By Ted Sampley
U.S. Veteran Dispatch - October 2000 Issue

Hunger Strike in a Bamboo Cage

Al Ziegler, a Vietnam vet and former Army Captain, had always been motivated, but desperation finally drove him to act in an astounding manner. Al, a member of Homecoming II and the Vietnam Veterans of America, staged a hunger strike in Washington, D.C., as another way to focus attention on the U.S. government's lack of action on getting a full accounting of missing POWs.

{Al Ziegler}Ziegler, who received serious wounds while serving in Vietnam with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, wanted public access to government documents concerning POWs in Southeast Asia.

He began his strike September 22, 1989, at the Last Firebase vigil in a bamboo cage typical of the ones used to imprison POWs in Vietnam. Ziegler declared that he would not end his strike until the U.S. government demanded from Laos an accounting for the live American POWs still in Laos at the end of the Vietnam War.

Ziegler decided to use the hunger strike as a protest when he began hearing that the U.S. and Vietnam were moving towards normalizing relations. Ronald Reagan had promised in 1981 that no normalization would occur until all the MIAs had been accounted for.

Ziegler stayed on the hunger strike for 35 days. He ended it when Congressmen Bob Smith (R-NH) and Denny Smith (R-OR) paid him a visit to the Last Firebase and asked that he leave the bamboo cage and stop the hunger strike.

{Ziegler with Congressmen}The two congressmen promised to introduce the "Truth Bill," later to be known as "The POW/MIA Accountability Bill." The bill sought to declassify information in the U.S. government files which pertained to the still missing prisoners of war from WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Last Firebase activists helped author the bill. It was eventually defeated in Congress. As a direct result of the petitions supporting the "Truth Bill," the Senate formed a Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs.