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Porter Halyburton -- Forgiving the Hanoi Hilton

Halyburton.jpgSenator John McCain was taken prisoner in Vietnam after his Navy plane was shot down over Hanoi on October 26, 1967.  Almost exactly two years before on October 17, Lieutenant Porter Halyburton was shot down just north of that city.  If there are other parallels between the two veterans, Halyburton is shy to talk about them.  He attended the Navy’s Third Medical Battalion’s reunion in Charleston, SC which is where we recorded his story. The others attending that event were curious to know about any experience he may have had with the Presidential candidate – and if he had an opinion on waterboarding and other interrogation tactics being used in Iraq, Guantanamo, and well, wherever the detainees are being held. He was very diplomatic in his answers.  On the subject of waterboarding, he said that he had never experienced it himself so he could not say whether he thought it was torture.

Marty Halyburton, Porter’s wife, also spoke at the reunion. No, she didn’t get remarried after she learned her husband had been shot down. Yes, they are still together. She thought she was a widow at the age of 23. When she found out he was alive, a prisoner of war, it was December 1968 and she expected the war would be over by Easter 1969. In 1972, while still a prisoner of war, he wrote a poem about her and his daughter.  You can read that below.

I think what touched me most about Porter Halyburton was the wisdom he expressed in forgiving the North Vietnamese.  He said he would have been trading one prison (i.e., the Hanoi Hilton) for another (the hatred in his head).  Nelson Mandela did the same after being imprisoned for 27 years – he forgave the very men who had held him captive.

Read more about Halyburton and his book, Two Souls Indivisible: The Friendship That Saved Two POWs in Vietnam here:  




“The Three of Us”


Yesterday on meeting you

Hoping without knowing you

Knowing without asking you

Loving without telling you.


The young and misty two of us

Sharing each the best of us

Accepting, too, the worst of us

And we so good for both of us.


And as for me, the faulty one

The wild and hungry, needy one

To spend my life in search of one

And finding you, the perfect one.


And so we shared our pastel days,

Our soft and glowing, magic days

And you with child within those days

And then our few but perfect days.


Now two of you to wait for me

To love, to hope, to pray for me

And I still feel you, part of me

Though you and she so far from me.


The future still so bright for us

For you, for me, for three of us

And she, the best of three of us

Will fill the lives of both of us.


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Reader Comments (7)

I listened to CMDR. Halyburton on The Bob Edwards Show on my way to work yesterday. What ever problems I might have been trying to solve or deal with in my life pale in comparison to the ordeal CMDR. Halyburton went through in Viet Nam. I am the beneficiary of freedom of thought and action becuase of men as the CMDR. who served their country and suffered in the most egregious ways.

Thank you sir.

June 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDarby Hand

I am often moved by interviews on Bob's show, but never like this interview with CMDR Halyburton. So eloquently he expressed the nature of forgiveness and the power it can have. Kudos to Bob for a great interview.

June 20, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjoyce

I had the privilege of hearing Commander Porter Halyburton speak last year at Andersonville National Historic Site's annual POW Symposium. It was an honor to hear he and Col. Fred Cherry speak of their experiences as POWs in Vietnam. God bless you for your testimony!

July 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMLM

I too happened to hear Porter Halyburton's interview on the Bob Edwards show. I was quite moved. I was in the middle of the Bering Sea at the time, listening to XM radio and thinking about my son, who was heading off to college soon. I wrote my son a letter after hearing this interview and quoted Mr. Halyburton: "It is the quality of your choices that determine the quality of your life".
A very moving and profound person!

October 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMike Reardon

As a child in 1972 I wore your name on a POW/MIA bracelet and watched tv as you came home I still remember as if it were yesterday.

October 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChristine Harris

I also had and still have your POW bracelet. I have read the book "Two Souls Indivisble" and have read many of your recountings. Thank you is all I can say.

November 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDebbie Rohlwing

I served with Porter at the Naval War College. He was a true gentleman, and though we chatted often, he rarely spoke about his time as a POW. He had a model airplane in his office with all the markings of the F-4 he ejected from over enemy country. I'd see him from time-to-time in the passageway in Luce Hall. One morning when I came to work, I noticed that his small pick-up truck was parked in its usual space, but the back end was quite low to the ground. I went inside and asked him about it.

He replied that he had received orders, but the movers would not move his "picnic table", so he put it in his truck and was going to have to move it himself.

His "picnic table" was his gravestone that his family had prepared since he was originally listed as KIA, not POW. Porter's sense of humor and remarkable poise after his release allowed him (without remorse) to make a table out of his own tombstone! We talked about his experience, then, in his office, and he said words to this effect, "John, when I was released, I realized what was important in life. My wife never failed me . . . didn't run off and remarry, even though I was listed as KIA. Now I realize that my mortgage, my career in the Navy, the cold weather . . . none of that matters one bit. What matters is my family and the joys of life."

When I walked back to my office, my knees were weak and my eyes were moist. Here was a man of honor, bravery, maturity and courage. I knew then what I wanted to be like in my life: Porter Halyburton.

January 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn S. Kistler

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