Once again I’ve received an e-mail that begs to be spread abroad.  The words below are taken from Surviving Hell:  A POW’s Journey (Encounter Books, Dec. 2008) by Col. Leo Thorsness.   On April 30, 1967, Leo Thorsness was shot down over North Vietnam, held and tortured for six years.  He has been awarded the Medal of Honor.

The first Sunday at the Hanoi Hilton, someone said, “Let’s have church service.” Good idea, we all agreed. One POW volunteered to lead the service and we started gathering in the other end of the long, rectangular cell. No sooner had we gathered than an English-speaking Vietnamese officer who worked as an interrogator burst into the cell with a dozen armed guards. Ned Shuman, our Senior Ranking Officer, went to the officer and said there would not be a problem, we were just going to have a short church service. The response was unyielding: we were not allowed to gather into groups larger than three persons and absolutely could not have a church service.

During the next few days we all grumbled that we should not have backed down in our intention to have a church service and ought to do it the coming Sunday. Toward the end of the week, Ned stepped forward and said, “Are we really committed to having church Sunday?”

There was a murmuring of the assent throughout the cell. Ned said, “No, I want to know person by person if you are really committed to holding church.”

We all knew the implications of our answer. If we went ahead with the plan, some would pay the price — starting with Ned himself because he was the SRO. He went around the cell pointing to each of us individually.

“Leo, are you committed?”


When the 42nd man said “yes,” it was unanimous. We had 100% commitment to hold church the next Sunday. At that instant, Ned knew he would end up in the torture cells. It was different from previous Sunday. We now had a goal and we were committed. We only needed to develop a plan.

Sunday morning came and we knew they would be watching us again. Once more, we gathered in the far end of the cell. As soon as we moved together, the interrogator and guards burst through the door. Ned stepped forward and said there wouldn’t be a problem, we were just going to hold a quiet, 10-minute church service and then we would spread back out in the cell. As expected, they grabbed him and hauled him off for torture.

Our plan unfolded. The second ranking man, the new SRO, stood, walked to the center of the cell and in a clear, firm voice said, “Gentlemen,” our signal to stand, “the Lord’s Prayer.” We got perhaps halfway through the prayer when the guards grabbed the SRO and hauled him out the door.

As planned, the number three SRO stood, walked to the center of the cell and said, “Gentlemen, the Lord’s Prayer.” We had gotten about to “Thy kingdom come” before the guards grabbed him. Immediately, the number four SRO stood, “Gentlemen, the Lord’s Prayer.”

I have never heard five or six words from the Lord’s Prayer recited so loudly or so reverently. The interrogator was shouting, “Stop, stop!” but we drowned him out. The guards were now hitting POWs with gun butts and the cell was in chaos.

The number five ranking officer was way back in the corner and took his time moving toward the center of the cell. (I was number seven, and not particularly anxious for him to hurry.) But just before he got to the center of the area, the cell became pin-drop quiet.

In Vietnamese, the interrogator spat out something to the guards. They grabbed the number five SRO and they all left, locking the cell door behind them. The number six SRO began, “Gentlemen, the Lord’s Prayer.” This time we finished it.

Five courageous officers were tortured, but I think they believed it was worth it. From that Sunday on until we came home, we held a church service. We won. They lost. Forty-two men in prison pajamas followed Ned’s lead. I know I will never see a better example of pure, raw leadership or will ever pray with a better sense of the meaning of those words.

There are many reasons that young people join the Armed Services.  Some just have no idea what they want to do with their lives.  Others are looking for adventure, a college education, a paycheck.  Some actually want to serve their country and what their country stands for.  Whatever the reason these 42 young men who were imprisoned in Hanoi joined the service, in my opinion each of  them became a hero at the very moment that he committed to “having Church.”  Whether or not he was eventually dragged off to be tortured he became a hero the instant he decided he was willing to suffer in order to say a simple prayer with his friends.

This book is available on Amazon and I plan to get one to give to a soldier friend.

IN A LIGHTER VEIN ….Stephen Colbert (below) becomes “one of the boys” in Iraq on the order of our Commander-in-Chief.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Obama Orders Stephen’s Haircut – Ray Odierno
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Stephen Colbert in Iraq


Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. — John 15:13