CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The story of a former Navy fighter pilot-turned-speaker is one deserving of being told to anyone willing to listen.

The way that Captain Charlie Plumb tells his own personal story is the best way to hear it.

Capt. Plumb gave a presentation as a keynote speaker for the West Virginia Construction & Design Expo held last week in Charleston. He was a guest on MetroNews “Talkline” afterwards to which he shared the story of the physical captivity he went through during his service in Vietnam.

After graduating from the Naval Academy, Plumb reported to Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego. There, he flew the first adversarial flights for the newly developed Navy Fighter Weapons School, which is now known as “TOP GUN.” Soon after, Plumb’s squadron, the Aardvarks, launched on the Aircraft Carrier USS Kitty Hawk with Fighter Squadron 114 to fly the F-4 Phantom Jet.

Charlie Plumb, code named “Plumber,” flew 74 successful combat missions over North Vietnam. The 75th mission was perhaps the most memorable.

In May of 1967, just five days before the end of his tour, Plumb was shot down over Hanoi. He would then spend the next 2,103 days as a prisoner in the North Vietnamese Prisoner of War camps.

His first prison cell was 8 feet long and 8 feet wide. There was nothing for Plumb to do. There were no books to read, no pencil and paper to write with and no windows to look out of.

“It was a mental game and I did not recognize that at first,” Plumb told MetroNews.

After a while, the 8×8 physical confinement that Plumb was held in became the least of his concerns.

“The restriction was the eight inches between my ears,” said Plumb.

His mind became a prison. His tactic to escaping it and find “freedom” started with an attitude change. He describes it as going “internal.”

“You survive by the thoughts you have about things,” he said. “The thought that I could get out of that prison cell in my mind and do things, explore things, that’s what kept me busy.”

Plumb, a native of Kansas, who grew up on a farm, wasn’t always alone. He said he did end up with one cellmate for a period of time before he went away. At one point, Plumb said he had three other cellmates join him in his 8×8. Communicating with them helped free up his mind and alleviate the idea of being physically stuck in a cell.

“It was very important to communicate with the other prisoners in the prison camp,” Plumb said.

One prisoner in particular was not a cellmate of Plumb’s, but became someone that he communicated with regularly within the first couple of weeks that he had been at the prisoner camp. This prisoner was two doors down who passed a wire through a hole in his cell to a hell in Plumb’s cell. The two created a “tap code” to communicate with each other using the wire.

“The life-saving value of communication was not the information we were passing around but the simple validation of another human being,” said Plumb.

The Navy pilot was eventually rescued and returned in 1973, nearly six years after he was taken prisoner.

Today, he speaks to groups all across the country to share stories of his POW experience and how the challenges he faced then relate to the challenges people face in their everyday life now.

“The loneliness, the feeling of failure, the inability to communicate with loved ones, those are all challenges that we also faced in the prisoner camps,” Plumb said.

Another life lesson Plumb learned was forgiveness and even forgiving your enemies. He said he went back to Vietnam about seven years ago after receiving an invitation to go back and meet the Camp Commander. The man wanted to meet a prisoner of war before he died, according to Plumb.

Plumb forgave the man who he described as “the guy in charge of all our torture.” That forgiveness was a valuable thing that Plumb said he incorporated into his attitude moving forward.

“I forgave him, his guards who tortured me and everybody else and I try to do that in my life today,” said Plumb.

Capt. Plumb’s honors include a Silver Star Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts, Air Medals, Presidential Unit Citation, P.O.W. Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with 1960’s Device, and Combat Action Ribbon.

Plumb achieved the rank of Captain after 31 years of service in the United States Navy.

Charlie Plumb and his wife Cathy now reside in California.