Admiral Jim Stockdale was captured and became a prisoner-of-war in 1965, at the peak of the Vietnam War. He was the highest-ranking United States military officer at the “Hanoi Hilton.”
He was a prisoner-or-war for eight years.
He had no idea if he would ever see his family again. As the highest-ranking officer, he took on the responsibility of creating an atmosphere of survival among his fellow prisoners, and many would credit their survival to his remarkable leadership! His captors tortured him over 20 times.
“At one point, he beat himself with a stool and cut himself with a razor, deliberately disfiguring himself, so that he could not be put on videotape as an example of a “well-treated prisoner.” He exchanged secret intelligence information with his wife through their letters, knowing that discovery would mean more torture and perhaps death. He instituted rules that would help people to deal with torture (no one can resist torture indefinitely, so he created a step-wise system —after x minutes, you can say certain things—that gave the men milestones to survive toward). He instituted an elaborate internal communications system to reduce the sense of isolation that their captors tried to create, which used a five-by-five matrix of tap codes for alpha characters. (‘Tap-tap equals the letter a, tap-pause-tap-tap equals the letter b, tap-tap-pause-tap equals the letter f, and so forth, for twenty-five letters, c doubling in for k.) At one point, during an imposed silence, the prisoners mopped and swept the central yard using the code, swish-swashing out “We love you” to Stockdale, on the third anniversary of his being shot down. After his release, Stockdale became the first three-star officer in the history of the navy to wear both aviator wings and the Congressional Medal of Honor.”
Before Jim Collins had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with Jim Stockdale, he read the book “In Love and War,” written by Jim Stockdale and his wife, that shared their joint experiences over those 8 years.
Jim Collins and asked him a question that everyone one of us would like to know the answer to . . . .
“It just seemed so bleak—the uncertainty of his fate, the brutality of his captors, and so forth…how on earth did he deal with it…?”
“I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end. . . .”
As I read that, I, like you, was reminded of that truth as it relates to the Christian’s sure and certain hope in the end of the story!
The end of the story has all been written and revealed so that all of His people can repeatedly rest on that assured and confident end of the story.
Our confidence does not dismiss the realities of life. Pain, sickness, loss, devasting events of life, and worse are current realities for all of us at different levels and at different seasons of life.
But in the end, all of His children will get out safely, and the Scripture’s promised conclusion will prevail at the end!
As Jim Stockdale states . . .
“This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose —with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
One day, we will all be delivered, either through the doors of death or the coming of our Lord for His people . . .
. . . AND we all will prevail with Him in the end!
- pages 84-85 in “Good To Great,” by Jim Collins
- “In Love and War,” by Jim and Sybil Stockdale, Pgs 81, 138
Sybil Stockdale :
As Jim’s flying had become more and more dangerous through the years, I’d developed a strong personal relationship with God. I’d majored in religion at college, but the faith I’d worked out since was more closely related to sermons I’d heard as a girl in the little white Congregational church in Connecticut. One particular sermon stood out in my mind: It had pointed out that there came a time when you could proceed only by having total faith in God’s existence and love. My faith was simple but strong. I believed it was my responsibility to help myself in every way I could, and having done that, I’d have to rely on God for the rest. I’d had a difficult time resolving the coexistence of free will and determinism, but I felt comfortable with my resolution of the problem. I often talked to God in a very personal way. I asked God to take special care of the men involved in this ceremony. Their love of flying was so strong, it overcame their fears. I marveled at their faith in themselves and their aircraft.”
One Of Jim Stockdale’s Letter To His Wife:
“Please don’t worry too much about me. I’m holding up and doing OK. God has become my roommate and he’s taking care of me. Your views on determinism certainly apply to my situation when one considers the religious conviction I’ve realized “for God works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform”: I remember on our last day together last summer when you said “I just can’t believe God won’t send you back to me.” I see no reason to doubt that He will. Let us just pray that it’s soon. I hope that the many problems of running a big home and guiding a big family have not been overwhelming, Syb … I worry about you worrying too much with all of the responsibilities that have fallen on you, Syb. Please relax, have faith and just do your usual wonderful job. No more could be asked.
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