NOTE: This blog post originally appeared in June of 2008
Senator 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.