Tony Marshall grew up in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, with his mother, who worked as a housekeeper. As a boy, he enjoyed gardening, and was a self-described nerd in high school, excelling in math and science classes. A brochure for the new Air Force Academy (the first graduating class was in 1959) that proclaimed, “You are nobody here,” piqued his interest and he accepted the challenge, arriving in Colorado Springs in the summer of 1964. After almost flunking out of the Academy, he found his niche in the Math Department and became the 13th African American graduate of the Air Force Academy. He wanted to be a pilot but his eyesight was marginal, and he became a Weapons Systems Officer in the back of an F4 Phantom. Later, after returning from Vietnam, he qualified as a Phantom pilot and served until retiring in 1990, when he became a pilot for United Airlines. He volunteered for service in Vietnam, and deployed to the air base at Udorn, Thailand, where he joined the 13th Tactical Fighter Squadron. He requested the 13th because of their reputation as tough, disciplined fighters, “real professionals” with a great sense of esprit and high morale. He had extended his tour and was on his 266th mission when he was shot down on July 3, 1972, 60 miles north of the DMZ. Ejecting from the plane was a shock to Tony, and he blacked out on the way down. He was captured by NVA regulars, who treated him well, and began a 5-day journey to Hanoi. At one point, the beacon on his aircraft seat (which was being transported in the same truck) was activated and an American plane made several passes overhead trying to locate Tony. After arriving at the Hanoi Hilton, he spent some time in solitary confinement and was interrogated. Throughout his captivity, he used his sense of humor in his interactions with the guards to cope with his situation. He spent time in both the Hanoi Hilton and the Zoo, and was finally released on March 29, 1973. He felt that the “welcome home” that he and other POWs experienced was compensating for the lack of appreciation the Soldiers returning from South Vietnam received. He remained in the Air Force until retiring in 1990, serving as an F4 pilot for the rest of his career. After leaving the Air Force, he became a pilot for United Airlines. For the past 19 years, he has enjoyed giving back to the community as a mentor for minority children who want to learn about the aviation industry.
In this interview, Tony describes his experiences at the Air Force Academy and in the Air Force, highlighting the types of missions he flew and his time in captivity. He shares several stories about his dealings with the guards and learning how to acclimate to his status as a prisoner of war. At the end of the interview, he reflects on what his service and the Air Force Academy mean to him.