Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What are you reading, Bev Swanson?

A book I recently read is Surviving Hell: A POW's Journey by Leo Thorsness. This book is the first-hand account of life as a prisoner during the Vietnam War. Thorsness was an American fighter pilot who earned the Medal of Honor because of his actions in combat in 1967 while protecting other pilots who had been shot down. He didn't find out about the award for several years because only days after that mission, he was also shot down and spent the next 6 years in various prisons, including the infamous Hanoi Hilton.

A book with such an intense title and subject matter is not something that I would ordinarily pick up to read. I usually prefer something much lighter, but I was extremely interested in reading this book because the author, Leo Thorsness, is my aunt's brother-in-law. I have known of him and his family for most of my life and met him once many years ago. I remember my aunt and uncle being active in writing letters and promoting awareness of the mistreatment of the POW's during the war. It was at my aunt and uncle's home a year or so ago that I first saw the book and knew I wanted to get my own copy to read. After reading it, I wished that I would have done something back then, even just writing one letter, but I didn't.

Parts of Surviving Hell are not easy to read as the POW's were subjected to torture and horrific treatment. To say I "enjoyed" this book would not be the appropriate word. But, I was amazed and inspired by Leo and his fellow POW's and their determination and creativity in finding ways to survive their ordeal both mentally and physically.

One of the really amazing things was the "tap code" they developed to communicate with one another through walls. Another was when a group of POW's committed themselves to holding a brief church service on Sundays. As the senior ranking officer in the group began leading the Lord's Prayer that first Sunday, he was quickly dragged away and tortured. When the next ranking officer stepped up and began the Lord's Prayer, he too was dragged off and beaten, as were the 3rd, 4th, and 5th officers who followed. When the 6th officer stepped up to begin leading prayer, the guards gave up and allowed the service to continue that day and every Sunday after that. Wow.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the Vietnam War era, or if you are interested in reading about someone who endured through horrible circumstances, holding on to his faith and love for his family, friends, and country. I found it very interesting that Leo is able to say that in the 40 years now since his release, he's never had a really bad day.

I purchased Gayla Congdon's book, Disrupted, at her recent book signing, so that will probably be one I will read in the near future.

Bev Swanson is a Hope alumni from when it was still called Pacific Christian College. She has been working in the Registrar's Office since 1977. She mostly works with Contract Program Students and with processing Petitions to Graduate.

We'd love to know what you are reading. To join the fun, fill out the "What are you reading?" questionnaire and submit it by following the instructions included.

Surviving Hell: A POW's Journey by Leo Thorsness, Encounter Books, 2008.

This book can be purchased from AmazonBarnes & Noble, and Better World Books.

You may also find this book at your local library by searching

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