CORONADO, Calif. — “Open Doors” Vietnam POWs 50 Years of Freedom exhibit is on display at the Coronado Historical Association. It tells the story of 30 former Vietnam prisoners of war and what their lives were like after coming out of captivity.
To honor 50 years since the homecoming of prisoners of war, the exhibit is back on display. It is the first time this display is available to the public in 15 years, and the first time it is back in Coronado in 20 years.
When you enter into the exhibit you are greeted by an image of some of the 591 prisoners of war who were leaving Vietnam, finally on their way home to their families after being in captivity for up to eight years.
“They were and still are the longest held group of POWs in our nation’s history,” said Taylor Kiland, the co-creator of the exhibit. “We tried to capture their humanity, their personalities and their life perspective.”
“It publicly celebrates these men, their families, their kids, it honors the sacrifices they made, not by choice, but by force as POWs,” said Jamie Howren, the co-creator of the exhibit.
Best friends since second grade, Howren and Kiland worked together to create the exhibit, traveling the nation for 18 months to interview 30 former Vietnam veterans who were prisoners of war. The exhibit was first displayed in 2002 at the Coronado Historical Association, and then traveled to 21 other venues, before finding a decade-long home in a defense contractor offense in Virginia.
Howren photographed the 30 veterans, while Kiland interviewed and wrote up profile pieces on them, highlighting their time in the war, but also showing their lives outside of the prison doors.
Captain Jack Ensch, a San Diego local, is one of the 30 veterans featured.
“Wery flattered and very honored to be in this group with a bunch of these other real heroes, I don’t consider myself a hero, but I served with a bunch of heroes,” Capt. Ensch said.
He was shot down during his fourth tour in Vietnam and held captive for seven months, still, he calls himself lucky.
“I went through my own little crucible of hell the first few days I was captured came back a little shorthanded as you see, they kept my thumb, it was injured in the explosion of the missile and they used that against me for three or four days,” Ensch recalled in an interview with FOX 5 Thursday as he visited the exhibit. “They would not give me medical attention until I finally started answering questions.”
The exhibit features moving photos, stories of survival and relics from captivity, including the pajamas and shoes the POWs were forced to wear.
“I just hope that this exhibit shows the value in our military and reminds people of the sacrifice the military make to protect our homeland,” Howren said.
The exhibit will be on display at the Coronado Historical Association from Friday through September 15, 2023, which is also National POWMIA Day.