A Leading with Honor FAQ: “When you look at some of the stamina that developed in the camp from you and others who had to endure a lot of hardship, what was your mental outlook that kept you focused and hopeful?”
I think some of that is my personality and a lot of if was the leadership around me. I tend to be a positive person and have never been a worrier, which has been a blessing. I did worry some in those early months in not knowing what was going to happen. My initial thought was, if I can make it six months, President Johnson will have to win this war to get re-elected. And he is a politician so he will end the war and we will be home by the summer of 1968 and I will make the Mexico Olympics. Well he tricked me and decided not to run. So we sat there and after six months, I said I could make it one more year. After that I said I could make it two more years and I did, but it was more like three and a half.
You have to keep setting goals where you can mentally and emotionally handle it. Then you set another goal and meet that goal and pretty soon you are walking yourself one day at a time into the future and toward a goal. We also had personal development goals. For instance, I learned differential calculus with a piece of broken red roof tile writing on a concrete floor in the corner of the room. A fellow who majored in math from the Naval Academy taught me differential calculus. Then I memorized Spanish words sitting and walking around the cell and started speaking Spanish every day and when I came home I was pretty fluent in Spanish.
We did those kinds of things to keep us busy. I learned to stay occupied and move toward some goals. We also had these great leaders who really made a difference and they were positive also. Leaders give people hope in difficult situations and they gave us hope and built a culture around the belief that we would someday go back home. We had to do our duty and we were going to have to suffer, but in the end we were going to be victorious and walk out of there and go home. They built the culture and set the example. We had no reason not to believe that we weren’t going to go home at some point.
Read more FAQs in this section of the Leading with Honor website.