Honoring the American Flag
Condensed from a speech by Leo K. Thorsness,
recipient of The Congressional Medal of Honor.
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 at the Hao Lo POW Camp,
or the "Hanoi Hilton," as it became known.
Then a Major in the U.S. Air Force, I had been captured and imprisoned from 1967-1973.
Our 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
Mike managed to sneak the grimy rag into our cell and began fashioning it into a flag.
Over time we all loaned him a little soap, and he
spent days cleaning the material.
We helped by scrounging and stealing bits and pieces of anything he could use.
At night, under his mosquito net, Mike worked on the flag.
He 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 the stars.
Early in the morning a few days later, when the
guards were not alert,
he whispered loudly from the back of our cell, "Hey gang, look here.
" He proudly held up this tattered piece of cloth, waving it as if in a breeze.
If you used your imagination, you could tell it was supposed to be an American flag.
When he raised that smudgy fabric, we automatically stood straight and saluted,
our chests puffing out, and more than a few eyes had tears.
About once a week the guards would strip us, run
us outside and go through our clothing.
During one of those shakedowns, they found Mike's flag. We all knew what would happen.
That night they came for him. Night interrogations were always the worst.
They opened the cell door and pulled Mike out. We could hear the beginning of the
torture before they even had him in the torture cell. They beat him most of the night.
About daylight they pushed what was left of him
back through the cell door.
He was badly broken; even his voice was gone. Within two weeks, despite the danger,
Mike scrounged another piece of cloth and began another flag.
The Stars and Stripes, our national symbol, was worth the sacrifice to him.
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.
God, Would you Please Bless America again?
We once looked to you for our hope and our dreams.
Now, it just seems like there are so many schemes.
There are cons artist on every corner People getting killed left and
God, could you just take her hand again and hold her through the night?
You see all the hate, all the pain, when will it stop?
On every street corner you see a cop.
We have made prisons out of our homes, latch key is a common word.
Too many of our children are never heard.
So God, would you please Bless America again?
She's worn and tired and so full of sin.
Babies killing babies, oh where will it end...
Are we blind to this or are we just trying to pretend?
We can't ignore what's happening anymore.
Seems like living is just such a chore.
God, I want to live in peace and harmony with all.
Oh please help America to once again stand tall.