Colonel Norman McDaniel, U.S. Air Force (Ret.)


“Who am I? Why am I here? How should I live? Correct answers to these questions and a personal, positive response to them is the key to a successful and significant life.

First, I realize that I am a creation of the One, True, Almighty, and Everlasting God: the God of the Universe, and the Father of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I realize that through Christ, I have a personal, living relationship with God that is everlasting.

Second, I realize that my purpose in this mortal life is to establish and strengthen a personal relationship with God and to fulfill the unique purpose for which He created me.

Third, I should live by nurturing a right relationship with God, by being a minister of His (in helping the poor, needy, sick, suffering, and those who do not know Him or have not accepted Him), and by doing whatever I do and all that I do to His glory. Also, I should live by giving my devotion and energy (in the following priority) to God, family, country, others, and self while sincerely trusting in the Holy Spirit to maintain the right balance and the right emphasis at the right time.

I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior 15 years before I was shot down over North Vietnam and captured in 1966 during the Vietnam War. I spent almost seven years as a POW. During those long, endless years of torture, deprivation, and uncertainty, I was no stranger to God. I prayed, trusted in Him, drew closer to Him during those trying, perilous times, and He sustained me.

My sincere advice to every person is found in the Bible, in Proverbs 3:5-6 which says, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.”

I am persuaded that becoming aware of one’s sinful condition, ac-cepting Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, and then trusting in the Lord each day is the key to real and lasting significance!”

The key to a meaningful life is knowing who you are, how you fit in the universe, and how to successfully meet the challenges of life. Those who are aware of this key and use it effectively are truly blessed. I learned early in life to operationalize Matthew 6:33, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” Part of the operationalization is to be a man or woman of your word.

As an American POW in North Vietnam during the Vietnam War, I was tested many times on keeping faith in my country. During the winter of 1967, after being a POW for more than 1-1/2 years, that faith was severely tested.

I was taken from my cell to an interrogation room. This interrogation was different from most of the previous ones. Usually it consisted of questions, threats, and torture, but never before the NVN POW Camp Commander. On this day, sitting beside the Camp Commander were his Chief Propaganda Officer and another lesser ranking military officer. The initial part of the interrogation was extremely friendly with the Camp Commander asking (through an interpreter) about my health and treatment. He proceeded to explain that the war was very tough for everyone with many people on both sides dying and being killed, it could last for many years and become much worse for me, and that I might never see my family again. When asked what I thought of his statement, I just acknowledged that I might never see my family again. Then he made an offer. He said, “But as for you, if you will help us, we will help you. We can arrange for you to leave this prison camp and live in a neutral country, and your family can join you there. In that way, you can stay alive and be with your family again. All you have to do is write some letters, make some tapes, and make some appearances to help us win this war.”

From a personal, selfish perspective, the offer was tempting. I could stay alive, I would not be tortured or worried about whether I’d live through the next moment, and I would be with my family again. However, from a professional, military warrior’s perspective, the offer was a non-starter. In taking the oath as an Officer of the United States Air Force, I had sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and that I would bear true faith and allegiance to the same. I was also committed to the U.S. Fighting Man’s Code (Code of Conduct) that states in Article III, “I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.”

The way the Vietnam War was going in 1967 with no end in sight, not accepting the Camp Commander’s offer could have resulted in my dying (or being killed) while a prisoner and never seeing my family again. However, some things are worth dying for. For me, as an American POW in NVN, one of the things worth dying for was keeping faith with my country and fellow prisoners. This meant not collaborating with, aiding, or abetting the enemy to the extent that it would cause grave harm or death of my fellow prisoners, or cause me to return to my country feeling like, or being viewed as, a traitor. My answer to the Prison Camp Commander was, “I cannot accept your offer.”

Some key guidance for a meaningful life is found in Psalms 15:4, “He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.” This verse highlights the importance of being a man or woman of your word. That statement bears directly on integrity, loyalty, trust, and character.

As a POW I had an oath to keep, a Code of Conduct to follow, and a God to whom I must ultimately give an account for my life. Today, the last part of the previous sentence is still operative. If you haven’t done so, I highly recommend that you also make it an operational part of your life.