Captain James Mulligan, U.S. Navy (Ret.)


“I learned the importance of all human companionship while kept in solitary confinement for more than three-and-one-half years. I could re-member nothing bad about anyone I had ever known and would have given anything to have just one of them with me.

In my life the word commitment is the operative word for all those things I believe in: marriage, family, God, country, etc. You make a com-mitment to what you believe in, and you stand by that commitment.

The word persistence is my guideline to reach goals and objectives. Be persistent and never, ever give up, and eventually you will achieve what you are seeking. Remember that with God all things are possible! So learn to pray!

I was a POW for seven years in North Vietnam. During that period, I spent more than 42 months in solitary confinement, in a closet with three walls and a door. This experience left me with time to think about who I was and what I really believed in. I asked myself many questions, among them, “What are my real religious beliefs? What is my civic responsibility in American society?” I also asked, “What is important in becoming a good American? What should every American child learn in order to be-come a good citizen, and where should they obtain this information?”

After much reflection, I concluded that the United States is the product of western civilization and Judeo-Christian traditions, molded by the Age of Enlightenment. At that point I decided that if we were going to teach our children to be good Americans, we would have to do the fol-lowing:
1. Our children need to read, study, understand, and live by the Ten Commandments.
2. Our children also need to read, study, understand, and live by the principles taught in the message from the Sermon on the Mount.
3. Our children need to read, study, understand, and live by the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights.

The rules of behavior set for us in these documents are the foundation of our democratic republic. Collectively, they signify what American citizens are all about. If all of us follow what they prescribe, we will never confuse true freedom with crass permissiveness.

Further, I believe that these concepts apply equally to Americans of all religions, races, colors, and nationalities. These concepts, these tenets, are the glue that holds all of us together in this great American experiment. They are what make us one nation under God, allowing us to experience liberty and justice for all.

Our children must understand that the freedoms we enjoy as American citizens were never freely given but were obtained with blood, sweat, tears, pain, and loss of life. They have to understand that for every right and every privilege they enjoy, they have a corresponding obligation and duty.

Every generation of Americans must understand that our democratic republic and representative government is a fragile system, and it must be nurtured and the founding principles have to be respected. Without any of these we are doomed to return to either tyranny or anarchical slavery, and the noble experiment will have failed. The choice falls upon every American. There is a burden to carry and every citizen must share it equally.”

In May of 1968, the summer heat was terrible. I was in a cell in the part of Hanoi Hilton that we called Alcatraz. My cell was terribly, terribly hot. I would estimate the temperature to be around 130 degrees. I was so hot and so miserable that it was very difficult to even breathe. To get fresh air, I would get down on the floor and try to suck air from below the door.

The sun would come up and beat down on the door of my cell. Covering my door was a large iron plate, and that iron plate would be-come terribly hot to the point where I felt like I was going out of my mind because of the heat. I couldn’t eat anything; I couldn’t sleep. I was dying because of the oppressive heat and finally got to the point where I couldn’t stand it anymore. It was night and I began to pray, “Lord, Lord, you’ve got to do something. You’ve got to help me. You’ve got to do something, I can’t stand it. I’m at the end…I can’t go on anymore.” I was begging for mercy, and I heard this faint rumble off in the distance, and all of a sudden, another rumble and then some loud rumbles, followed by tremendous thunder and lightning. A massive thunderstorm came in and inundated the camp with water. Lightning was crackling all over the place, and the water came up so high, that it came under the door of my cell and it cooled off the cell. I said to myself, “You know, when you get back…you’re going to say, ‘that was just a cold front going through.’” But deep in my heart, I knew it was the good Lord answering my prayers. At the very moment, when I couldn’t take it any longer, God answered my prayer. I believe it is one of life’s spiritual lessons that I learned in Hanoi. The Lord lets you get to a point where you have to call on and depend only on Him. Then He throws you a lifeline when you least expect it and probably when you need it the most. It’s then that you are willing to acknowledge God, and you realize the importance of the spiritual aspect of life.