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[Jacksonville POW/MIA Day 1998]

Everyone knows what it is to be lonely. To feel alone even in the midst of a crowd. To be alone.

Coach Coughlin turned control of the game over to his quarterback in the last two minutes of a game going down the tubes. Mark Brunell, surrounded by ten team mates and 70,000 roaring fans - alone.

The physician in his Davis Building consulting room must tell a patient that he is dying of cancer. Surrounded by the best and brightest of the Mayo Clinic - all alone.

Dr. Shumway in the operating room doing the first heart transplant supported by a myriad of doctors, nurses and technicians - yet all alone.

The mother giving birth to her child surrounded by doctors, nurses and staff with family in attendance - alone. The widow who has just lost her spouse of 50 years amidst 500 friends and associates - alone.

The widower, the orphan, the judge, the captain, the confessor, the astronaut, the point man in the platoon, the saint, the sinner - all of them surrounded by casts or thousands - alone.

All alone in accountability and responsibility. Just themselves with their strengths, their weaknesses, their conscience and their God.

I spent 2,251 days in a communist prison surrounded by a million of the enemy and three hundred fellow prisoners - yet all alone.

There comes a point when you are a long time prisoner of war, whether in isolation, solitary confinement, a multi-man cell or a barracks, no matter how many or how few your fellow prisoners, you realize that you are alone, terribly alone.

There is no other human being you can turn to, to assume responsibility. There is no one else to hold accountable. There is no one to relieve the watch. There is no one to take your place. There is no scheduled R&R. There is not liberty port in sight to break the OpTempo.

There is the stark realization that the Good Fairy is really dead. The Tooth Fairy cannot find your cell. Santa Claus has developed an early onset of Alzheimer's. The Easter Bunny is probably in the enemy's stew pot. The Prize Patrol lost your address. It is indeed raining upon your parade - acid rain.

It is just you against the enemy, the brutality, the weather, the disease, the starvation and the despair. Your prison shipmates have their own demons to wrestle. What you do have, for better or for worse is the reality of yourself as formed by your family, neighborhood, school and church.

You have your God without benefit of clergy - just you and Himself. You have your integrity should you choose to preserve it against the depredations of the enemy. And preserve it you must. Because, contrary to prevailing politically correct wisdom, you have reaffirmed in the crucible of adversity that character does count, that character is the core of your being. You have your hopes and dreams that transcend the ugly realities of the present moment. You answer to no other mortal. Your actions have no other motivation that you do them because they are the right thing to do.

Only you honestly know whether you measure up to the standards of your family name, your service and your country. There are no hot shot lawyers, expensive spin doctors, stacked polls and sycophantic advisors to help you do the Dance Macabre around the truth. It is just you and God.

When you have run the course and fought the good fight, when you have met the devil eyeball to eyeball, you return from the crucible a marked person - a person that no one else can truly understand.

You see the world from a unique vantage point as one who has died and returned to life. You have achieved a victory that others may have a glimmer of but only you truly know the implications of. Those who are combat veterans have a similar psyche. Those who have been to death's door, who have survived cancer and who have fled tyranny share this experience.

My young sons, without prompting, recognized this uniqueness of combat survival when they gave me a plaque for my desk shortly after my release from jail, which reads:


What is critical to a captive in his aloneness and solitude? It is the conviction that his country values his sacrifice and that of his family. That his country has not forgotten him. That his country will care for his family. That his country will make every reasonable effort to repatriate him or his remains. In return, the captive does his duty against all odds.

This is why the celebration of Veterans Day, Memorial Day, the 4th of July and VJ Day [Only in Rhode Island] are important to the troops and their families no matter where they are located. Such celebrations are tangible proof that the nation is aware and does care.

God Bless America.

August 9, 1998
Atlantic Beach FL