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Somerset County Vietnam vet to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery

September 16, 2018

John Dramesi, an accomplished Somerset County pilot and farmer who was a prisoner of war for almost six years at the “Hanoi Hilton” during the Vietnam War, will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery on Thursday.

Dramesi, of Boswell, died Sept. 17, 2017, in Pittsburgh.

During his life, Dramesi wrote “Code of Honor” about his experiences as a POW, according to Amazon’s summary of his book. Dramesi came to Somerset County in the 1990s to settle down after his career in the Air Force. He built engine airplanes near the Somerset County Airport and genetically engineered his own breed of beef cattle.

Dramesi, originally from Philadelphia, joined the Air Force in 1956.

He was sent to fly combat missions in Vietnam, bombing air fields, ammunitions deposits and factories. On one of these missions, Dramesi’s F105 airplane was shot down and he was captured by Vietnamese soldiers.

He said he doesn’t remember what happened after the cockpit started to fill with smoke.

“The air blast from the ejection knocked me out because when I recovered consciousness I was on the ground unbuckling my parachute,” he told the Daily American in 2014.

He said he was amazed that even when he was unconscious, he was doing what he was trained to do. Over the six years he was held as a POW, Dramesi was motivated by thoughts of survival. In deplorable conditions, he was tortured in small rooms twice a day for military and political information.

Dramesi firmly held on to his training, which urged him to find a way to escape as soon as possible.

“There isn’t much more to think about besides trying to get out and survive,” he said.

Dramesi managed to escape a couple of miles overnight in his disguise before a villager found him in the field and told soldiers. He was taken back to the POW camp.

“The next day the interrogator asked me if I knew what the old man in the field said, and I told him no, I didn’t speak Vietnamese. He said the man in the field said, ‘Peasant, what are you doing in my field?’”

He was told that the soldiers searched for Dramesi within a 10-mile radius of the camp. It would be more than a year before Dramesi attempted another escape. This time, Dramesi and his fellow POW, Ed Atterberry, collected food and clothes and purified water for the escape. He said every item they chose to take, including iodine to dye their skin and a knife, proved valuable.

After his release in 1973, Dramesi wrote his autobiography “Code of Honor,” detailing his experiences as a POW in Vietnam. He continued working in the Air Force as a colonel until his retirement in 1982.

After his retirement, Dramesi started his company, Dramesi Designs Inc., which provided private companies and individuals with high performance jets. In June 1997, Dramesi had started his first full blood Gerike Red beef cow. It took him almost 20 years to naturally genetically engineer the exact characteristics that he wanted in the breed.

Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place of more than 400,000 active duty service members, veterans and their families, according to the cemetery’s website. The cemetery is the site of between 27 and 30 funeral services each weekday. Prisoners of war with honorable service who died after Nov. 20, 1993, are among those eligible for interment in the cemetery.

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