The Hanoi Hilton

Hanoi has two Hilton Hotels, the modern American hotel chain variety and the infamous and historic French-built prison notoriously used to house American POW’s during the war between 1964-1973.  The Maison Centrale or Central House was built in 1883 when Vietnam was still part of French Indochina and used to house dissidents and mostly French prisoners.  When the French began pullling out of Hanoi in the 1950’s and the war with America began, the prison was repurposed to house mostly American pilots shot down on bombing missions over North Vietnam.

The most famous resident was former senator and presidential candidate John McCain, whose jumpsuit and parachute are on display inside the museum.  McCain even visited his old cell with his son a few years back.  Most former residents would agree the remaining few buildings have been ‘whitewashed’ and sanitized to erase the horrendous conditions and tortures suffered there in the 1960’s and 70’s.

One information card even makes the case that the Americans were so impressed by the hotel-like conditions of the prison, the affectionately called it the Hilton.  Soldiers were forced to stand in front of Christmas trees and huge plates of food and tortured into saying and writing wonderful things about their treatment at the hands of the Viet Cong.

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