By Joan Endicott
I’m so proud to be an American. I love this country. I love our freedom. I love and appreciate all who sacrifice(d) to make it—and keep it—a free country. It truly is the home of the free because of the brave. Though our freedom means we each get to choose how we use that, I pray all who experience its blessing will be unwavering in honoring those who have honored this country through their personal sacrifice. While those who gave their lives made the ultimate sacrifice, one can only imagine how those who were imprisoned and tortured wished at times to be among their fellow soldiers no longer suffering. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13
My uncle, Captain James Myrick, was my personal connection to the Vietnam War. As a chopper pilot, he was shot down three times! Thank God, never captured. As a grade schooler, I was deeply moved by the experiences he shared and felt honored when he gave me a set of his Wings. Additionally, I began wearing Prisoner of War (POW) and Missing in Action (MIA) bracelets, which helped remind me to pray for those incredibly sacrificial souls: for their quick, safe return while also heightening others’ awareness to do the same. No other time did I see my grandma Lucille so overcome with emotion as when my mom picked Jim up at the airport to surprise her. As he stood at the kitchen door, tall and proud in his uniform decorated with multiple medals, my grandma looked over, gasped, and collapsed with sheer gratitude unable to speak, only weep, as she clung to her son.
“On August 4, 1964, a 26-year-old Navy fighter pilot was shot down over North Vietnam. The first American airman to be captured by the Vietnamese, Everett Alvarez was a prisoner of war for eight and a half years—the longest period of captivity of any American war prisoner in North Vietnam. Alvarez, along with 461 other captured American airmen, would not be released until the Paris Peace Accords were signed in 1973.
“American Experience presents ‘Return with Honor,’ the story of these captured airmen, featuring rare film footage from Vietnam’s archives. This two-hour special from Academy Award-winning filmmakers Freida Lee Mock and Terry Sanders represents ‘a major shift in the screen image of the Vietnam veteran,’ according to The New York Times. More than 20 veterans describe their captivity and their struggle to survive—mentally, physically, and spiritually—and to return with honor. The film is introduced by Tom Hanks, who says, ‘I am fascinated and moved by these stories of extraordinary courage, sacrifice, and heroism.’
“’Return with Honor’ is a testament to the ingenuity and endurance of these extraordinary men. Through riveting first-person accounts, the film describes their sudden transformation from self-confident ‘top-gun’ aviators into prisoners of war. The men recall the harrowing moments of their shoot down and capture, the many years they were kept in solitary confinement, and the repeated bouts of excruciating torture. And it is also the story of the women left behind who for years did not know whether they were wives or widows.” (Available on YouTube and at www.pbs.org. Information here taken from American Experience.)
Watching these hero aviators share their personal stories, you experience a plethora of emotions, from anger (at the horrific treatment) to sorrow, compassion, and pride. As the pilots were being tortured, the Viet Cong would show them newspapers and play propaganda newsreels of people parading in protest in the United States, burning flags as they burned with anger at our own troops.
The following quotes are a combination of the war heroes interviewed in “Return with Honor”: Lt. JG Everett Alvarez, USN; Comdr. James Stockdale, USN; Lt. Ed Mechenbier, USAF; Lt. John (“Mike”) McGrath, USN; Lt. Ron Bliss, USAF; Lt. Cmdr. John McCain, USN.
- “They would tell us, ‘Okay, there are all kinds of parades in Washington DC—antiwar protests—and I just needed to tune all that stuff out because certainly, as military people, if we didn’t question the value of the war as we went into it, you know, sitting in prison wasn’t the time to start reexamining whether we ought to be in there or not.”
- “They would bring films that [were] made in the states. The burning of the cities and all of that—we got to see that. And just about every one of us was very upset. We couldn’t understand what was happening to the American people.”
- “We felt, well okay this is the American way, you can demonstrate. But a lot of us were a little dismayed as to why they were doing this…All we had left in our immediate world was each other. All we had were our reputations. It was a matter of dignity. All we had left of what we were was our name and our honor. That’s all you have left and you’re not gonna give it up.”
- “We were determined to return to the United States with honor, no matter how long we stayed there. We were not going to collaborate with the enemy, and we were going to look out for each other.”
They began bolstering one another’s courage and commitment to stay the course with a powerful three-word-phrase: “Return with Honor,” which for them meant, “Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t go back and tell somebody else in your cell, ‘Hey, I did ______,’ and be ashamed.”
These pilot heroes also shared how their faith and thoughts of their family played an enormous role in keeping them strong and steadfast during this horrific and inhumane treatment.
They developed their own tapping code so they could communicate with one another. Once that was set up, every single Sunday morning they were in North Vietnam, they would have a church service. They started with the leader making a particular sound to know it was time to recite The Lord’s Prayer together. Then they turned to face east (direction of the United States of America) and each held his hand over his heart, proudly reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Just picture that! It inspires awe in my soul and brings tears to my eyes as I reflect on the depth of their love and commitment.
As I began to ponder the phrase “Return with Honor,” I thought about how every relationship we have should be treated with this deepest level of commitment. If I pledge in my heart and soul to return with honor, its power is palpable!
Return: to go (or come) back in thought, practice or condition
Honor: to regard or treat (someone) with admiration and respect
Honor and honest have the same Latin origin.
Honest: virtuous, honorable, dealing fairly, truthful, free from deceit
When I make a commitment, it means I honor my word and stay true to fulfill any promise made. This can be an agreement, a contract, covenant, oath, vow, or pledge—verbal or written.
When choosing to embrace this return with honor philosophy, it elevates every area—every relationship—in my life. It affects my thoughts, words and actions because at its core I am choosing to be an honorable/honest person.
For example, in marriage, we make a promise or vow to our mates that includes something like: “I, _____, take you, _____, for my lawful wedded husband/wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part. I will love and honor you all the days of my life.”
Literally and symbolically, each time we leave our home and come back, we’re making choices in what we think, say and do to honor our promises: in marriage and family relationships, at work, at church, in community, in our finances. In every area of life we get to continually choose to honor the relationships and commitments God has blessed us with.
At its core, it’s about embracing honor as a beloved character trait. These faithful and faith-filled men made a commitment that whatever they did, even in the most horrific of circumstances, no matter what it took, they would live a life of honor and have no regrets when they returned home. They chose to honor their country, their own name, their fellow soldiers, their mission, their family awaiting their safe return. May we be inspired by their unparalleled example and be among those who choose to do whatever it takes to Return with Honor.
“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” – Romans 12:10
Grab your FREE copy of Joan Endicott’s “I Get To!”® book at www.JoanEndicott.com. Joan is an Award-Winning Keynote Speaker, Author, and Coach whose coaching has reached over 30 countries. Meet her and enjoy her encouraging messages on Facebook and Instagram!