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Heroes 2

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Heroes 2

** HEROES **

"I Venture to suggest that patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime!"

--Adlai Stevenson

Daniel Webster defines:


'' one renowned for exceptional courage and fortitude; a champion; an idol

A thesaurus goes a little further when it says:

'' valiant; brave; gallant

I like to think of a "hero" as one to whom I can look up.

It is said that there are no heroes left in the world. In all due respect to the cynics and the pessimists of the day, I only have only one thing to say: open your eyes!

Today, I would like to introduce you to a "real life hero." To make this introduction, it will be necessary to go back a few years to the late 1960's. The place is Southeast Asia, and the man is one Lieutenant/Colonel, United States Navy, Robinson "Robbie" Risner. Shot down during a mission over Vietnam, Colonel Risner is taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese, and placed in a cell in downtown Hanoi. As he parades down the street as a prize for the patriots to see and jeer at, he is struck in the head by rocks, lashed out at with sticks, and he was spat upon. At the end of the procession, Colonel Risner arrived at what was to be his home for the next five, grueling years. He had all of the comforts home: a bed to sleep in, meals, and medical care. Well, not exactly the way we think of home, however.

His bed consisted of a concrete slab with a one-half inch bamboo mat for a mattress. The stocks on one end of the mat are used regularly. Every night, to be exact! His meals consisted mainly a soup made from a boiled pumpkin type vegetable called manyok, with only the liquid portion given to him, most times, only once a day! He estimates, in The Passing of the Night, his account of his time while in prison, the amount of each feeding at 8-12 ounces of this delicious gourmet's delight. His medical care: making sure he did not "expire" while going through the torture inflicted by his captors. If he died, there would be heck to pay! He was a bargaining tool as a prisoner, worth absolutely nothing dead! His body would have simply disappeared.

He was released with most of our prisoners. I say most because documentation exists showing photos of American POW's spotted even as late as last year "in country", as they say. He came home with a severe limp, and unending pain due to an untreated broken left leg suffered when he ejected from his F-4 Phantom jet, and multiple other fractures from the beatings he received. His injuries are too many to count.

He is a Hero! There is no cape on his back, and to tell you the truth, if he had his way, there would be no special recognition. During his five years in captivity at the "Hanoi Hilton," as they so affectionately referred to it, ropes are used, and his arms tied behind him at the elbows. He is then yanked from the floor. The pain from the dislocated shoulders was gruesome to say the least . . .the very least. Jumper cables are attached to his body sending its electric currents through him, as he was still elevated. Just before going unconscious due to the pain, he was plunged to the floor, only to be taken back to that apex of pain again and again in a single session. Day in and day out, this was all that he had to look forward to as he lay on that concrete slab with his legs bleeding, locked in stocks, and a world away from anyone who loved him; anyone that is except One above! He related in his book that in one time span he lay in his own excrement for 30 days with the stocks holding him firmly in place. The dignity of cleaning himself is even denied.

He could not help but hear the cries of other men every day as they endured equal, or worse, torture. He knew these men's names only by the tapping of Morse code through the cement walls of his cell. It was to one, and only one, Individual that he could go for serenity, quiescence, and peace; One from whom he got the inspiration to persevere: his God! Through the careful tap. . .tap. . . tapping, when his mind was clear enough to converse, he and the other prisoners would relay Bible verses they had learned as children. They are used now as their only means of inspiration and encouragement. One man's memory may only yield "I will look to the hills. . ." and another might conclude it with the only portion he remembered, ". . .from whence comes my strength."

Or, as in I'm No Hero, the autobiographical account of his experiences at the hands, once again, of the North Vietnamese, Lieutenant/Commander Joseph "Charlie" Plumb tells of his almost six years in captivity. I was amazed as I read of what tortures he, and the other prisoners endured. The fatuous view of many is that "If you see one story, you've seen them all!" What an asinine statement that would be. I have sat and read many accounts of those six or seven years by many of MY heroes. Each one holds another pristine revelation of the times that every one of them viewed as adverse, difficult, torturous . . . one could choose any other of a thousand more adjectives, and never even come close to scratching the surface. Yet, through all of the hours, months, years. . . of difficulty, EVERY one of them, in the end, however reluctant their minds and bodies were, eventually admitted that their time being interrogated by "The Rat", "Dum Dum", "Sweetpea", or "Slug" in whichever prison they ended up, be it the "Hanoi Hilton," "Heartbreak Hotel," "Little Vegas," or any other, was extremely beneficial to their character. Colonel Plumb had such a well developed resolve through all of the pain and suffering that for the last two years of his captivity he was the chaplain for his group of men who needed encouragement more than anyone on the face of the earth!

Lieutenant/Colonel Richard A. Stratton, United States Navy, in his chronicle, Prisoner At War, was able to give a reason for something that went from the back pages of some off-beat, underground newspaper in 1954, when the United States began aiding South Vietnam, to the headlines even of this day, 43 years later, of the New York Times and the covers of Time, Newsweek, etc. On the last page of his gripping account, he is asked "Why?" Why our involvement in Vietnam? He said, "I am a pilot! I'm a professional!" Let's not stop there, though, unless we're ready to stop at "We the people. . .'' He went a bit further to explain his own, personal mind-set. He said, "I have used the simile before: if a doctor gets a certain vicarious pleasure out of cutting people open, he is sick!" "Then, why do you do it?" was the next logical question. "Because I do not think," he said finally, "war should be ...

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