Brig. Gen. James Sehorn shares his story in Columbia

Thursday, November 15, 2012 | 11:29 p.m. CST; updated 3:53 p.m. CST, Sunday, November 25, 2012
Retired Brigadier Gen. James Sehorn speaks Thursday at the Hearnes Center about his five-year POW experience in North Vietnam. The event was sponsored by Midway Locust Grove United Methodist Youth Group, Veterans United and Midway USA.

COLUMBIA — Brig. Gen. James Sehorn had the best banana split of his life at the Clark Airbase Hospital in the Philippines after he was released from 63 months of captivity in North Vietnam.

In front of a few hundred people gathered at the Hearnes Center on Thursday night, Sehorn talked about "the best tour I ever served and, in parentheses, the one I would least like to repeat." He was brought to Columbia by sponsors including Midway Locust Grove United Methodist Church youth group, Veterans United Home Loans and Midway USA.

Sehorn spent five years as a P.O.W. in Hoa Lo Prison, or as the inmates called it, the 'Hanoi Hilton', after his plane was shot down in North Vietnam in 1967. He stayed in the prison, infamous for torture practices, until his release on March 14, 1973, according to his biography.

While in captivity, Sehorn refused to give information to his captors even after being injured so badly that he couldn't move his arms below the elbow and his legs below the knee. When they asked the names of his superiors, he told them Babe Ruth and Willie Mays.

"What they wanted was not intel; what they wanted was to break the will to resist," Sehorn said. "To make you do something you didn't want to do."

He recalled seriously considering suicide after feeling like he had disgraced his country by revealing the men in his squadron, a question to which his captors already knew the answer.

After three months of solitary confinement, he got down on his knees on the cold concrete of his rat and cockroach-infested cell and prayed for honor and dignity. He felt calm and peace.

He looked to his faith to get him through, but he felt a kinship with the other inmates.

"We had always hoped that if we were sent home, they would have the decency to send home those that were shot down first," Sehorn said.

It was a good sign that the people who had been there the longest were going home first, Sehorn said. Finally, after five years in prison, Sehorn was released.

"It was my privilege to serve, and to serve with others that feel the same way," Sehorn said.

Sehorn takes a group of teens every year on a mission trip to expose the youth to the underprivileged. On one such trip, he told his story to about 100 teens. He spoke for an hour and a half and no one moved a muscle, said Tim Rost, youth group leader of Midway Locust Grove United Methodist Church. The teens were so moved that they found sponsors and brought Sehorn to Columbia to share the story with the members of Thursday's audience.

Supervising editor is Simina Mistreanu.

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