"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...
Then a major in the U.S. Air Force, I had been captured and imprisoned
from 1967 to 1973.
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. Mike managed to
sneak the grimy rag into our cell and began fashioning it into a flag...
made red and blue from ground-up roof tiles and tiny amounts of ink and
painted the colors onto the cloth with watery rice glue. Using thread from
his own blanket and a homemade bamboo needle, he sewed on stars.
Early in the morning a
guards were not alert, he
whispered loudly from
back of our cell, 'Hey gang, look here!' He proudly held up this tattered
piece of cloth, waving it, as if in a breeze...
When he raised that smudgy fabric, we automatically stood straight and
saluted, our chests puffing out, and more than a few eyes had tears...
Now, whenever I see the flag, I think of Mike and the morning he first
waved that tattered emblem of a nation. It was then, thousands of miles
from home in a lonely prison cell, that he showed us what it is to be
truly free." --Leo K. Thorsness,
recipient of the Medal of Honor