Commentary

EDITOR’S CORNER

You won’t see this act of bravery in a movie
Mike Brown

Even though the scene I’m about to relate would be dramatic, riveting and emotional in a movie or on television, you’re not going to see it there.

They just don’t do things like that. It’s not in the direction most people who make films and television shows want to lead.

Which is precisely why I’d like you to be aware of it.

The source for this story is pretty impeccable, by the way. It comes from the New York Times.

I don’t know anything about Edwin A. Shuman III—known as “Ned” to his friends—who lived in Maryland.

Mr. Shuman, or that would actually be Navy Lieutenant Commander Shuman, died last month at age 82.

His obituary in the Times tells me all I need to know about him.

He was born in Boston Oct. 7, 1931, the son of a marine architect/ U. S. Naval officer.


Ned Shuman 1931-2013 Ned Shuman 1931-2013 Ned loved the water. He began sailing when he was five.

Graduating the U. S. Naval Academy, and commissioned, in 1954, he began his Navy career. Thirteen years later he was sent to Vietnam. On his 18th mission, about a year later, Ned was shot down just north of Hanoi. He and his bombardier navigator were captured.

At that time American prisoners of war were being held in small camps. But as the war went on the prisoners were transferred into larger and larger prisons.

Finally, many of them—including Ned Shuman—were taken to the Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi, a huge cavernous, rambling, structure that was promptly christened the “Hanoi Hilton” by its prisoners.

It was there, well into his second year of captivity, Ned and his fellow prisoners did something at the same time amazingly simple and heart-rendingly brave.


Art by Navtaj Dhaliwal, a senior at Rockdale High School. Art by Navtaj Dhaliwal, a senior at Rockdale High School. They prayed. A nd went to “church.” It was Christmas time, 1970, and the prisoners wanted to have a church service. Their captors stopped them with threats they would be beaten if they attempted to do so.

But then, as related by fellow POW Leo Thorsness, the ranking officer of the 42 men in the large cell, stepped before them.

It was, of course, Ned. “Are we really committed to having church services this Sunday?” he asked. “I want to know person by person.”

Ned went around the cell, looking every prisoner in the eye and asking that question. All 42 answered in the affirmative.

“At that instant Ned knew he would end up in the torture cells,” Thorsness wrote.

Shuman stepped forward to lead The Lord’s Prayer. The guards came in and whisked him away to be tortured.

Silence. Then the next ranking officer stepped up and began the prayer. He, too, was taken away to be tortured.

Then the third-ranking officer, then the fourth stepped up and at tempted to lead the POWs in prayer. Same endings. “ The gua rds were now hitting prisoners with gun butts and the cell was in chaos,” Thorsn ess wrote. The fifth-ranki ng officer tried to begin the prayer. He joined his four fellow officers in the torture cells.

Then the sixth-ranking officer stepped forward. “Our Father, who art in heaven....”

“This time, we got to finish it,” Thorsness recalled.

Other cells had joined in the prayer. “ It was contagious,” POW Everett Alvarez, who was in another cell, recalled. By the time the guards got to the fourth or fifth cell they simply gave up.

“Every Sunday from then on we had a church service,” Thorsness recalled. “ We won, they lost. Forty-two men in prison pajamas followed Ned’s lead. I know I will never see a better example of pure, raw leadership or ever pray with a better sense of the meaning of the words.”

Ned was in prison two more years, came home in a 1973 prisoner exchange. He raised a family, sailed, even went back to Vietnam in 1991 to deliver humanitarian aid.

Ned said he liked the Vietnamese people.

During a sailing race a storm struck. Fifteen sailors died but Ned led his boat, and crew, to safety. He later said the experience reminded him of being in the Hanoi Hilton.

“ You can’t get out,” he said. “So you make the best of it. It’s a character builder.”

Indeed. RIP Lt. Cmdr. Ned Shuman. And thank you. mike@rockdalereporter.com


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