Stories Of Courage
American Flag Condensed from a speech by Leo K. Thorsness,
recipient of The Congressional Medal of Honor. You've probably seen the bumper sticker somewhere along the road. It depicts an American Flag, accompanied by the words "These colors don't run."
I'm always glad to see this, because it reminds me of an incident from my confinement in North Vietnam at the Hao Lo POW Camp, or the "Hanoi Hilton," as it became known. Then a Major in the U.S. Air Force, I had been captured and imprisoned from 1967-1973.
Our treatment had been frequently brutal. After
three years, however, the beatings and torture became less frequent.During the last year,
we were allowed outside most days for a couple of minutes to bathe. We showered by drawing
water from a concrete tank with a homemade bucket. One day as we all stood by the tank,
stripped of our clothes, a young Naval pilot named Mike Christian found the remnants of a
handkerchief in a gutter that ran under the prison wall.
Early in the morning a few days later, when the guards were not alert, he whispered loudly from the back of our cell, "Hey gang, look here. " He proudly held up this tattered piece of cloth, waving it as if in a breeze. If you used your imagination, you could tell it was supposed to be an American flag. When he raised that smudgy fabric, we automatically stood straight and saluted, our chests puffing out, and more than a few eyes had tears.
About once a week the guards would strip us, run us outside and go through our clothing. During one of those shakedowns, they found Mike's flag. We all knew what would happen. That night they came for him. Night interrogations were always the worst. They opened the cell door and pulled Mike out. We could hear the beginning of the torture before they even had him in the torture cell. They beat him most of the night.
About daylight they pushed what was left of him back
through the cell door.