Barry Bridger speaks to the Wyakin Warriors
How can a man make you feel so insignificant, yet inspired all at the same time? Ask Barry Bridger. Or rather, ask any of the people who listened to him tonight as part of the Wyakin Warrior professional development seminar, and they will tell you.
By relating an experience so horrible and frightening that it is almost impossible to understand, then explaining how he made it through.
Lt. Col. (ret) Barry Bridger is a fighter pilot. In 1967 his F-4 Phantom was hit by a surface-to-air missile, and he was taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese. He spent the next six years in various POW camps, including the infamous Hanoi Hilton.
By looking at him now, you wouldn’t know it. At 72, he still has the build of a fighter jock. Speaking to an audience of around a hundred people tonight, he looked like he could have out-muscled anyone in the room. His energy and delivery electrified the listeners as he told his tale.
He talked about torture, and beatings and interrogations. He told of the gallows humor that American servicemen share in their darkest moments.
But then he told us what got him through.
It was the others.
He said that whatever inner strength the POWs could muster came with them when they arrived. It couldn’t be created or grown in the miserable conditions under which they lived. It came from the character and moral fortitude that was passed on by those who came before – parents, the church, and the patriots who long ago established the codes of honor by which all servicemembers live.
And it came by helping others who were in worse shape. The tight brotherhood that was formed during imprisonment inspired the Americans to sacrifice their own safety for the good of the whole. He told of daring techniques used by the POWs to communicate and buoy each other’s spirits, even at the risk of facing terrible consequences if they were caught.
When it got the worst, each man clung to one final resort to resist the temptation to give up.
It was honor.
Each man held on to personal honor as the final rung. Each knew that the others were counting on him to resist, knowing that by doing so he was most certainly inviting excruciating pain or death. But the dignity of holding on for the benefit of the rest brought its own strength.
For today’s young veterans the challenges are different, but no less daunting. For those in the Wyakin Warrior program, physical injuries bring pain, frustration and a temptation to wish them away. But they also offer an opportunity to find the inner strength to set new goals and work to achieve them, not unlike the brave men who confronted their own demons head on over four decades ago.
In the Wyakin Warrior program, they can find strength through brotherhood – and sisterhood – too. Tonight, after the lecture, several of them talked about helping others in the program get through the rough spots in their lives.
They get it.
Barry Bridger does too.
Lt. Col. Barry Bridger, fighter pilot, former POW and an incredible speaker, is our hero of the week.