Ernie Brace, American Aviator, dead at 83



I opened a letter from my Father today, and the only thing inside was a newspaper clipping. It was the New York Times obituary of an American aviator.  A man with a rare depth of human will. His name was Ernest Brace.


Briefly: He enlisted in the Marines at age 15; In the Korean war he is the first man to fly 100 attack missions; a decade later in a moment of despair he leaves the scene of a plane he crashed alone and goes AWOL, is thrown out of the Marines. To recover his reputation he goes to Laos and files covert missions as a civilian for the CIA; he is captured and tortured, spends years alone in a tiny bamboo cage in the jungle; No word of his capture is known, his family assumes him to be dead, his wife marries another man; He is transferred to the Hanoi Hilton, but never sees the face of another American; When his is contacted by tap code, the years of isolation have reduced him to only being able to tap out the single phrase “My name is Ernest Brace” for many weeks; US POWs McCain and Stockdale uphold Brace as the example of how an American is to comport himself in conflict; He is released in 1973 after 2,868 days in captivity;  Then he is told his wife has remarried; He is crippled, has a 100% VA disability rating, but rejects this to restart his life; President Ford awards Brace a full pardon and honorable discharge for the incident 15 years earlier. Brace goes on to a full life, is married again, works in aviation globally for Sikorski, the State Department and Evergreen; he passes from this earth, 5 December 2014, he was 83 years old.




How this relates to the homebuilt plane in your shop:


In the years that you will work on your creation, you will have at least 200 people tell you that you are doing the wrong thing. you should quit. This will not just be in the form of a coworker or a brother in law calling your creation a ‘death trap’ repeatedly. It will also come in the form of other fliers who are EAA members, but would never even fly in a homebuilt, far less create one, telling you just to buy a plane, to give up on self reliant craftsmanship, just because  they did.


When people offer you this unsolicited advice, trying to have you quit, think of a man, with a destroyed reputation, with no one looking for him, held captive and tortured in the jungle for years with out a single act of kindness or human compassion shown to him, not a single friendly word spoken to him. All he had was his inner belief that he was on the right path. Politely nod and ignore them, and to yourself think “My name is “ and “I am a Homebuilder.”




In the celebrity obsessed country that physically surrounds us, fills every popular magazine, advertisement, film, website, book and broadcast, we are presented a distorted group of lives as admirable for a meaningless collection of supposed ‘talents’, all to get people to compulsively buy some product.


In the America that exists in my heart, school children learn the name Ernest Brace, and it is lovingly taught that all humans have faults, but they will be fairly measured against supreme acts of will and courage. In the country of my heart there is a long marble path in a quiet green park with bronze statues of a pantheon of Americans truly to be admired. On this foggy day I walk past many statues with names like Grissom, Loring, Sijan and Stockdale, to one newly emplaced. I lay a wreath of admiration at the base which simply states:


“Ernest Brace -American Aviator”





Ernie Brace (without helmet) in Korea with an AD-1 Skyraider. Note the number of missions marked on the fuselage. You can read his very moving memoir, “A Code to Keep.



Further reading:


Robert Hedrix, Aviator, Nha Trang, 1975


James Stockdale – Philosophy


A Father’s Day Story – Lance Sijan


Charles Poland Jr., An American of whom you could be proud.


6 Replies to “Ernie Brace, American Aviator, dead at 83”

  1. I just love all your posts William. If I were to quit every time I was told by someone that I’m going to get myself killed, or this stuff is crazy, or dangerous, or just impossible to do for an ‘ordinary’ guy then I would have to quit 2000 times. It may take me 100 years to work on something that flies but I for one will never quit. Yes, like most of us, I have far too many projects underway, and yes it takes forever for any to get done, but that’s actually what makes life that much better. Life balance is important, nay crucial and anyone who believes life is nothing more than work and home is missing a lot. A dream is a simply a goal to realize. I firmly believe that if a dream is important, it should be realized.


  2. WOW, I just got home from spending the day at the Wright Patterson Air Force museum and was reading about Ernie Brace and looking at a bunch of pictures of him. what a coincidence. He is the definition of a HERO, Dan-o

  3. Thanks for touching my heart, and reassuring me and true Americans that HERO’S truly do still walk amoung. Us. THANKS Stan.

  4. Gold William, gold! You never fail to pass on American history that will never be taught in a any “institution of learning” in America. Thank you. Keep it coming professor.

  5. William,

    I had to go out and buy the book. I read it on my last trip. I could not stop.

    What struck me was the poem he wrote in captivity. I have added it below-

    “I’m just a prisoner in a cage

    I have no name, I have no age

    The guards, they don’t know what I’ve done. All they know is I’m a captured one

    They captured me in ’65

    And I guess it’s lucky I’m still alive For I’ve tried to escape three times in all And I’d go the fourth . . . but I’d have to crawl They buried me once for seven days

    And that was supposed to mend my ways

    But I still have that urge to try, you see But now I don’t have the legs to carry me My feet are in stocks, my neck’s tied to a pole What food I get is shoved in through a hole At night I lie down and my hands are tied And the rope is stretched to a post outside Now I’ve been sick and almost died

    And I’ve had to crawl to get outside

    I wasn’t helped in any way at all 

    In fact I was beaten while held against a wall But I’ll leave here alive, I know that now But I don’t know when and I don’t know how And I’ll see my family once again

    But I don’t know where and I don’t know when . . .”

    What a great story and a great example of how to persevere. Thank you for sharing his story with us. another reason to read your posts.

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