While he was being held in the “Hanoi Hilton,” Air Force Col. Carlyle “Smitty” Harris of Tupelo perfected and spread a tap code that became the gold standard for communication between prisoners during the Vietnam War.
Harris, now retired but still active in the community, flew F105 aircraft during his military service. After his plane was shot down, he was held captive in North Vietnam from April 1965 to February 1973.
He learned the code from an instructor in an escape and evasion class during his training. He was the sixth American POW in North Vietnam and taught the code to other POWs. He estimates at least 350 POWs used it.
The POWs used the code to develop camaraderie and establish a chain of command. They also used it to communicate unified responses before interrogations with the North Vietnamese captors.
Since returning to Tupelo, Harris has served as the keynote speaker at many events and has served on many city and nonprofit boards. He also is a spokesman of the Veterans Memorial in Tupelo.
Truly Tupelo appears every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in 2010 as part of the 140th anniversary of both the city and the Daily Journal.
CARLIE KOLLATH / NEMS Daily Journal