A Tale of Prayer and Survival – Part 1

Posted by on Nov 13, 2013 in Military Prayer | Comments Off on A Tale of Prayer and Survival – Part 1

Just a couple generations ago Americans fought a long and arduous battle in a country half way around the world.  Brigadier General Robinson “Robbie” Risner was one of the few to return from Vietnam to tell his story of prayer and survival.  At that time Risner was a Lt. Colonel and a senior ranking officer, who was held and tortured for seven and a half years in the infamous Hanoi Hilton, a North Vietnamese prison for American POW’s.  Senior officers, who rotated commands as they were moved in and out of solitary confinement or singled out for torture, remember reciting The Lord’s Prayer to bring courage to 47 POWs whose total days in captivity totaled 108,116 days.  In those dark and terrifying times rotting away thousands of miles from home,  Risner recounted in his book about their decision to conduct unit worship and prayer services in defiance of the communist North Vietnamese, another military institution like the Air Force hostile to prayer.  To Risner and most other POWs there was little doubt of the absolute military necessity of leader-led unit prayer to their survival as an American military unit:

I could not have existed if I had not been able to pray.  To be able to mention in prayer the names of my wife, children, friends or relatives, or one of my fellow POWs who I knew was being tortured or mistreated, brought us together.  The thousands of miles, the walls of my cell, the guards, were all transcended by this dimension of communication. 

The Commanders at the Hanoi Hilton knew that the unit would need total participation to bolster morale and to resist their captors.  Since there were a few agnostics, the unit agreed to make the service both patriotic and religious.  The Code of Conduct, written for POWs, would be tested in a very matter-of-fact course of action —“I will trust in my God and the United States of America.”  Along with the decision to pray, there had to be planning for the eminent possibility of severe life and death consequences to this simple display of loyalty to God and country by men who remembered that America’s national motto is “In God We Trust:” Despite blunt threats of reprisal, Risner reported:

[A] decision was made that we would have church service regardless of the consequences.  The next task was to predict what the Vietnamese reaction would be, as well as develop some contingency responses on our part.  We thought we knew how the Vietnamese operated, and we expected to have some losses.[1] 

[1] Colonel Robinson Risner.  The Passing of the Night.  My Seven Years As a Prisoner of the North Vietnamese.  New York:  Random House, 1973, p. 217.

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