“All success is secular, all significance is spiritual. My goals in life changed after I was shot down and captured by the North Vietnamese just prior to my 40th birthday. It was on this day that Jesus Christ performed a miracle by sparing my life after ejection from my jet fighter at an extremely high speed. That day I became a Christian. My first 18 years of active duty in the US Air Force were spent attempting to achieve success in the secular world. Then, through my relationship with Christ, I realized that success was meaningless without having significance in life. Leadership by example became my motto as a military leader. My walk must equal my talk. I never gave an order without assuring that I could do it myself. After 26 years, I retired from the Air Force and formed a prison ministry. During the 15 years that I ministered to inmates, it was evident to me that unless I demonstrated a significance in my life, it was futile to expect to see a change in inmates’ lives.”
It was May 28, 1968. The air war in Vietnam had been going on for three-and-a half years. My mission was to lead a flight to destroy a bridge in North Vietnam. We both had an air to ground missile hung under each wing. It was a good assignment—literally no defenses, or so I thought. We were successful in destroying the target. This was my 87th mission, and with 1600 hours in the F-105, I was confident that I could hit any target. As we pulled off the target, an Air Controller requested that we hit an enemy convoy of trucks. Having a full load of 20 mm available, I jumped at the chance to destroy the trucks. My philosophy was that it was a waste of mission to engage a ground target unless I destroyed it. I believed in high speed and low altitude engagement in order to assure accuracy.
Locating the trucks, I rolled in doing approximately 500 knots, waiting until I was below 50 feet before I pulled the trigger and fired a long burst on the trucks. Then it happened—there were air defenses in the area. I heard and felt the explosion! My cockpit immediately filled with smoke. I hit the afterburner to gain valuable altitude, then pulled the canopy ejection handle to get rid of the smoke. I rocketed up to about 600 feet when my aircraft went into an uncontrollable roll. The problem was not only that I was no longer gaining altitude, but I was rapidly heading down. The situation was desperate. Ignoring ejection procedures and more by reflex, I pulled the ejection seat handle and squeezed the trigger. That’s the last thing I remembered until I regained consciousness just before hitting the ground. I realized that I was doomed for capture. My freedom was about to be lost to dozens of people racing toward me, yelling in an angry foreign tongue.
As I hit the ground, my first thought and reaction was to feel for broken bones. With 15 years of fighter aircraft experience, I was fully aware of the fact that there is very little chance of survival during an emergency ejection, at high speed and low altitude, without a multitude of in-juries and fractured bones. To my amazement, I had no broken bones or other injuries.
I had spent my entire 40 years of life regularly attending church, but I was not a Christian. With my knowledge of the Bible, I knew that Jesus Christ performed miracles and there was no doubt in my mind that this was a miracle. The Lord got my attention, so in the middle of this dried-up rice paddy with dozens of angry people getting ready to capture me, I prayed that Jesus Christ would take over my life.
I was captured immediately, but because of making the most important decision of my life, I survived almost five years of torture, starvation, and loneliness as a POW. Yes, it was the worst day of my life. I lost my freedom. However, it was also the best day of my life, because I gained new hope and the promise of eternal freedom in heaven!