As you may know, I spent five and one
half years as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. In the
early years of our imprisonment, the NVA kept us in solitary
confinement or two or three to a cell.
In 1971 the NVA moved us from these conditions
of isolation into large rooms with as many as 30 to 40 men to
a room. This was, as you can imagine, a wonderful change and
was a direct result of the efforts of millions of Americans
on behalf of a few hundred POWs 10,000 miles from home.
One of the men who moved into my room
was a young man named Mike Christian.
Mike came from a small town near Selma,
Alabama. He didn't wear a pair of shoes until he was 13-years
old. At 17, he enlisted in the US Navy. He later earned a commission
by going to Officer Training School.
Then he became a Naval Flight Officer
and was shot down and captured in 1967. Mike had a keen and
deep appreciation of the opportunities this country and our
military provide for people who want to work and want to succeed.
As part of the change in treatment, the Vietnamese allowed some
prisoners to receive packages from home.
In some of these packages were handkerchiefs,
scarves, and other items of clothing. Mike got himself a bamboo
needle. Over a period of a couple of months, he created an American
flag and sewed on the inside of his shirt. Every afternoon,
before we had a bowl of soup, we would hang Mike's shirt on
the wall of the cell and say the Pledge
of Allegiance. I know the Pledge
of Allegiance may not seem the most important part
of our day now, but I can assure you that in that stark cell
it was indeed the most important and meaningful event.
One day the Vietnamese searched our cell,
as they did periodically, and discovered Mike's shirt with the
flag sewn inside and removed it. That evening they returned,
opened the door of the cell, and for the benefit of all of us
beat Mike Christian severely for the next couple of hours.
Then, they opened the door of the cell
and threw him in.
We cleaned him up as well as we could.
The cell in which we lived had a concrete slab in the middle
on which we slept. Four naked light bulbs hung in each corner
of the room. As I said, we tried to clean up Mike as well as
we could. After the excitement died down, I looked in the corner
of the room, and sitting there beneath that dim light bulb with
a piece of red cloth, another shirt and his bamboo needle, was
my friend, Mike Christian.
He was sitting there with his eyes almost
shut from the beating he had received, making another American
flag. He was not making the flag because it made Mike Christian
feel better. He was making that flag because he knew how important
it was to us to be able to Pledge our allegiance to our flag
So the next time you say the Pledge
of Allegiance, you must never forget the sacrifice
and courage that thousands of Americans have made to build our
nation and promote freedom around the world.
You must remember our duty, our honor,
and our country.
pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America
and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under
God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
I thought you might like to know what
happened to this patriot:
Additional facts on Lieutenant Commander
Michael Christian, U.S. Navy (Retired) Purdue University Class
of 1964, Lieutenant Commander Christian, includes that he enlisted
in the Navy in 1955 and served as an aviation electronics technician.
He was accepted into the Navy Enlisted Scientific Education
Program in 1959. He entered Purdue University in 1960 and earned
a B.S. in Electrical Engineering in 1964.
Upon commissioning, he served on the
USS Dahlgren (DLG-12) until his flight training began. He attended
naval flight officer training and after receiving his "Wings
of Gold" was assigned to Attack Squadron
85 at Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia, serving as a bombardier/navigator
in the A-6 Intruder.
While deployed with VA-85 on USS Kitty
Hawk (CV-63) to the Gulf of Ton-kin,
he was shot down April 24, 1967. He was captured and held prisoner
until his release on March 4, 1973. He was a POW for almost
six years at various camps, including the Hao Lo POW Camp, which
was better known as the Hanoi Hilton.
Upon his return, Lieutenant Commander
Christian attended Old Dominion University where he received
a Master of Science degree. He retired on February 1, 1978,
following a tour at Naval Air Station, Oceana, Virginia.
He died in a tragic accident on Sept.