From T.M. Schoewe
Going through old files we discovered an article from the Spokane Daily Chronicle by Captain Ray of Conroe, Texas. We recall our jubilation when Vietnam War POWs were released from captivity in 1973. Many had been shot down and captured in 1966 and spent six or seven years in confinement. Ray was one of them. I remember reading his article in 1974 while serving as the senior Chaplain in Korea. Here is some of Captain Ray’s story. He begins it with “PSST.”
“I struggled up right on the damp pallet in my solitary cell to hear better. It had sounded like a whisper. No, I must have been hallucinating. I slumped back wondering how long it had been since my F-105 Thunderchief had been shot down as we bombed a railroad bridge on the Hanoi-China supply line. That was May 8, 1966. I tried to forget the weeks since, the endless interrogations, the torture. Now I wished I had gone down with the plane. Anything would be better than the awful sense of guilt and aloneness.
“There! I heard it again! Now an unmistakable, ‘Hey buddy.’ The whisper had come from the next cell. I whispered back. He introduced himself as Bob ‘Air Force.’ We waited as the guard passed and then began to converse. Soon all the prisoners on that yard were secretly whispering. We started by learning about each other. One day I asked Bob what church he went to. ‘Catholic‚‘ he said. ‘And you,’ ‘Baptist.’ Bob was quiet for a moment as if my mention of church evoked deep memories. Then he asked ‘Do you know any Bible verses?’ ‘Well, the Lord’s Prayer‚‘ I answered. ‘Everyone knows that.’ ‘How about the 23rd Psalm?’ ‘Only a little.’ I began whispering it. He’d repeat each line after me. A little later he whispered the entire Psalm back to me.
“Other prisoners joined sharing verses that they knew. A fellowship grew up among us—we made ink from brick dust and water. We’d write on bits of toilet paper and pass them on to others, dropping them behind a loose brick at the toilets. This was dangerous. A man caught would be tortured—the urge to share developed inventiveness. One night, my ear pressed against the wall, a fellow POW tapped out on the wall in Morse Code Psalm 121, ‘I will lift up my eyes, from whence cometh my help,’ He tapped out his name...Russ Temperly...and passed on the seven other verses in that psalm which I scratched on the concrete floor with a piece of broken tile.
“By 1968, more of us were squeezed together. Only by following Christ’s teachings in constant forgiveness, patience and understanding, were we able to get along together.
“Two-and-a-half years went by before I could write dad and mother. In the meantime we subsisted on letters written 2,000 years ago.
“Over two years passed this way, continuing degradation, endless hunger, never knowing whether we would see home again. Instead of going mad we continued to grow as a community sustaining one another. One of the verses I heard thumped out on the wall one night said ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord (Deut. 8:3).’ His Word became our rock.”
And that by the way is the same word Jesus used to defeat Satan, when after 40 days of hunger Satan tempted Him, if He were the Son of God to turn stones into bread. We know Scripture is important in our lives. But when we think about those POWS and Jesus, we see just how much more important it is when we recite it from heart.
His word is your rock too. Look up and learn the seven words our Lord spoke from his cross for us. You will find the church speaking about them at this time. Go listen! Take them in! Keep them in your heart and mind! It will put you in good stead.
P.S. For Capt. Ray’s complete story, Google the Seattle Chronicle’s archivist for Lenten Guidepost (No. 8) (Tuesday, 7 March, 1974.)