COLUMN: Veteran told about his experiences in Hanoi Hilton
Published 7:30 am Sunday, November 12, 2023
Howard Rutledge wrote a book in which he told about his plane being shot down over Vietnam. He parachuted into a little village, where he was attacked, stripped naked, and imprisoned.
For the next seven years, he endured brutal treatment, sometimes shackled in excruciating positions and left for days in his own waste. Rats the size of cats crawled around his cell. In addition to the story about his ordeal, he shared a powerful testimony as to the importance of Scripture.
With the sights, smells, and sounds of death all around him, Rutledge wanted to know about the part of himself that will never die. In solitary confinement, there was no minister or Bible for answers to the spiritual matters of life he had neglected for a long time.
Rutledge thought back to his Sunday School days in Tulsa, Oklahoma and tried desperately to recall snatches of Scripture, sermons, and hymns of his childhood. The first three dozen songs came relatively easy, but he struggled to recall other songs.
One night during a huge thunderstorm, a bolt of lightning knocked out the lights. In the dark prison, he laid down to sleep listening to waves of rain falling. Suddenly, he began humming his thirty-seventh song, “Showers of blessings, Showers of blessings we need! Mercy drops round us are falling, but for the showers we plead.”
Howard Rutledge and fellow POW’s, like Harry Jenkins in a nearby cell, strived to rediscover their faith. They would often use priceless seconds of communication to help each other recall Scripture verses and Bible stories.
Rutledge wrote, “Everyone knew the Lord’s Prayer and the Twenty-third Psalm,” but the camp’s favorite verse, the one that prisoners recalled first and quoted most often, was John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave……”
He described how much time he spent trying to remember what he heard growing up in Sunday School and was amazed at what he did recall. Looking back, he realized the importance of memorizing verses from the Bible.
“I never dreamed that I would spend almost seven years (five in solitary confinement) in a prison in North Vietnam or that thinking about one memorized verse could make the whole day bearable,” he relates.
One portion of a verse he did remember was “Thy word have I hid in my heart” (Psalm 119:11). He regretted not hiding more of God’s Word in his heart.
Howard Rutledge recalls how he would put his mind to work and accomplish certain tasks. Every day, he would wake up early, exercise, and clean up as best he could. Then he’d have a time of devotional prayer and meditation.
He goes on to say, “I would pray, hum hymns silently, quote Scripture, and think about what that verse meant to me…the enemy knew that the best way to break a man’s resistance was to crush his spirit in a lonely cell.” The former POW states, “Scripture and hymns might be boring to some, but it was the way we conquered our enemy and overcame the power of death around us.”
— Jan White has compiled a collection of her columns in her book, “Everyday Faith for Daily Life.”