A Reflection on Our Grand Ol’ Flag – from John McCain

As you prepare for your Fourth of July celebrations, whether it’s a backyard barbecue, fireworks, a concert or a parade, take a moment to reflect on this true story from John McCain, USN Captain (Retired) and U.S. Sector from Arizona.  I wish you a wonderful Fourth – may we all remember the significance of this holiday and be grateful for our freedom.

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As you may know, I spent five-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War.  In the early years of our imprisonment, the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) kept us in solitary confinement or two or three to a cell.  In 1971, the NVA moved us from these conditions of isolation into large rooms with as many as 30 to 40 men in a room.  This was, as you can imagine, a wonderful change and was a direct result of the efforts of millions of Americans on behalf of a few hundred POWs 10,000 miles from home.

One of the men who moved into my room was a young man named Mike Christian.

Mike came from a small town near Selma, Alabama.  He didn’t wear a pair of shoes until he was 13 years old.  At 17, he enlisted in the US Navy.  He later earned a commission by going to Officer Training School. Then he became a Naval Flight Officer and was shot down and captured in 1967.  Mike had a keen and deep appreciation of the opportunities this country – and our military – provide for people who want to work and want to succeed.

As part of the change in treatment, the Vietnamese allowed some prisoners to receive packages from home.  In some of these packages were handkerchiefs, scarves and other items of clothing.  Mike got himself a bamboo needle.  Over a period of a couple of months, he created an American flag and sewed it into the inside of his shirt.

Every afternoon, before we had a bowl of soup, we would hang Mike’s shirt on the wall of the cell and say the Pledge of Allegiance.  I know the Pledge of Allegiance may not seem the most important part of our day now, but I can assure you that in that stark cell it was indeed an important and meaningful event.

One day the Vietnamese searched our cell, as they did periodically, discovered Mike’s shirt with the flag sewn inside, and removed it.  That evening they returned, and for the benefit of us all, beat Mike Christian severely for the next couple of hours.  Then they opened the door of the cell and threw him in.  We cleaned him up as well as we could.

The cell in which we lived had a concrete slab in the middle on which we slept.  Four naked light bulbs hung in each corner of the room.  After the excitement died down, I looked in the corner of the room, and sitting there beneath one of those dim light bulbs with a piece of red cloth, another shirt, and his bamboo needle, was my friend, Mike Christian.  He was sitting there with his eyes almost shut from the beating he had received, making another American flag.

He was not making the flag because it made Mike Christian feel better.  He was making that flag because he knew how important it was to us to be able to pledge allegiance to our flag and our country.  

So the next time you say the Pledge of Allegiance, you must never forget the sacrifice and courage of thousands of Americans to build our nation and promote freedom around the world.  You must remember our duty, our honor, and our country.

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands – one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Letter From an Old Soldier

Happy Fourth of July!  I hope you’re enjoying time off with family and friends to celebrate our nation’s freedom.

With that in mind, I’d like to share with you a note my husband received today from a fellow soldier and friend from Vietnam days.

“As each year’s Fourth arrives, I am again reminded of the privilege I enjoyed to serve in our Army with you guys.  Band concerts, fireworks and other celebratory events are appreciated, but being fortunate enough to experience serving in our Army and treasuring the honor of knowing and serving with y’all tops any other Fourth considerations, far and away.  Yes, America and her freedoms are the true foundation of understanding the Fourth, but serving in our Army gives it the special meaning for me.”

These guys know a thing or two about freedom.  In September, 1966, John led the Tiger Force and two platoons of B Co. in a raid on a North Vietnamese prison camp high in the mountains west of Tuy Hoa.  They freed 27 South Vietnamese prisoners, one of whom weighed less than 80 lbs. and didn’t survive the descent down the mountain.  Here are four of the freed prisoners.  No one on that mission will ever forget it. The prisoners were so overjoyed with their freedom they couldn’t keep quiet during the night, even though silence was critical in avoiding the North Vietnamese.

I will never fully understand the bonds of brotherhood forged in the jungles of Vietnam.

(Not ever dreaming of a reunion 50 years later!)

Tiger Force Reunion 2016.

I will never know the extent of the sacrifices made, the fears that were faced and for some death itself.  But I have listened to the stories of these men.  Some stories have made me laugh, like the time my husband wrote to the Schlitz Beer Company.

“To Whom it May Concern:

Your advertisement says

‘When you’re out of Schlitz, you’re out of beer!’

Gentlemen, The Tiger Force is out of beer.”

A few months later, a palette of approximately 50 cases of Schlitz beer arrived at their 101st Airborne base camp.

My husband John on the right.

Other stories have caused me to choke back tears.  I have stood quietly beside my husband at the Wall as his fingers traced the names of friends and he told me about each one.

On this day, I am particularly grateful for all those in every branch of service who have defended our country’s freedom.  May we be quick to listen to their stories, to give honor, and, most of all, to say “thank you”.

D – Day Thoughts

Our visit to the museum at The Eagle’s Nest in Berchtesgaden a couple of years ago transported me to the year 1944-1945 when the world was at war and the powers of good and evil hung precariously in the balance. The museum pulls no punches, graphically showing the sinister and devastating impact on people and history by Adolph Hitler and his deranged cronies. Photograph after photograph chronicle the human misery incurred from the rise to the fall of the Third Reich. The early photographs of Hitler and his ascent to power show tens of thousands of ordinary smiling people, saluting him with unabashed patriotism and admiration. We kept asking ourselves how that could happen, especially after they had to have known of the terrible atrocities committed at the numerous concentration camps spread throughout Germany and Austria. The photographs taken at the end of the war of those who once smiled and saluted now showed the despair of disillusionment.

Beneath Hitler’s beautiful resort compound were carved many eerie tunnels, such as the one below, connecting each structure.

Hitler's bunker

Hitler’s bunker

What a difference a year made (1944-1945).

" The Fuhrer Has Fallen"

The year before at this time we walked on the Normandy landing beaches. We saw the ensignia below not only at the Normandy museums, but also gratefully displayed in the towns’ restaurants and taverns. This D-Day, we find ourselves in Berchtesgarden, and see the ensignia again.

101st Airborne Division.

101st Airborne Division.

 

The 101st paratroopers who jumped into Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944 also liberated Berchtesgaden and seized Hitler’s mountaintop retreat, a symbol of his power, less than a year later.

(As an aside, that ensignia hangs on my den wall as my husband John had the privilege of serving with the same division in Vietnam.)

On this day, we are grateful for all those who participated in ending the terror and misery inflicted upon mankind by Hitler and his Third Reich.

The brave young soldiers who fought that day are few and fading.

Shadow soldier

But the memory of their heroism need not fade.  If you are fortunate to know one of them, thank them.  Listen to their stories.  But above all, thank them.

D – Day Thoughts

Our visit to the museum at The Eagle’s Nest in Berchtesgaden a couple of years ago transported me to the year 1944-1945 when the world was at war and the powers of good and evil hung precariously in the balance. The museum pulls no punches, graphically showing the sinister and devastating impact on people and history by Adolph Hitler and his deranged cronies. Photograph after photograph chronicle the human misery incurred from the rise to the fall of the Third Reich. The early photographs of Hitler and his ascent to power show tens of thousands of ordinary smiling people, saluting him with unabashed patriotism and admiration. We kept asking ourselves how that could happen, especially after they had to have known of the terrible atrocities committed at the numerous concentration camps spread throughout Germany and Austria. The photographs taken at the end of the war of those who once smiled and saluted now showed the despair of disillusionment.

Beneath Hitler’s beautiful resort compound were carved many eerie tunnels, such as the one below, connecting each structure.

Hitler's bunker

Hitler’s bunker

What a difference a year made (1944-1945).

" The Fuhrer Has Fallen"

The year before at this time we walked on the Normandy landing beaches. We saw the ensignia below not only at the Normandy museums, but also gratefully displayed in the towns’ restaurants and taverns. This D-Day, we find ourselves in Berchtesgarden, and see the ensignia again.

101st Airborne Division.

101st Airborne Division.

 

The 101st paratroopers who jumped into Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944 also liberated Berchtesgaden and seized Hitler’s mountaintop retreat, a symbol of his power, less than a year later.

(As an aside, that ensignia hangs on my den wall as my husband John had the privilege of serving with the same division in Vietnam.)

On this day, we are grateful for all those who participated in ending the terror and misery inflicted upon mankind by Hitler and his Third Reich.

The brave young soldiers who fought that day are few and fading.

Shadow soldier

But the memory of their heroism need not fade.  If you are fortunate to know one of them, thank them.  Listen to their stories.  But above all, thank them.

D-Day: A New Gratitude

The closest I ever came to understanding D-Day was watching “Saving Private Ryan”.

Until last week.

Even the movie made me glad that I did not have to wade ashore on Omaha Beach.

It was not until I stood on the vast beach with nowhere to hide and looked up at the very visible remains of the German fortifications that I became truly thankful for those who did.

Omaha Beach

It made Tom Hanks’ line in the movie, “You can either die here, or up there” make sense.

When looking through the openings of the concrete and steel German bunkers…

…you don’t have to have any military training to realize just how vulnerable our soldiers were.

There was nowhere for them to go but straight into the German line of defense.

By the thousands, many of them are buried just a hilltop away in a beautiful and meticulously kept cemetery of simple white crosses and Stars of David.

One cannot leave there without awe of the enormity of those few days.

This day will always have a deeper meaning for me.