More than 40 people attended the Rotary Club of Richmond Hill’s weekly meeting at the Richmond Hill City Center on Thursday when a former Vietnam prisoner of war led the group in a message about integrity and values.
Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Barry Bridger shared his first-hand experiences of being a prisoner of war at the Vietnamese POW camp Hanoi Hilton in North Vietnam. He was captured after a plane he was piloting was shot down in 1967. He remained at the Hanoi Hilton POW camp until his repatriation in 1973.
Bridger said he and other prisoners of war made it through their tenure in the camp by keeping their spirits high.
“America’s Vietnam prisoners of war quickly learned that the desperate, crushing environment of a POW camp can destroy the mind and the body, but it cannot touch the values of a good heart and spirit,” he said.
He shared several experiences of being in solitary confinement and being held in a torture chamber. When asked about having a “breaking point,” Bridger said he and other prisoners of war were determined to never give up.
“Our culture was if you were taken to the torture chamber, you must remain in there as long as you possibly can to deny its use for a fellow POW,” he said. “So we prided ourselves on how long we could stay in the torture chamber.”
Not only did a strong spirit and determination play an important role, but also the mindset of the prisoners when they were captured was also a major factor of survival.
“You are what you value and you will take out what you took in,” he said. “If you, therefore, enter into a great period of tribulation focused on yourself, you are very likely to come out even more self-centered.
“On the other hand, if you enter into a period of great travail focused on ideas that are more meaningful — ideas such as your fate, your family, friends, service to others and doing something that you cherish that is truly worth remembering — you will come out with a deeper and more profound commitment to these enduring life principles.”
Read more in the Sept. 29 edition of the News.