J. CHARLES PLUMB
I'm No Hero
By Charlie Plumb
I'm often asked: "How did you do it, Captain? How could you take six
years of filth, brutality, and loneliness? I could never have done it."
My answer is, "Of course you could have. As a matter of fact, you rub elbows
each day with people who have done it. We weren't the only prisoners. Millions
of Americans have experienced the manacles of the body or shackles of the mind.
They have been bound by unfortunate external circumstances - automobile
accidents, disease, natural disasters, paralyzing grief from the loss of a loved
one. They have suffered deprivation and humiliation."
Once a victim of misfortune, many become too insecure to open doors. Instead,
they allow themselves to wallow in despair. They become alcoholics, drug
addicts, unfaithful wives or husbands, unruly children. Inability to face
personal responsibility is often hidden in seemingly innocent pastimes - golf,
poker, video games, television, sleep. These diversions spawn intense feelings
of gilt and worthlessness, and some victims ultimately isolate themselves and
become despondent. A few commit suicide.
These real-life tragedies, with their subsequent loneliness and despair, were
the same patterns erroneously predicted by the graphologist who analyzed the
letters I wrote while I was a POW. I had ample opportunity to damn society and
curse my fate. But what good would that have done? To be sure, the Vietnamese
would not have released me simply because I felt sorry for myself. On the
contrary, they used every available means to make that happen. A despondent
prisoner was a prime candidate for Communist indoctrination.
My secret for enduring nearly six years of hell is really not a secret at all.
First and foremost, I had faith in an omniscient God, knowing that his will
would be done. I never doubted that I could persevere; I simply trusted God's
promise to answer my prayers.
I also loved my country, its people, and its freedoms. I realized that, because
of the human element, mistakes could be made. But in growing up I had discerned
that most of the people in this great land are honorable and compassionate. If
it had not been so, I would not have accepted the commission to protect these
Second, I had self-discipline. It would have been easier to avoid torture by
succumbing to the North Vietnamese interrogation. It would have been easier to
assume helplessness by blaming an evil world. I could have rationalized myself
into mental and physical paralysis. However, strict self-obedience gave me the
ability to persevere.
Finally, I had pride. I was proud to know an omnipotent God. I was proud of my
country and its heritage. I was proud of my family. I was proud of myself.
Faith, discipline, and pride - each of these nurtured the others. Combined, they
allowed me to endure.
I have joined the ranks of millions of Americans who have applied heroic
principles in overcoming hardships. Every day a disabled veteran steps away from
his wheelchair. Every day a life is resumed after a death in the family.
Friendships erase loneliness. Addicts throw away the crutch of alcohol or drugs
or obsessions. Every day someone discovers how to love life, no matter what the
obstacle. Every day someone sees the light at the end of the tunnel.
These ordinary Americans are not held in esteem as heroes, yet they have
suffered grave misfortune and have recovered just as I.
So you see, I'm no hero.
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Contact: Susan@CharliePlumb.com (818