21 February 2009

There's a snake in my room

Got to hear from retired LtCol Barry Bridger this morning - he was a POW in the Hanoi Hilton for six years with the likes of John McCain and Capt Lance Sijan, the first and only USAFA graduate to earn the Medal of Honor.

Hearing about the struggles those guys went through, it's hard to complain about anything else. Years of torture, solitary confinement, limited food, and lack of medical care... I can't imagine.

LtCol Bridger was one of the best speakers here for the National Character and Leadership Symposium. It's a high-class event, with world-renowned speakers and heroes.

One of the greatest stories LtCol Bridger told concerned the prisoners' fight for their right to worship openly. They devised a plan, through tap code, to all worship simultaneously one day: share scripture, sing songs, and pray. The Vietnamese woke them up that night and took 36 of the 'instigators' to a different camp, and put them in solitary confinement. The rest kept worshiping, under the threat of torture for themselves and the 36. In the face of their unbreakable will, the Vietnamese granted them the right to worship.

And I've been known to complain about having to go to church in service dress.

On a lighter note, while in solitary confinement, Bridger heard the telltale American rhythm signaling the start of a tap code conversation. He replied, and the other man in the next cell identified himself as John McCain. "I've got a big problem," he tapped through the wall. Bridger paused, looked around his meager cell, and asked what could possibly be worse in John's cell than his own.

"There's a big snake in here!"

Bridger laughed so hard he cried. Then he said: "There's a huge black tarantula in mine!"

Pause. "Can we switch?" Again Bridger cracked up. Laughter, he said, was one of the most important contributors to their survival and resistance. During an interrogation, he complained about the lack of food and medical care. The interrogator, one they called Elf, yelled: "Cao! This is not your American country club! This is Vietnam, and you are a criminal."

"Well, I knew something was wrong," Bridger quipped back. "Thanks for confirming it."

LtCol Bridger is a man who deserves the highest respect: in six years of confinement and torture, he never gave the Vietnamese what they wanted. And yet he insisted on thanking us and honoring us. All such men seem to have this humility. I pray that one day, I may have it too.


  1. Nathan:

    I served in the Navy (and in Vietnam) during a period in our country when service was not honored, in fact, it was denigrated.

    Whenever I see someone in public wearing the country's uniform, I stop and thank them for their service and sacrifice.

    Fortunately, I believe our country has turned the corner on the idea and belief that soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines are responsibile for policy, etc.

    Anyone serving their country, and that includes you, should be honored and thanked. Personnaly, I believe what our military is doing right now is needed and critical to our future survival as a nation.

    So let me humbly add to Lt. Col. Bridger's respects and I simply, thank you.