In honor of Memorial Day, a very patriotic businessman we know sent all of his clients a letter that shared this story from John McCain. I had heard it before, but it never fails to move me.
As you may know, I spent five-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. In the early years of our imprisonment, the NVA kept us in solitary confinement or two or three to a cell. In 1971, the NVA moved us from these conditions of isolation into large rooms with as many as 30 to 40 men in a room. This was, as you can imagine, a wonderful change and was a direct result of the efforts of millions of Americans on behalf of a few hundred POWs 10,000 miles from home.
One of the men who moved into my room was a young man named Mike Christian.
Mike came from a small town near Selma, Alabama. He didn’t wear a pair of shoes until he was 13 years old. At 17, he enlisted in the US Navy. He later earned a commission by going to Offi-cer Training School. Then he became a Naval Flight Officer and was shot down and captured in 1967. Mike had a keen and deep appreciation of the opportunities this country—and our mili-tary—provide for people who want to work and want to succeed.
As part of the change in treatment, the Vietnamese allowed some prisoners to receive packages from home. In some of these packages were handkerchiefs, scarves, and other items of clothing. Mike got himself a bamboo needle. Over a period of a couple of months, he created an American flag and sewed it into the inside of his shirt.
Every afternoon, before we had a bowl of soup, we would hang Mike’s shirt on the wall of the cell and say the Pledge of Allegiance. I know the Pledge of Allegiance may not seem the most important part of our day now, but I can assure you that in that stark cell it was indeed an impor-tant and meaningful event.
One day the Vietnamese searched our cell, as they did periodically, discovered Mike’s shirt with the flag sewn inside, and removed it. That evening they returned, opened the door of the cell, and for the benefit of us all, beat Mike Christian severely for the next couple of hours. Then they opened the door of the cell and threw him in. We cleaned him up as well as we could.
The cell in which we lived had a concrete slab in the middle on which we slept. Four na-ked light bulbs hung in each corner of the room. After the excitement died down, I looked in the corner of the room, and sitting there beneath one of those dim light bulbs with a piece of red cloth, another shirt, and his bamboo needle, was my friend, Mike Christian. He was sitting there with his eyes almost shut from the beating he had received, making another American flag.
He was not making the flag because it made Mike Christian feel better. He was making that flag because he knew how important it was to us to be able to pledge allegiance to our flag and our country.
So the next time you say the Pledge of Allegiance, you must never forget the sacrifice and courage of thousands of Americans to build our nation and promote freedom around the world. You must remember our duty, our honor, and our country.
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands—one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
If I, or you, were going to be beaten for displaying our country’s flag, would we be brave enough to do it anyway? I hope so.
But today we remember and honor those who fought and died for our freedom so that we might never have to find out.