|Lt. Cmd. Edwin Shuman III|
(Lt. Cmdr. Edwin “Ned” Shuman III died at age 82 on December 3, 2013. The New York Times had his obituary.)
It was Christmas 1970. Shuman plus 42 American soldiers were being held as prisoners or war in the notorious Hanoi Hilton in North Viet Nam. The prisoners wanted to hold a church service, but their guards stopped them, “and so the seeds of rebellion were planted.”
Shuman orchestrated the rebellion. He knew he would be the first to face the consequences. For leading his companions in prayer he was beaten in a torture cell.
After the beating Shuman asked the soldiers: “Are we really committed to having church Sunday?” Fellow prisoner Leo Thorsness writes: “He went around the cell pointing to each of us individually. When the 42nd man said yes, it was unanimous. At that instant, Ned knew he would end up in the torture cells.”
On the next Sunday Shuman stepped forward to lead the prisoners in prayer. The guards quickly removed him along with the next four ranking officers. “The guards were now hitting P.O.W.’s with gun butts and the cell was in chaos.” Then the sixth-ranking senior officer began, “Gentlemen, the Lord’s Prayer.” This time, they finished it. The guards had yielded.
Everett Alvarez Jr. was the first American pilot captured in the Vietnam War when his Navy plane was shot down in 1964. Shuman’s defiance and refusal “was contagious,” said Mr. Alvarez, who was in another cell during the first prayer service. “By the time it got to the fourth or fifth cell,” he said, the guards “gave up.” He said the prisoners were also singing patriotic songs.”
Shuman was held at the Hanoi Hilton for two more years. Thorsness, an Air Force pilot and Medal of Honor recipient, wrote in his memoir:
“From that Sunday on until we came home, we held a church service. We won. They lost. Forty-two men in prison pajamas followed Ned’s lead. I know I will never see a better example of pure raw leadership or ever pray with a better sense of the meaning of the words.” (From Thorsness’s Surviving Hell: A POW’s Journey,” 2008).
During his time in the prison camp Shumann "spent 17 months in solitary confinement. On one occasion, when he violated regulations, he was beaten for hours with a whip."
"Commander Shuman was freed in March 1973 as part of a mass release of remaining P.O.W.’s. He retired from the Navy as a captain 11 years later. His commendations included the Silver Star for his resistance to brutal treatment.
He returned to North Vietnam in 1991 as part of a three-week humanitarian medical mission, mainly out of curiosity about what had become of it.
“I didn’t view this as a healing process,” he told The Baltimore Sun on returning. “I never had a nightmare.”
He said that he liked the Vietnamese people, whom he found to be hardworking."
On his experience Shuman said, “I have often compared ocean racing in bad weather with being a prisoner of war, an environment with which, unfortunately, I have some experience. Harsh conditions, cramped quarters, bad food and diverse personalities. Instead of the guards beating on you, mother nature takes over.
You can’t get out so you make the best of it. It’s a character-builder.”
Nothing can stop you from praying today.
I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
- Jesus, in Matthew 16:18