Phantom jet, “parachuted into enemy hands, was taken prisoner, tortured, and survived nearly 6 years - that’s over 2,000 days of his life - in communist prison camps, imprisoned in an 8 X 8 foot cell.”

Rueckert said Plumb, “excelled in stealth communications among the POWs and served two of those 6 years as the chaplain in his camp.”

Now Plumb shares his story of “winning through adversity,” and has become a sought-after speaker to thousands of audiences in America and around the world.  

Plump has appeared on Good Morning America, Nightline, Larry King Live and the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and Rueckert noted, “The National Speakers Association inducted him into their Speaker Hall of Fame.”

Plumb “continues to fly at every opportunity, occasionally in and out of Santa Paula Airport when Camarillo Airport, where he houses his own airplane, is fogged in.”

Plumb is a former Rotarian and a Paul Harris Fellow.

After a short video about his adventures, Plumb counted off eight steps in each direction and placed chairs to give Rotarians a sense of his confinement. 

“I remember distinctly I could pace three steps before I hit the wall,” and then turn to walk three paces again.

He said he was a POW for “2,103 days, nothing to do, I was 24 to 30 years old when I was a prisoner, had been a pretty active guy always searching for a spare 15 minutes to call my mom... I invite you into my prison cell,” normally 110 degrees.

Plumb said he has a strong memory of salt from “The taste of tears and blood... “

Survival depended on “What tools I had in the psychological toolbox” to help him cope including with fellow prisoners who trusted no one.

“The first thing I learned about my cell is pain,” mental and physical from the torture inflicted by his captors.

“You know the devil is not the 8 foot cell but the 8 inches between your ears... mental boxes can be more restrictive than a cell... and to keep my mind active I constructed playing cards,” out of scraps of toilet paper, “tough to shuffle!” joked Plumb.

He noted he has flown into Santa Paula Airport many times and during a conversation with Rueckert he was grilled about his belief in American values and tenants.

“Do you believe in Free Speech Nils asked me... and when I said yes he asked if I would make one!” to the Rotary Club.

Service, he noted, is important: Plumb said he met the man who had packed his parachute that landed him safely in enemy territory and asked him “Do you keep in touch with all you saved? He said ‘no, I don’t keep track of all I packed, it’s just important to know I served... ‘ “

Much like Rotary, whose motto noted Plumb is Service Above Self, “Not asking for anything in return, just parachute packing to make sure it works professionally and spiritually,” so it can be used when needed.

As a child Plumb said he had a coach who told him life is a choice: “If you step back you’re defeated or you can step up and be the victor.”  

Plumb stepped up and found himself accepted to the Naval Academy.

“My parachute was packed,” and Plumb was “empowered to make the choice to win or lose... I went to Annapolis and graduated in the class that made the top class possible!”

He married his high school sweetheart, kissed her goodbye “and said I’ll see you in eight months... I missed it by five days. Maybe you’ve had a day like this; I felt I was bulletproof -probably like Rotary did until UC Hansen Trust took away your Pumpkin Patch! - and then you look around and you’re scared to death of the unknown.

“When you’re dodging bullets it’s tough to come up with a long range plan... “

When first captured Plumb said he prayed “for the guts to survive” and prayed for his wife.

“I was tortured for two days for military information then they tossed me into the cell... I had been physically ravaged, beaten and stabbed and I felt very much ashamed for how I had given in to the enemy. I thought I would be strong, just give them my name, rank and serial number and I felt like a traitor.”

When he thought he heard a cricket Plumb saw a wire in the cell... at the other end was another American POW pilot.

“I spent a few hours to get up the guts to pull the wire,” but he did, and Plumb eventually became an expert at camp covert communications. 

And he found, “To add insult to injury they put me next to a positive thinker!” 

Another positive thinker was the sailor that had fallen off a ship and maintained he wasn’t captured but rather “I was rescued... and when he came home,” he had memorized the names, family information and phone numbers of all he met in prison and contacted each one upon his return to the United States.

Plumb, who also served as a camp Chaplain for two years, came home to find that after five years his wife had despaired of his ever returning, became engaged to another man and had filed for divorce. 

“Hundreds of us have the same story,” said Plumb who remarried “A wonderful lady,” and started a family that eventually included four children. 

A resident of Camarillo Plumb is also an author but he is best known for his motivational presentations based on his long, painful experience... and how important it remains in life to keep your parachute packed.

Site Search

Tel: 805 525-6048


Call 805 525 1890 to receive the entire paper early. $50.00 for one year.