Ernie Brace was born on August 15, 1931, in Detroit, Michigan. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in April 1947, at age 15, and was trained as an Aviation Radar and Radio Technician. Brace entered the Naval Aviation Cadet Program in March 1950 and was commissioned a 2nd Lt in the Marines and awarded his pilot wings on August 16, 1951. Lt Brace flew F4U-4 Corsairs and AD-2 Skyraiders with VMA-121 during the Korean War, flying 100 combat missions between April 1952 and March 1953. During Korea, he was shot down near Wonson on November 7, 1952, and was rescued by the USS Kidd off the North Korean coast. After Korea, Brace flew night-fighters and then helicopters before leaving the service in November 1961. He next served as a Test Pilot with North American Aviation and then flew helicopters around Los Angeles before becoming a USAID/CIA Contract pilot in Southeast Asia as an Advisor to the Thai Border Patrol Police in 1964. Ernie was captured by the North Vietnamese while flying supplies to an advanced base in Northern Laos on May 21, 1965, and was taken as a Prisoner of War, despite being a civilian. After spending 2,868 days in captivity, including nearly 5 years in solitary confinement, Ernie Brace was released with the other Laotian captured POWs held in Hanoi on March 28, 1973. He spent the next year in Balboa U.S. Naval Hospital in San Diego, California, recovering from his injuries as a POW. After hospitalization, Ernie joined Evergreen International as an Operations Manager, returning to Vietnam in August 1974 to arrange transfer of Air America aircraft and pilots to United Nations missions in Africa. From 1976 to 1978, Ernie directed a helicopter operation under the U.S. State Department in Mexico to control narcotics. He joined Sikorsky Aircraft in 1978 as an international Marketing Manager, and was assigned to Singapore from 1982 to 1984. Ernie was assigned as Program Director to the Peoples Republic of China in 1984, and lived in Beijing with his wife until June 1989, when they returned to the U.S. He worked with the U.S. Military in Kuwait in March 1991, just after the cease fire ending the Persian Gulf War. In 1978, Ernie Brace was awarded the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service for his actions as a POW in Vietnam. He published a book titled "A Code to Keep" in 1988 which details his experience as a POW. Ernie Brace died on December 5, 2014, and his ashes were spread at his favorite fishing spot.
His Distinguished Public Service Medal Citation reads:
To Ernest C. Brace for distinguished public service while a Prisoner of War during nearly an eight-year period from 21 May 1965 to 28 March 1973. Employed as a civilian contract pilot in support of our Government's objectives in Southeast Asia, Mr. Brace escaped from his communist captors a total of three times prior to September 1966. After each escape, the rigors of his confinement were increased. In October 1968 he was taken to the citadel prison in Hanoi in such poor physical condition that he was unable to walk. There he lived in isolation as a high risk prisoner, eventually establishing clandestine communication with the American leadership in that prison. Although a civilian and not technically bound by the Military Code of Conduct, by his own aggressive example he was a continual force for the strengthening of the Americans' adherence to that Code. Despite the atmosphere of enemy harassment and brutal treatment, he continued to establish and maintain communications through many unusual and ingenious methods, which resulted in American and Allied prisoners presenting a posture of increased resistance to the enemy's wishes and at the same time improving prisoner morale. His ceaseless efforts in the extremely adverse conditions of the communist prisons of Southeast Asia demonstrated his professional competence, unwaivering devotion and loyalty to his country. Despite the harsh treatment throughout his long years of incarceration Mr. Brace's patriotism, determination and faith in his country are a tribute to the principles that made our Nation great and are worthy of the highest praise and recognition. I take great pleasure in awarding Mr. Ernest C. Brace the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service.
This award was originally nominated by Admiral James Stockdale as a Navy Cross, but had to be downgraded to a civilian award because Ernie was not on active duty in the U.S. Military during his time as a Prisoner of War.