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From the Hanoi Hilton

In today’s New York Times Richard Goldstein recalls:

As Christmas 1970 approached, 43 American prisoners of war in a large holding cell at the North Vietnamese camp known as the Hanoi Hilton sought to hold a brief church service. Their guards stopped them, and so the seeds of rebellion were planted.

A few days later, Lt. Cmdr. Edwin A. Shuman III, a downed Navy pilot, orchestrated the resistance, knowing he would be the first to face the consequences: a beating in a torture cell.

“Ned stepped forward and said, ‘Are we really committed to having church Sunday? I want to know person by person,’” a fellow prisoner, Leo K. Thorsness, recounted in a memoir. “He went around the cell pointing to each of us individually,” Mr. Thorsness continued. “When the 42nd man said yes, it was unanimous. At that instant, Ned knew he would end up in the torture cells.”

The following Sunday, Commander Shuman, who died on Dec. 3 at 82, stepped forward to lead a prayer session and was quickly hustled away by guards. The next four ranking officers did the same, and they, too, were taken away to be beaten. Meanwhile, as Mr. Thorsness told it, “the guards were now hitting P.O.W.s with gun butts and the cell was in chaos.”

And then, he remembered, the sixth-ranking senior officer began, “Gentlemen, the Lord’s Prayer.”

“And this time,” he added, “we finished it.”

Col. Thorsness tells the story in his moving memoir Surviving Hell: A POW’s Journey. In 2009 NRO excerpted the story from the memoir here. The Times recalls the story today as it notes the death of Commander Shuman earlier this month at the age of 82. If it’s possible to give something beyond the last full measure of devotion, Commander Shuman and his fellow prisoners of war in the Hanoi Hilton gave it. RIP.

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