Courtney Hendrix, Kyle Stevens, & Kaylee Thieme
As we journey to Halong Bay on the east coast of Vietnam, we cannot help but reminisce on yesterday’s events at the Hao Lo Prison, nicknamed Hanoi Hilton by American POWs. Col. John Clark, cellmate of Col. Tom Moe, spent nearly six years as a prisoner of war, including four years at the Hanoi Hilton. As we toured yesterday, Clark explained how the prisoners persevered through the atrocities of their daily lives. The prisoners developed relationships that helped them to endure the physical and mental hardships of captivity. This sense of unity served as a source of energy and stamina that gave them strength – a brotherhood that continues today.
The relationships between the POWs were uniquely strong because they all shared common beliefs, goals, and means of achieving those goals. When the then Captain Clark arrived at the Hilton, he was placed in solitary confinement. After months of torture, Clark heard a tapping noise on his wall. Over the next few days, the POW in the adjacent cell began to teach him the intricate tapping communication system developed by the POWs already living there. This would be the way that they would communicate orders from senior ranking officers, but most importantly, messages of encouragement and hope.
In November, 1970 the US attempted to rescue POWs in a daring raid on Son Tay. Although the camp had been abandoned and POWs moved to Hanoi, the raid served as a source of hope and encouragement to Captain Clark. With an increased population, the POWs were placed in rooms with up to 60 other prisoners, rather than being in solitary confinement. This enabled them to hold church services, reenact movies, and teach classes to one another. These activities helped them to pass the time, but also allowed them time for fellowship and enjoyment in the midst of harsh circumstances.
A source of encouragement at home was an organization called Voices in Vital America. When an American soldier was taken captive or reported missing in action, this group would create bracelets that had the soldier’s name and date they were captured. People would wear these bracelets until the prisoner was released and came home. Following their release, Clark and Moe received these bracelets from people who wore them while they were prisoners. Last night, our veterans presented us with these bracelets as a reminder of the sacrifice made by not only them, but many others who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Today, we ventured to Halong Bay in the Gulf of Tonkin for an overnight cruise on a luxury junk boat. We travelled several miles before stopping for an excursion into Bright Cave via kayak and bamboo rowboat. Surrounded by thousands of limestone mountains, Clark and Moe were once again united in fellowship and brotherhood here in Vietnam – this time with enjoyment and relaxation.
It has been our pleasure to accompany Col. John Clark on this trip and to learn firsthand his experiences and heroism as a Vietnam Veteran. We are truly blessed and honored for the opportunity to know him and now consider him not only a friend, but family. Today we learned that the Vietnamese word for brotherhood is thoi anh em. Now we truly understand what the word brotherhood means. Thank you, Col. John Clark.
Courtney, Kyle, & Kaylee
Postscript: This post was delayed due to the lack of wifi in the Gulf of Tonkin. But we are back on dry land and headed to Hue!