Faith as a Survival Skill – “Scars and Stripes” by Eugene McDaniel

Checklists are effective tools. The military, especially the aviation community, is known to have used them extensively. The points below, taken from “Scars and Stripes,” can be used as a practical survival checklist.

“Scars and Stripes”, written by Navy Captain Eugene “Red” McDaniel, vividly describes the six-year period of captivity (1967-1973) during which Captain McDaniel, and his peers, endured torture and depravity in the Hoa Lo Prison, also known as the “Hanoi Hilton.” This is the same facility that held Vice Admiral James Stockdale (see The Stockdale Paradox.)

On the morning of May 19th, 1967, Captain McDaniel enjoyed breakfast aboard the USS Enterprise before flying the day’s mission in his A-6A Intruder. He wrote that he left 1/2 of an omelete uneaten that morning, an oversight that would haunt him continually during the next six years of hunger and abuse.

Captain McDaniel was a leader, organizer, and communicator during captivity, roles that prompted the Prison Staff to torture and isolate him. From the time his aircraft was shot down and throughout captivity, he used a number of techniques to manage the unusual and inhumane stresses placed upon him.

  1. As an athlete, sports analogies helped Captain McDaniel to cope. He was accustomed to perseverance during adversity in athletic events, and often used the “I will win, my opponent will lose,” concept as a coping mechanism.
  2. As circumstances grew increasingly dire, Captain McDaniel prayed more and more often for help, with prayer being an escalating mechanism relative to his sports analogies. At times, the athletic mentality could not help him to overcome his suffering, while prayer was more powerful.
  3. In his self-described “darkest hour,” a period of severe torture, Captain McDaniel began to doubt that even prayer would help him. His physical pain was so dramatic that he occasionally lost consciousness. During this dark time, Captain McDaniel recounts that something miraculous came to him, unexpectedly, in a moment of hopelessness and surrender. In his own words, he started to see and feel, “God in all things.” He described the feeling as being more powerful than prayer, almost as if it were a state of constant, intense prayer. Certainly it aided him more than his sports analogies. After reaching this point, Captain McDaniel wrote that he was able to experience his new, tangible Faith in all Camp relationships, especially those with his fellow prisoners but also with his captors.

Points one through three above explain my simplified interpretation of the primary message of “Scars and Stripes.” Captain Red McDaniel utilized Faith as a survival skill during these times and the book, along with this “3-point checklist,” are recommended reading for any survival bookshelf.

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