"THESE COLORS DON'T RUN..."
You've probably seen the bumper sticker somewhere along the road. It depicts an American Flag, accompanied
by the words "These colors don't run." I'm always glad to see this, because it reminds me of an incident
from my confinement in North Vietnam at the Hao Lo POW Camp, or the "Hanoi Hilton," as it became known.Condensed from a speech by Leo K. Thorsness, recipient of The Congressional Medal of
Then a Major in the U.S. Air Force, I had been captured and imprisoned from 1967-1973. Our treatment had
been frequently brutal. After three years, however, the beatings and torture became less frequent. During
the last year, we were allowed outside most days for a couple of minutes to bathe. We showered by drawing
water from a concrete tank with a homemade bucket.
One day as we all stood by the tank, stripped of our clothes, a young Naval pilot named Mike Christian
found the remnants of a handkerchief in a gutter that ran under the prison wall. Mike managed to sneak the
grimy rag into our cell and began fashioning it into a flag.
Over time we all loaned him a little soap, and he spent days cleaning the material. We helped by scrounging
and stealing bits and pieces of anything he could use.
At night, under his mosquito net, Mike worked on the flag. He made red and blue from ground-up roof tiles
and tiny amounts of ink and painted the colors onto the cloth with watery rice glue. Using thread from his
own blanket and a homemade bamboo needle, he sewed on the stars.
Early in the morning a few days later, when the guards were not alert, he whispered loudly from the back of
our cell, "Hey gang, look here." He proudly held up this tattered piece of cloth, waving it as if in a
breeze. If you used your imagination, you could tell it was supposed to be an American flag.
When he raised that smudgy fabric, we automatically stood straight and saluted, our chests puffing out, and
more than a few eyes had tears.
About once a week the guards would strip us, run us outside and go through our clothing. During one of those
shakedowns, they found Mike's flag. We all knew what would happen. That night they came for him.
Night interrogations were always the worst. They opened the cell door and pulled Mike out. We could hear
the beginning of the torture before they even had him in the torture cell. They beat him most of the night.
About daylight they pushed what was left of him back through the cell door. He was badly broken; even his
voice was gone. Within two weeks, despite the danger, Mike scrounged another piece of cloth and began
another flag. The Stars and Stripes, our national symbol, was worth the sacrifice to him.
Now whenever I see the flag, I think of Mike and the morning he first waved that tattered emblem of a nation.
It was then, thousands of miles from home in a lonely prison cell, that he showed us what it is to be truly