Remembering a couple of war heroes who died over Christmas

We got the news yesterday that two war heroes of the past died over the holidays.

First, we heard about Edwin A. Shuman:

"As Christmas 1970 approached, 43 American prisoners of war in a large holding cell at the North Vietnamese camp known as the Hanoi Hilton sought to hold a brief church service. Their guards stopped them, and so the seeds of rebellion were planted. 

A few days later, Lt. Cmdr. Edwin A. Shuman III, a downed Navy pilot, orchestrated the resistance, knowing he would be the first to face the consequences: a beating in a torture cell. 

"Ned stepped forward and said, 'Are we really committed to having church Sunday? I want to know person by person,' " a fellow prisoner, Leo K. Thorsness, recounted in a memoir. "He went around the cell pointing to each of us individually," Mr. Thorsness continued. "When the 42nd man said yes, it was unanimous. At that instant, Ned knew he would end up in the torture cells."  

The following Sunday, Commander Shuman, who died on Dec. 3 at 82, stepped forward to lead a prayer session and was quickly hustled away by guards. The next four ranking officers did the same, and they, too, were taken away to be beaten. Meanwhile, as Mr. Thorsness told it, "the guards were now hitting P.O.W.s with gun butts and the cell was in chaos."  

And then, he remembered, the sixth-ranking senior officer began, "Gentlemen, the Lord's Prayer."  

"And this time," he added, "we finished it."  

The guards had yielded.  

Everett Alvarez Jr., who was the first American pilot captured in the Vietnam War when his Navy plane was shot down in 1964, said in an interview that the defiance Commander Shuman engineered was emulated by senior officers in other large holding cells.  

"It was contagious," said Mr. Alvarez, who was in another cell during the first prayer service. "By the time it got to the fourth or fifth cell," he said, the guards "gave up." He said the prisoners were also singing patriotic songs.   Commander Shuman remained incarcerated at the Hanoi Hilton for more than two more years. But by then the prisoners' right to collective prayer had been established.  

"From that Sunday on until we came home, we held a church service," Mr. Thorsness, an Air Force pilot and recipient of the Medal of Honor for heroics on a mission in 1967, wrote in his memoir, "Surviving Hell: A POW's Journey" (2008). "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."

The other "war hero" was Rodolfo Hernandez of California:

"Mr. Hernandez was an Army corporal trying to hold a hill in May 1951 when his platoon was overwhelmed by attackers accompanied by heavy mortar, artillery and machine gun fire.   

Corporal Hernandez had already been struck by grenade fragments and was bleeding heavily from a head wound when his commanding officer ordered his platoon to fall back. He continued firing until his rifle malfunctioned, then threw six grenades and charged at the opposing foxholes.  

"I took my rifle and fixed the bayonet," he was quoted as saying in "Beyond Glory: Medal of Honor Heroes in Their Own Words," by Larry Smith, "and then I yelled, 'Here I come!' "  

He managed to kill six attackers before falling unconscious from grenade, bullet and bayonet wounds. His action allowed his unit to retake the hill.   Corporal Hernandez was so badly wounded that his comrades initially took him for dead. They were placing him in a body bag when someone noticed movement in his hands, said his wife, Denzil. His injuries were so extensive that he had to relearn how to walk, how to speak and how to write with his left hand (his right arm was permanently damaged).  

By the time Corporal Hernandez received the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman in the White House Rose Garden on April 12, 1952, he was able to speak a few words."

We say thank you for your service.   Also, we remind the younger readers that Mr Shuman and Mr Hernandez served in unpopular wars. 

Most of the country was back here arguing about Vietnam when Mr Shuman was defying the Hanoi Hilton guards. 

Korea was also very unpopular and most of its heroes largely forgotten, as Clay Blair wrote a few years ago.

Again, thanks for their service and courage. 

P. S. You can hear CANTO TALK here & follow me on Twitter @ scantojr.

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