Surviving Hell: A POW'S Journey by Leo Thorsness
On April 19, 1967, Leo Thorsness was on a mission over North Vietnam when his wingman was shot down by an enemy MiG that then lined up for a gunnery pass on the two American pilots who had bailed out. Although his F-105 was not designed for aerial combat, Thorsness immediately engaged the enemy aircraft and destroyed it. When Thorsness spotted four more MiGs, he fought his way through a barrage of North Vietnamese SAMs to engage them too, shooting down one more and driving the others off.
For this action, Leo Thorsness was awarded the Medal of Honor. But he didn't learn about it until years later-and then only by a "tap code" coming through prison walls-because on April 30 Thorsness himself was shot down, captured, and transported to the Hanoi Hilton.
Surviving Hell is Thorsness's account of a six-year captivity marked by hours of brutal torture and days of agonizing boredom. He tells how he and the other pilots kept their humanity through sheer resilience and resourcefulness. Figuring that he was 10,000 miles from his wife and daughter, for instance, Thorsness decided to spend his days "walking home" from Hanoi by pacing several miles a day in his tiny cell. When he was thrown into solitary confinement for refusing to bow down to his captors, Thorsness disciplined his mind by memorizing long passages of poetry other prisoners sent him by tap code.
Filled with hope and humor, Surviving Hell is an eloquent chronicle of resistance and survival. No other book about American POWs has described so well the strategies these remarkable men used in their daily effort to maintain their humanity. By refusing to be stripped of their basic dignity, POWs continued to wage war against the enemy even during the darkest moments of their long captivity.