Recently a friend loaned to me a copy of Scars and Stripes as a must-read. Written by Eugene B. McDaniel, Captain - U.S. Navy, the full title of the book is Scars and Stripes: The True Story of One Man's Courage Facing Death as a Vietnam POW.
The story begins the morning of McDaniel's tragic shootdown near Hanoi. Before leaving for his 81st combat mission, McDaniel stopped for breakfast at the chow facility on his ship, the Enterprise. He ate bacon and eggs, but only half of an omelet. For years to come the memory of that half-eaten omelet would haunt him as he starved in captivity.
McDaniel goes on to describe his capture and then torture in the Hanoi Hilton. He and the other prisoners found solace in their efforts to communicate with each other despite the risk of punishment from the Vietnamese.
In the beginning chapters of the book, McDaniel's fellow-prisoners question his repeated attempts to establish communication systems with other Americans, as his efforts often result in tortuous interrogations. McDaniel says, "The fact was I didn't know why or how I could keep pushing myself either, especially when my captors were watching me more closely, knowing I was taking risks with the rules... I had to have some belief in my success, some belief that I could beat the system each day and that, if I stayed with it long enough, I could live one day and be free. This attitude was to become one of my mainstays in the long months and years ahead, and, though I had not planned it, became a contagion that spread later on in the Zoo and the Zoo Annex where I was to spend most of my time in prison. Where did that optimism come from? I knew it was not innate; nobody is really born an optimist. Considering that optimism does not normally flourish in the conditions of a military prison, where torture is the order of the day, it had to be a quality that had been deeply ingrained over time, the product of childhood and young adulthood. And yet, looking over those years, I figured I didn't have that much optimism input either, certainly no more than anyone else."
The book is sometimes difficult to read, as extremely tough circumstances prompted McDaniel to consider these tough questions. At the book's midpoint McDaniel continues to develop his personal philosophy and worldview, and as a reader I anticipate more grueling times ahead for McDaniel and the other heroes of his story.
So far I agree with the friend who loaned me the book, it is a must-read. The brutal conditions of the prison are hard to fathom though they reveal hidden, heroic qualities in McDaniel and his companions. More info. to come on this extraordinary book.
Below is Colonel Day's Medal of Honor Citation. His bio and other information can be found by searching www.pownetwork.org. POW Network is dedicated to information distribution on Prisoners of War and Missing in Action Servicemen.
Medal of Honor
DAY, GEORGE E.
Rank and organization: Colonel (then Major), U.S. Air Force, Forward Air
Controller Pilot of an F-100 aircraft
Place and date: North Vietnam, 26 August 1967
Entered service at: Sioux City, Iowa
Born: 24 February 1925, Sioux City, Iowa
On 26 August 1967, Col. Day was forced to eject from his aircraft over North
Vietnam when it was hit by ground fire. His right arm was broken in 3
places, and his left knee was badly sprained. He was immediately captured by
hostile forces and taken to a prison camp where he was interrogated and
severely tortured. After causing the guards to relax their vigilance, Col.
Day escaped into the jungle and began the trek toward South Vietnam. Despite
injuries inflicted by fragments of a bomb or rocket, he continued southward
surviving only on a few berries and uncooked frogs. He successfully evaded
enemy patrols and reached the Ben Hai River, where he encountered U.S.
artillery barrages. With the aid of a bamboo log float, Col. Day swam across
the river and entered the demilitarized zone. Due to delirium, he lost his
sense of direction and wandered aimlessly for several days. After several
unsuccessful attempts to signal U.S. aircraft, he was ambushed and
recaptured by the Viet Cong, sustaining gunshot wounds to his left hand and
thigh. He was returned to the prison from which he had escaped and later was
moved to Hanoi after giving his captors false information to questions put
before him. Physically, Col. Day was totally debilitated and unable perform
even the simplest task for himself. Despite his many injuries, he continued
to offer maximum resistance. His personal bravery in the face of deadly enemy
pressure was significant in saving the lives of fellow aviators who were
still flying against the enemy. Col. Day's conspicuous gallantry and
intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in
keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great
credit upon himself and the U.S. Armed Forces.
March 5th, 1944 - During a raid over Bordeaux, France, Chuck Yeager's P51 was struck, forcing him to bail out over Occupied Territory. He could see German troops swarming the area on the ground as he descended but was able to avoid capture after landing in a forest.The next day Yeager drew his pistol before approaching a startled French woodcutter; his goal to seek the assistance of the Maquis, the French Resistance movement. While being smuggled through the French countryside, Yeager taught the French how to use plastic explosives for use in their efforts against the Germans.The Maquis deposited Yeager and another American named Patterson at the base of the Pyrenees Mountains, as neutral territory in Spain lay just on the other side. The exhausted men climbed for days, stopping to rest in an abandoned cabin high in the mountains. Patterson made the mistake of hanging his wet socks on a bush outside of the cabin, causing a passing German patrol to open fire. While diving out a back window, Patterson was shot in the knee. The two men basically sledded down the steep mountain to safety while Patterson's lower leg hung by only a tendon. Chuck Yeager saved Pat's life by cutting the tendon and applying a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. Yeager then carried his wounded companion, inch by inch, back up the mountain and down the other side, finally leaving Patterson next to a road where the Spanish Civil Guard would later rescue him. Within six weeks Patterson was back in America.Chuck Yeager turned himself in to Spanish authorities and soon resumed his legendary military career. More of the story and other great information can be found at ChuckYeager.com.
"Warren Bennis, a prominent leadership researcher, argued that effective leaders tend to have experienced at least one intense, transformational experience - what he calls a crucible experience. A crucible experience is 'both an opportunity and a test. It is a deﬁning moment that unleashes abilities, forces crucial choices, and sharpens focus. It teaches a person who he or she is.' "Please click here to read Leonard Wong's "Developing Adaptive Leaders: The Crucible Experience of Operation Iraqi Freedom."
This site has includes Admiral Stockdale's biography, video, pictures, published works, and other great information: http://www.admiralstockdale.com/
A few years ago I had the honor of meeting retired Chief Master Sergeant Paul Lankford. His intense story is of the sort that you see in movies or read about in novels, as many elements seem unimaginable.
In 1942, Paul Lankford was serving in the 27th Bomb Group in the Philippines. He was 23 years old when the island fell to the Japanese Army. At the time, the Japanese had a shortage of vehicles to transport prisoners, and Lankford was ordered to repair a jeep that would not start. After communicating that he was not a mechanic and couldn't fix the jeep, a Japanese soldier put a bayonet through Lankford's shoulder, causing him to fall unconscious in pain. Lankford awakened at the beginning of what would later be called The Bataan Death March; a five-day, sixty-five mile ordeal that included one sip of water and one serving of rice.
During the march, wounded prisoners were shot or run over by trucks. Lankford watched many of his friends die, and later said that "he had made the decision to take whatever the Japanese chose to give him." He and the other survivors were loaded into a cargo ship (one that normally carried cattle) and were taken to a camp in Mongolia where they worked as slave labor. When captured, Paul Lankford weighed 150 pounds, and over time withered to 60 pounds. He was liberated by the Russian Army in 1945, and went on to complete 42 years of service in the United States Air Force.
Years later, when describing these events, Chief Lankford enthusiastically revealed one of his coping mechanisms during captivity. He repeatedly tricked his captors by hiding a small Bible in the waistline of his pants and stealing moments to read it when he could. He considered this risky act of defiance to be miraculous, and stated that his will to survive was perpetuated by this simple miracle.
Much of Chief Lankford's heroic story is worthy of respect and continued study. His use of the hidden Bible is a case study in itself, as he exercised an internal mechanism (his belief system) to survive and eventually overcome a brutal set of circumstances.
This writing (much like the book, The Survival Template) is not intended to emphasize one set of religious beliefs over another, or to intrude into the personal belief systems of the audience. The goal is to consider internal mechanisms that have worked for heroes like Chief Lankford, and then identify (as students of the process) effective methods that are unique to each individual person.
Chief Lankford passed away in 2008, leaving a legacy to be revered. His public service continues through the practical lessons he left for us.
In his book, Good To Great, author James C. Collins describes a conversation he once had with the late Vice Admiral James Stockdale. For those unfamiliar with Stockdale's story: in 1965 he ejected from an A-4E Skyhawk over North Vietnam and was taken captive. He spent seven years in the Hoa Lo prison, where he was held in metal leg restraints and often locked in a bath stall. He was beaten and tortured on a routine basis.
When speaking to James Collins, Admiral Stockdale described his coping mechanisms during captivity. "I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade." *Note: He chose to make this torturous captivity the defining experience of his life.
Collins then asked about prisoners who had the most problems or did not make it out: "Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, 'We're going to be out by Christmas.' And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they'd say, 'We're going to be out by Easter.' And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart."
"This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
Collins describes this mentality as "The Stockdale Paradox." In short, the Paradox includes a clear objective coupled with realistic discipline. For me, Stockdale's choice to make captivity and torture a defining experience is unbelievable and awe-inspiring.
For more on Admiral Stockdale's story, check out the book In Love and War by James and Sybil Stockdale.