Due to the Covid-19 pandemic The Moving Wall has been POSTPONED until August 2021. We will have updated dates and information at a later time.
Meetings in August
A message from our Chaplain:
On April 6, 1967, twenty year old Seaman Apprentice Douglas Hegdahl was knocked overboard into the Gulf of Tonkin from the concussive blast from the 5-inch gun mount of the USS Canberra. Three miles off the coast of North Vietnam, Hegdahl swam and floated until he was plucked from the water several hours later by a fishermen. The fisherman handed Hegdahl over to North Vietnamese military. They would beat him repeatedly with their rifles before moving him to the infamous Hanoi Hilton prison.
The interrogators believed Hegdahl was a commando or maybe a CIA agent. His story of being blown overboard seemed unbelievable to them, despite the fact, he was found three miles from land without any survival gear. Hegdahl decided if he pretended to be of low intelligence and non-threatening, his captors may go easy on him. Despite being physically maltreated for several days, he was finally able to convince his captors that he was of little value to them. When he told his interrogators that he grew up on a farm, they questioned him on how many water buffalo his father owned. When he revealed that his family had none, they concluded that his family was very poor, because in Vietnam, a farmer’s wealth was based on ownership of water buffalo; the more water buffalo the wealthier the farmer. Hegdahl’s act of being intellectually dull witted confirmed their assumption he was poor and uneducated. His non-threatening demeanor and willingness to answer questions convinced his captors he posed no threat to them and he may prove to be an useful pawn for propaganda.
When asked to write statements against the United States, he quickly agreed, which surprised and pleased his interrogators. When given paper and pen he pretended to be unable to read or write. This was believable to his Vietnamese captors, since many of the farmers in Vietnam were uneducated. Thinking they had someone who would be easy to manipulate, Hegdahl was provided an instructor to teach him how to read and write. Hegdahl also convinced his captors he needed glasses to read, when in reality he needed glasses to see distance. He was taken into the city of Hanoi to be fitted for glasses, where he memorized the main route out of the prison camp into the city. With new glasses, Hedgahl continued to give the impression that he desired to please his captors but was incapable of learning to read and write. Frustrating his captors, they finally gave up on trying to educate him. The interrogators and guards referred to Hegdahl as “The Incredibly Stupid One” and with his non-threatening demeanor he was given nearly free rein of the prison camp. It was very common for him to sweep and clean up around the camp and outside of other prisoners’ cells where information was secretly passed on. The guards seldom paid any attention to his daily activities. One afternoon, Hegdahl took advantage of this lack of attention. He quickly disabled five trucks by putting handfuls of dirt into the fuel tanks while the guards slept.
With the help of USAF Captain Joseph Crecca, another POW, Hegdahl memorized names, capture dates, method of capture, and personal information of about 256 other prisoners using the tune of “Old McDonald Had a Farm” to aid in this memorization. According to POW senior officer Lieutenant Commander Richard Stratton, Hegdahl is still able to repeat this information even after 50 plus years.
On August 5, 1969, as a propaganda move by the North Vietnamese, three POW’s were released, Douglas Hegdahl, Navy Lieutenant Robert Frishman and Air Force Captain Wesley Rumble. Even though the POW’s had agreed that none would accept early release, it was agreed that Hegdahl’s release should be an exception. Hegdahl was ordered by Stratton to accept early release so he could provide the names of fellow POW’s, conditions and torture inflicted upon the POW’s by the North Vietnamese.
After his release, Hegdahl was sent to the Paris Peace talks in 1970 where he confronted the North Vietnamese with his first hand accounts about torture, starvation and daily mistreatment of prisoners. He would also serve as an instructor at the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school in San Diego using his knowledge as a POW. He would be discharged from the Navy as a 2nd Class Petty Officer in 1970.
I share this story with you because it demonstrates how God has given us all different abilities. How we choose to use the gifts God has given us is up to each and every one of us. Let us reflect upon our individual gifts and ask ourselves are we using them fully the way God intended? If not, we are cheating not only God but ourselves as well. I urge all of us to do some introspective soul searching. If we do, maybe we may find a better version of who we can be.
Doug Thompson, Chaplain