In the school archives in early March, Mark Wilkerson stumbled across a 1972 news clipping featuring photos of American prisoners of the Vietnam War. A pencil line underscored one of the names in the caption: David Everett.
Ever-vigilant, our archivist pursued the lead and discovered that Everett was a 1965 graduate of St. Albans. Wilkerson found his phone number and gave him a call, and they had a long conversation. Soon Upper School history teachers Ben Labaree and Robert Shurmer were exchanging emails with Everett, leading to a two-day visit to St. Albans by David Everett, in which he talked about his experiences at St. Albans and in Vietnam. Everett addressed an Upper School assembly, Lower School chapel, and multiple history classes and shared meals with the headmaster at his lunch table and with honors history students.
From rural southern Georgia, Everett came to St. Albans as a Form II boarding student. His senior year he was a prefect and president of the senior class. These were turbulent times, even on the Close, according to Everett. “It was a time of civil unrest, largely centered about civil rights and seeking justice in that arena, as well as the smoldering Vietnam conflict, which by the time I had graduated, was a full raging situation that had generated protests across the country,” recalled Everett. “While I was here, one of my profound influences was sitting in the Common Room reading newspapers. They put out the daily papers there, and there were pictures on the wall of St. Albans graduates who had died in World Wars I and II, and that had a profound impact on me.”
After St. Albans, Everett attended the University of Georgia, where he studied wildlife and timber management. Shortly before graduating, Dave joined the Naval Air Reserve. At Upper School assembly, Everett spoke about that decision: “I was extremely cognizant of the fact that if I did not step up and do what I saw as my patriotic responsibility, someone else—in strong likelihood less fortunate than I—would take my place. And that didn't seem right to me.” Joining the Reserve also guaranteed that he could finish college before heading to training and war. His decision set him on a course for a remarkable career in the Navy and then the CIA, where he worked at the CIA’s Directorate of Operations and was just one of a few CIA officers ever to receive the Agency’s highest award, the Distinguished Intelligence Cross.
At Upper School assembly, Everett offered a vivid account of his days in Vietnam.
In August 1972, flying a mission over North Vietnam from the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Midway, Everett (radar intercept officer) and Ted Triebel (an experienced pilot) came under attack. A round went through the cockpit striking Everett in the back of the head, and a second missile hit caused the aircraft to roll and pitch. “At that point, it is either get out or die,” said Everett “We are at the edge of the evacuation seat envelope, but there is no viable alternative. So we say, 'Here goes nothing.'” The men ejected from their aircraft, parachuted down into a hamlet, and were taken prisoners by the North Vietnamese. Separated from Triebel and unsure if he had survived, Everett was beaten and then driven on the back of a truck to Hỏa Lò Prison (referred to as the Hanoi Hilton). A moment of relief came when he realized that Triebel had survived the crash and was on the same truck. Triebel appears in the photos discovered by Wilkerson, and the two men remain friends today.
For 251 days, from August 1972 until their release in March 1973, Triebel and Everett remained imprisoned. Everett described his torture and solitary confinement, and the excruciating physical pain and mental anguish he suffered. “In solitary confinement, I lay on the floor, and it was miserable. I mean, I had a broken leg, a dislocated leg, and partially dislocated elbow because the truck ride had bounced it partially back into the socket. I was bleeding. I had pieces of metal coming out of the top of my head. And interrogators would come in and look at me and say, 'We’re sorry you’re not feeling well today. You know we could make things much better for you if you just showed the proper attitude. Your attitude will determine your fate. But your problem is you have a bad attitude.' (Okay, I took that as a compliment.) But the net result was that there was no medical treatment. I just lay there with maggots and dysentery and everything else. It was ugly.”
Everett later received the Bronze Star for his meritorious achievement as prisoner of war. His citation read, in part: “In an atmosphere of enemy harassment, threat of torture and brutal treatment, he established and maintained intra-camp communications … resulting in American and Allied prisoners resisting the enemy’s demands and at the same time improving the prisoners’ morale. By his heroic endeavors, exceptional skill, and devotion to duty, he reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service and the United States Armed Forces.”
Everett detailed the characteristics that helped him survive and support others—many of which he credited to his days at St. Albans. “You are given all the tools at St. Albans to handle situations that you can only dream of and that seem impossible. But if you ever find yourself in that predicament, reach deep: You’ve got the tools and you can pull out,” said Everett. “You know you have to emerge with your honor and dignity intact, right? And that has to do with character. It has to do with the building box you’re getting here: the honesty, the integrity, the truth, the reliability, the dependability—all those things come into play. And if you don’t have those things, I don’t care what diploma you hang on your wall or how many cars you have in your garage or what people hold the door for you and call you sir. You have a very incomplete education if you lack that character component. That’s what will see you through.”