Friday, March 23, 2012

Profile 64: FINAL - "Kingfish One" as flown by Leo Thorsness



DONE!  And for a guy who normally loathes his own work, I'm surprised.  It's pretty good.

You might be interested to know that this very F-105F survived the Vietnam War, which, if you read the stats in a prior post, is a rare thing.  According to one statistician, an F-105 pilot in 1967 Vietnam had a 1:4 chance in completing his required tour of 100 missions.  One could say that "301" was fortunate to have made it.

However, I don't think the word "fortunate" could be used to describe what happened to Leo.  Barely a week and a half after the mission that would result in Leo's Medal of Honor,  he and Weapons Officer Harold Johnson experienced a dramatic shock. They were shot down and became Prisoners of War.

I've only talked to a handfull of pilots who have been POWs and every time, it's a gobsmack.  I. Cannot. Imagine.  And when it came time to talk to Leo about his time in captivity, I blanked.  Having just finished his biography the night before our first conversation (click here), I was at a loss for words.  It seemed in terrible taste to ask, "So, Leo.  Tell me again about being tortured."

Rehashing Leo's POW horrors do no good anyway.   It's common knowledge that people can be horrible - do the fine points really matter?!   Plus I had a finite amount of time with the guy. I wasn't going to waste it by dignifying depravity with attention.

Anyway...in the course of events, we got to the point of signing the prints of my artwork and he asked me if I would mind if he signed them with the words, "God bless you."

Well, of course not!  He could have signed them with his favorite potato salad recipe if he wanted.   But at first, I was a little uninspired at what appeared to be a hackneyed platitude.  Kind of like how most of us say, "Fine" after being asked how we're doing, regardless if we're truly "Fine" or not.  It's white noise, right?

Ok. Stop reading for a second and grab a pencil or pen.

(I'll wait)

Now look at the little picture below.  You've probably figured out it's the alphabet, missing the letter "K."   That's not important right now*.  It's actually a code key.  Got your pencil/pen ready?

Ok.  We're going to use the little graph to get a message from Leo.

Find the "G".   It's the second letter in the second row, second column.  So, take your pen/pencil and tap the edge of your desk twice.  "TAP TAP,"  then wait a moment and tap again.  "TAP TAP."  You just tapped out the letter "G."

Next, find the "B"  - first row, second column.   "TAP,"  wait a moment, "TAP TAP."

Now, find the "U" - fourth row, fifth column.  "TAP TAP TAP TAP,"  wait... "TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP."

What's it spell?  "GBU."

Now.  Imagine yourself in a small concrete cell, alone.  The air is dank, the floor is hard and the place reeks of human excretion.   There is no bed, there is no window.   The only people you've seen in the past year are those that inflict physical and mental pain.    "Tomorrow" means more of the same.  

And then, a series of rhythmic clicks hits your senses - maybe through your ears, maybe through the  concrete into your bruised skin.  It doesn't matter.  You know you're not...alone.

TAP TAP -  TAP TAP

TAP - TAP  TAP

TAP TAP TAP TAP -  TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP


TAP TAP - TAP TAP

TAP TAP TAP - TAP TAP TAP

GBU.  GN.

Or, as Leo knew - "God Bless U.  Good Night."

In spite of the hell they were in, the American POWs could still look beyond.  To me at least, that is Faith.

Amazing.  And it gets even more so because no one went into the infamous "Hanoi Hilton" (the nickname for the prison) knowing the POW tap-tap code.  It was taught - through the walls, without words, by others that were never seen.  And for those teachers of the tap-code? When they were caught, they were brutalized again.

Imagine it - to be in total want, and yet risk what little you have in order to stay true.

If this story impacted you like it did me, you've now been gobsmacked, too.

Today, we only have our allotted time.  There are forces that are going to conspire against our dreams, our will, our beliefs.   They come at us in the form of insurmountable odds, overwhelming circumstances or unshakable authority...

GBU, Leo.  I'm grateful for your example and hope to have learned from it.

TAP TAP TAP TAP - TAP TAP TAP TAP
TAP TAP - TAP TAP TAP
TAP- TAP
TAP TAP TAP - TAP TAP TAP
TAP - TAP TAP TAP*
TAP TAP TAP TAP - TAP TAP TAP


*The letter C stood for K in the POW code.