It's About Them

Young People … Our Greatest Resource

A Few Thoughts on Courage and Patriotism (Dr. James Sutton)

Since John McCain passed away last Saturday, I’ve been wanting to share my thoughts of my respect for him, but really couldn’t put them into words. I’m still struggling with it, I suppose.

Especially as a Vietnam vet, I was always moved by what he and the other POWs went through during their captivity in Hanoi for all those years. But it took on new meaning to me when Bobbie and I became friends with retired Navy Captain Jerry Coffee. We met as members of the National Speakers Association.

Jerry was a POW in the Hanoi Hilton for seven years and nine days. His book on that experience (“Beyond Survival,” published by Putnam), and what he learned from it, was a real eye-opener. Jerry has shared his story from the platform, but, more than that, his message always became personal to everyone in the audience. As he shared many, many times, “We all face adversity at some point; how we handle it matters.”

While in prison in North Vietnam, the POWs followed the chain of command. This was strongly against prison rules, so the senior officers had to be discrete while setting policy and issuing orders. Because of their seniority, these men were set aside for additional punishment.

One of them was Brigadier General Robbie Risner, the most senior POW at the Hanoi Hilton. He was a celebrated hero and top ace in Korea; he had been featured on the cover of Time magazine. That bought him a lot of pain and misery in prison, including ten months of solitary confinement in complete and total darkness. (He later said he held on to his sanity by exercising.)

The highest ranking naval officer was Vice Admiral James Stockdale. He and his wife, Sybil, wrote a book about their experiences at the time, “In Love and War.” It was made into a movie; James Woods played Stockdale.

Stockdale set a model for resistance. On one occasion, when told he would be interviewed by a film crew the next morning, he beat his face with a wooden stool until he was so disfigured he could not be used for that propaganda film. In defiance of the severe and sometimes fatal torture POWs were receiving, he inflicted a near-mortal wound on himself. He was revived by the enemy before he bled to death, but he had made his point. Things weren’t exactly easy for POWs after that, but the treatment of prisoners did improve. Stockdale ultimately was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Gerald Ford. Fitting.

I realize that, in all his years of service, McCain’s five and a half years in captivity were but a small part of what he stood for and accomplished. But I do believe experiences like those five and a half years can serve to help us discern who we are and guide us to a purpose that can live long after we are gone.

August 28, 2018 Posted by | adversity, Communication, Compassion, courage, family, Human Interest, Inspirational, patriotism, Resilience, Self-esteem, veterans | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thanks FROM a Veteran

It seemed to me that the recognition of and for active duty military and veterans this year was extra strong and extra special. As a vet myself, it was wonderful to experience. In fact, I just got back from Chili’s, where they were feeding lunch to a whole bunch of vets today. Wonderful.

I’m a Vietnam vet, and it’s becoming increasingly more clear to me that we are the OLD guys (and gals), now that so many of our WWII and Korea vets are no longer with us. When I do training now, and especially when I train school folks, most of the audience wasn’t even born when I was in the service.

When President Johnson stepped up the war in Vietnam in the late 60s, the draft was on, big-time. I joined so as to have at least a little choice, knowing my “number” was coming. I went into the Navy and, on balance, it was four years I think back on with pride. Because I tested out well in boot camp, I was able to get into the Naval Security Group, a branch of the Navy that handled extremely sensitive communication. It’s a very small part of the Navy.

This put me on two separate trips to Vietnam in 1969-70 in support of our marine counterparts With the Third Marine Amphibious Force (Camp Horn), near DaNang. I knew these guys; we had trained together in Pensacola, Florida. Because part of our duty was to call in firepower on the enemy, it was their job to try to knock us out of business. They wanted to kill us, and they certainly tried. I can remember clearly still wondering if the next incoming rocket was going to have my name on it. Fortunately, I made it through alright, with just a few close calls. Since then, I haven’t been able to come even close to the feeling of fellowship I experienced with those marines, and I’ve never felt, before or since, the sensation of absolutely KNOWING that what I was doing was signifcant because it saved many, many American lives.

As some of you might know, Vietnam vets were spat upon and ridiculed when they returned, as if they were somehow involved in the politics of it all. I remember all that. But today, I’m deeply humbled and appreciative.

Thanks again, from a veteran. May God bless you all.

 

Petty Officer 2nd Class James D. Sutton, USN (1966-1970)

November 11, 2011 Posted by | Inspirational, patriotism, Special Occasions | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Two Vietnam Vets: A Moment of Pride

I just came back from Mobile, Alabama, where I trained about 70 educators, counselors and administrators in skills of working with difficult students.

During one point of the presentation, I used a participant to demonstrate a method of communication with a student. His name was Bill; he was an assistant principal at an elementary school in the area.

To make a long story short, Bill loves to sail in Mobile Bay. He shared how, when he was discharged from the military he had been so impacted by what he had experienced in Vietnam that he decided to get away from everything and everyone for awhile. So he sailed around the world … several times.

I casually asked him his branch of service in Vietnam.

“I was Army, 101st Airborne,” he said.

I offered him my hand. “First Marines.” (I was Navy, but I lived and worked with the marines of the First Radio Battalion in DaNang.)

I think Bill and I were both surprised by what happened next. The participants began to applaud.

I know I was touched. How so different that response was to my Vietnam service than the one I often got when I first returned home. Truth is, we were often spat upon, called “baby killers,” and were considered something less than a human being. We were encouraged NOT to mention that we were Vietnam veterans or to wear our uniforms.

The applause from that group was neither anticipated nor expected, but it was certainly appreciated.

James Sutton, Psychologist  www.docspeak.com

March 8, 2008 Posted by | adversity, family, Inspirational, Self-esteem | , , , , , | Leave a comment