#2. Henri Giraud is a Patient Man
Henri Giraud was a 63 year-old French General with a bad leg who fought in Both World Wars. After slowing the German advance in the Netherlands, Giraud went to the Ardennes to stop more Nazis, but got captured instead. He was taken to Konigstein Castle, a fortress that had never been conquered or broken out of during its roughly 800 year-long existence. It was used for officers and other influential prisoners in both world wars, contained a garrison, and had been updated for every technological leap of mankind. Plus, it sits on a really high mountain.
The Nazis and Konigstein did not know who they were fucking with. During the First World War, Giraud had been wounded and captured by the Germans in North Africa. Within two months, he escaped and made it back to France.
"Let's do it again, I want to try to beat my time."
Giraud's ingenious plan would take two years to put together.
First, he addressed the part of prison escape that every other escapee forgets--what you'll do once you're outside the walls. The prison was right there in Germany, after all, and he didn't even know the language. So, he convinced his captors to start classes in how to learn German.
Next, he needed to coordinate with somebody on the outside. His letters to and from his wife were read and censored by the guards, but they somehow developed a system of embedding coded messages that the captors never picked up on. Next, he got ahold of a map and memorized every detail of the surrounding geography.
All right, now there's just the matter of the, uh, 150-foot drop outside the prison walls that had made escape utterly impossible for the last eight centuries.
He and a friend came up with some twine, thin stuff like they use to bind packages. They twisted it together, bit by bit, until they had 150 feet of it. It took a year.
Last, he got himself a Tyrolean hat.
Somehow crucial in all of this
With some supplies gathered, Giraud made his escape down the 150-foot wall of Konigstein in broad daylight (guards patrolled at night). Upon reaching the ground, he changed into different clothes, shaved his moustache, and put on some glasses (thus making the one photo the Germans had completely useless for the search).
Speaking the German the guards had taught him, and wearing the right hat, he blended in perfectly with the German-speaking, hat-wearing populace, and eventually made it back to friendly territory after several close calls. Hitler was apparently furious. Not only had a potentially dangerous foe returned to the allies, but the duration of the escape included April 20th, better known as Hitler's birthday.
#1. James Nicholas "Nick" Rowe Survives Viet Cong, Hippies
Nick Roe was a legendary Green Beret of the Vietnam War, who invented the SERE army course, which entails survival, evasion, resistance, and escape in POW situations.
During the war, Rowe and his team fell into an ambush and were captured, after some heavy fighting, by the Viet Cong. Rowe and his comrades were separated, taken to a camp, and placed in wooden cages smaller than your closet. For the next five years, they would endure torture, disease, malnutrition, humiliation, and the very constant threat of death.
Aside from being in one of the worst places imaginable, Rowe had another problem. He was the intelligence officer for his unit, which meant he knew important stuff like the location and numbers of America's soldiers. Wisely, Rowe told the Viet Cong that he was only an engineer who'd been drafted and didn't know shit about the war. To "verify" the story, the Viet Cong doled out some torture.
When Rowe wouldn't break, they gave him an engineering problem to solve, which, being awesome, he did. He was in the clear until some hippies decided they'd save the world by visiting North Vietnam.
The activists were on a mission to visit POWs so they could tell America the North Vietnamese took good care of prisoners (and therefore the war should end?). They handed over a list of the soldiers they wanted to see and Rowe was among them. Why this list also included the fact that Nick was part of the Special Forces, and an intelligence officer to boot, is anyone's guess.
Thanks for that...
The Viet Cong were pissed. All of the info Rowe had was now way out of date and therefore useless. And he still wouldn't tell them anything anyway! In retaliation, he was staked out in a swamp, naked, where mosquitoes feasted on every inch of his body for days. Rowe's repeated escape attempts weren't winning him any points either. He'd even gotten away at one point, but returned when Viet Cong, shouting into the jungle, said they would kill one of Rowe's comrades.
Finally, his captors scheduled an execution date. Away from the camp, in the forest, the execution was about to take place when several American helicopters flew by. Using the small distraction, Nick beat down his armed guards with a flying 360 spin kick (probably), and ran into a nearby clearing, where one of the helicopter pilots overhead noticed him and landed for the rescue.
He went home to a well-earned retirement, or would have if he wasn't Colonel James Nicholas Rowe. This Green Beret stayed with the army, trained others to survive the POW experience, and fought terrorism till his last breath.
Just looking at his picture makes you more of a man.
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For more prison stories that seem to awesome to be real, check out 6 Insane Prison Escapes That Actually Happened and 5 People Who Changed the World From Inside of Prison.
And stop by our Top Picks (Updated 05.28.10) to learn about Swaim's sexy stint in San Quentin.