Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Remembering Leo Thorsness 1932-2017

I originally posted this eight years ago, in April 2009. Reposting to remember the life of Leo Thorsness who died today at the age of 85. Rest in peace, sir.

mentioned last week that I'd ordered Surviving Hell by Leo Thorsness; I finished it last night.

Thorsness, as you may know, was a POW for 6 years in Vietnam and was at the Hanoi Hilton. I was lucky enough to meet him several years ago when he came to the school where I teach to speak to our students.

NRO recently excerpted the chapter where Thorsness and his cellmates (at times he was in solitary and other times with cellmates) were determined to have a church service on Sundays.

Thorsness has an easy writing style; the book reminded me of Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell in the fact that I just could NOT put it down. I couldn't put Lone Survivor down until "I" got Marcus off the side of that mountain in Afghanistan and I was the same way with Leo. Until "I" got him out of that cell, I had to keep reading.

He tells you, of course, that he was tortured and a little about that, but that's not the focus of the book.  He writes of how they got through the days (the "Tap Code" was like POW texting! An ingenious system!) As Gary Sinise said in his jacket-blurb: "Surviving Hell tells it like it was in combat and in prison, but the story is also uplifting and helpful for anyone going through tough times. Leo is a survivor who shows us that, even in hell, we are much stronger than we think."

At 127 pages, there's no excuse for anyone not to read this book.

I'll leave it with this story he told about his cellmate Mike. Mike scrounged a small piece of fabric from the bath area one day. All the cellmates pitched in a tiny chip of precious soap so Mike could wash his fabric.

"Mike scrounged a small piece of red roof tile and laboriously ground it into a powder, which mixed with a bit of water, became a faded red or maroon color to make the flag's stripes. We had gotten a bit of medicine in the last year of our captivity, usually a blue pill of unknown provenance prescribed for afflictions. Mike patiently leached the color out of one of the pills and used it to make a blue square in the upper left of the handkerchief. With a needle made from bamboo wood and thread pulled from our single blanket, he stitched little white stars on this field of blue."

It took Mike a couple of weeks to make that flag, working secretly so the guards would not know, and when he proudly showed it to his cellmates, some of them cried. When the guards found the flag, of course, Mike was tortured as he knew he would be all along.

It's men like that, and like Thorsness, that inspire me. It's men like that who I look up to and admire. Those are Americans.

No comments: