Written in 1975, Norman A. McDanel’s “Yet Another Voice” was his catharsis at making sense of his experiences of enduring seven years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. Honor Bound: American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia, 1961-1973 Although he endured severe physical and mental torture meted out by sadistic captors, e.g. Ho Chi Minh’s cruelest jailers, McDaniel went to great lengths within the pages of this book to explain how his unshakeable faith in God and his acceptance of the Holy Scripture’s promises prepared him to endure an ordeal that many of his fellow P.O.W’s caved in under. This same creed embedded in McDaniel’s belief system continued to sustain him in what McDaniel insisted was equally critical and in some respects more trying, which was his reacclimation and readjustment to his normal life, his wife and children and life in general in a democratic society after being released during “Operation Homecoming” on February 12, 1973.
Within the pages of this book McDaniel explains to the reader how during his incarceration (1966 to 1973) when life seemed bleak and hopeless, he acquired coping strategies that preserved his sanity. Altogether, he spent 2,399 days in captivity. McDaniel believed that he couldn’t keep what he had unless he gave it away. On that note, he inculcated his beliefs to his fellow suffering P.O.W’s, thus strengthening each other’s faith. This knowledge of the Lord, McDaniel maintains, can be applied to anyone’s situation, no matter how trying. While not necessarily as dramatic as being a P.O.W., McDaniel teaches the reader how valuable early religious training and knowledge of the Bible’s messages of hope can be when one is in a precarious, life or death situation.
Norman McDaniel was born in Cumberland County, North Carolina, in 1937. Going through the ROTC program at North Carolina A & T University and receiving his bachelor’s degree in engineering, he was commissioned in the U.S. Air Force in 1959. With stops in Texas and Mississippi, he learned electronic warfare, combat crew training on a B-52 bomber as well as how to be a sub-systems manager on a F-111 fighter. Shortly after America’s role in the Vietnam War escalated in March of 1966, McDaniel began flying combat missions on a Douglas EB-66C “Skywarrior” as an Electronic Warfare Officer. McDaniel’s unit was part of the 41st Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron flying out of Takhli Royal Thi Air Force Base in Thailand. McDaniel morbidly remarks that the bad joke before departing was as follows: “We probably won’t get back from this one, so I’ll say goodbye now, Nice knowing you, Mac. This exchange had become a normal occurrence during our walks to the airplane on our previous 10 or 15 combat missions, and the comments were directed primarily to me. I’d say, “You guys shouldn’t joke like that. What would you be saying if you really believed that we wouldn’t get back from this mission? There would be smiles and chuckles, and one of them would be quick to answer, “we do believe it, no kidding.”[ASIN:0618273484 Two Souls Indivisible: The Friendship That Saved Two POWs in Vietnam]]
McDaniel should never have flown on July 20, 1966. His crew was the “back up crew” to the one assigned to that particular combat support mission on that fateful day. However, as McDaniel ruefully recorded in his book: As the time arrived to start the engines, the primary crew notified us that they were having engine problems. As take-off time approached, with the other crew’s malfunctioning engine still not corrected, it became apparent that the mission would be ours”.
McDaniel should never have flown on July 20, 1966. His crew was the “back up crew” to the one assigned to that particular combat support mission on that fateful day. However, as McDaniel ruefully recorded in his book: As the time arrived to start the engines, the primary crew notified us that they were having engine problems. As take-off time approached, with the other crew’s malfunctioning engine still not corrected, it became apparent that the mission would be ours”. Scars and Stripes It is frightening to read McDaniel’s account of what happened next. During the mission, while encountering heavy North Vietnamese ground anti-aircraft fire, McDaniel recorded the following: “We began to turn, and after completing about three-fourths of it, there was a “whump” sound and a violent vibration of the airplane similar to that experienced when you hit an air pocket or two. I thought momentarily that we were getting the plane under control again when it assumed the level position. But that illusion was quickly dispelled as I discovered that our crew compartment had lost pressurization, oxygen, interphone, altitude, and airspeed indications and was being filled with smoke and fumes. With the loss of these systems, we were really in trouble”. Why Didn’t You Get Me Out?: A POW’s Nightmare in Vietnam
Although each crew member had to decide for himself whether or not to eject, McDaniel, with a wife and two children, decided the following: “The situation inside the plane seemed desperate. Trying to assess the situation and feeling any delay on my part would further jeopardize the lives of the other men in my compartment, I quickly decided to eject. For about 16 hours afterward I kept wondering if I had jumped the gun and overreacted in leaving the plane at a time when in was not lethally damaged'” In hindsight, McDaniel made the right decision, as only two parachutes were seen to eject from the aircraft, after which it descended, crashed and disintegrated. Five Years to Freedom: The True Story of a Vietnam POW As it turned out, the crew and technicians all became P.O.W’s, which included Capt. Lawrence Barbay, Capt. Glendon W. Perkins, McDaniel, Capt. William H. Means Jr. and Lt. Edward L. Hubbard. One other crew member, Craig R. Norbert remained “Missing In Action.” For 24 years, the Vietnamese denied any knowledge of the fate of Norbert, despite the fact that the U.S. believed he was captured and died in captivity. On January 18, 1978, the “Department of the Air Force declared Norbert dead, based on lack of information that he was still alive.
McDaniel wrote with great detail how he was convinced that his captors would execute him shortly after his capture. Before he was finally taken to the infamous “Hanoi Hilton'” McDaniel wrote a scene that was to be duplicated in many instances for the slightest infraction in this Communist inferno. The Passing of the Night: My Seven Years as a Prisoner of the North Vietnamese Prior to arriving at the “Hanoi Hilton,” McDaniel explained as he was questioned by his captors the following: “When I refused to give more than my name, rank, service number, and date of birth, I was threatened that I’d be forced to talk. When I didn’t respond positively to their threats, I was pushed, shoved around, and harassed. When I still refused to talk, I was beaten and questioned again. That was the sequence, which was repeated a couple of times. The beatings becoming more progressively painful each time. At one point a rope was rigged across the rafters of the hut, and I was told that if I didn’t answer their questions, I’d be hanged. I thought they were serious and I was prepared to go to the limit. The rope was placed around my neck, and the two guards began to pull the opposite ends as the interrogator asked questions. Each time I refused to answer or made no reply to the questions, the rope was tightened. As my toes could barely touch the floor, I began to lose consciousness. But evidently the interrogator decided the hanging technique would not produce the desired results. He ordered the guards to undue the rope and beat me again. That beating was the most painful yet.”
McDaniel never told his wife, Jean, that he was flying combat missions over North Vietnam for two reasons. Return with Honor One was because he didn’t want her to worry too much. The other was because of official military classified restrictions. So therefore he felt the news of his loss would be even more shocking than if she had been aware of McDaniel’s exposure to danger. In fact, it would be years until Jean McDaniel even found out her husband was in fact a P.O.W. When Hell was in Session However, throughout this heartfelt story of survival against all odds, McDaniel prayed to the Almighty Father for his survival, to see him through, and to give comfort to his wife to endure his loss and for her take care of their children as a single parent. Every time McDaniel faced a beating, or suffered severe depression, or counseled a fellow P.O.W, one particular verse came to mind that continually produced sustenance and comfort. McDaniel elaborates: “I had memorized a verse of Scripture that I quoted whenever I was faced with a difficult problem. It was certainly a comfort and reassurance to me during those initial days of incarceration. The passage, I Corinthians 10:13, says, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”
McDaniel does an excellent job of describing conditions of the different North Vietnamese P.O.W. camps and it’s various conditions. With names like the “Zoo, Heartbreak Hotel, Hanoi Hilton and Little Alcatraz,” which McDaniel insisted topped them all off as where the most horrible torture of some U.S. P.O.W.’s occurred. The first camp was called the “Zoo” because McDaniel felt captured P.O.W.’s were on display like at a zoo and the North Vietnamese acted like animals. Colorful names were given to the North Vietnamese jailers based on the way the guard appeared or acted. Examples were “Fang,” “Dumb-Dumb,” “Sadistic”, and “Searcher.” P.O.W’s learned to communicate with each other in covert ways, like tapping on a wall in a given pattern to communicate the alphabet. McDaniel profited from his childhood religious training by teaching his fellow inmates helpful and comforting Bible verses.
After a point in his captivity, the North Vietnamese allowed McDaniel and his fellow flyers to worship together, despite being in different cells. Ultimately, towards the end of his 2,3099 days of incarceration, they were permitted to hold services while temporarily given copies of Bibles, although this was done under strict observance by the North Vietnamese prison guards. McDaniel insisted that these vital moments of religious communion was instrumental in keeping their faith alive in eventually attaining their release and freedom. While President Nixon ordered the infamous “Christmas Bombings” of Hanoi, in December, 1972, many of McDaniel’s fellow P.O.W’s wondered if they would be killed in these hellish American bombing raids as the “Paris Peace Talks” dragged on in France.
However, McDaniel knew that the end of the war was coming. Prison food vastly improved. P.O.W’s were allowed to freely congregate. He wrote about a change in the prison guard’s attitudes toward the inmates. McDaniel asserted; “With the North Vietnamese ports blockaded and the bombings very intense, the guards and interrogators tried to conceal their hatred, but the pressure was showing on them as their short tempers, threats, and harassment became the expected thing again. The camp personnel were like robots. When they were ordered by higher-ups to be pleasant, they were, for the most part, agreeable. When told to be hateful, they switched roles. Just one short meeting or conversation with the proper authority could turn them on or off. It was comical to watch some of the naturally vicious guards trying to be pleasant-they were such obvious phonies. Most of them seemed to have been well programmed for sadism.”
However, as the war dragged on, and hope among the P.O.W’s waned, McDaniel noted that his fellow flyers openly expressed doubt of God’s compassion and goodness, ceased to participate in the P.O.W. worship services and began to be pessimistic of ever being released. To combat this, McDaniel had the following to say to these men that insisted that if God was real and loving, he would not allow them to suffer so much deprivation of life. McDaniel would give “sermonettes” telling his fellow P.O.W’s the following: 1) “God has his own way and time to answer all of our prayers; 2) We must have faith that he knows what is best for us. 3)We should look for good in the midst of trials and hardships, and most importantly 4) Our Lord did not promise to protect us from the problems of life, but he did promise to overcome them. Some of the doubting men accepted these points and received renewed strength, but a few just couldn’t reconcile themselves to feeling that God was taking care of them when they were languishing in prison while their loved ones needed them or in some cases were deserting them at home”.
Just prior to the announcement of the end of the Vietnam War, where American involvement officially ended on January 27, 1973, McDaniel tackled with the same issues as to whether he would ever go home, and if he did, would his wife be waiting for him. He concluded with this assertion: “It was necessary for me to reconcile myself to the possibility that it might not be God’s will that I return home in this lifetime, and many of my prayers were that he would bless and care for my family if this was, in fact, his will. I think that believing in God and having faith in him to the extent that you feel that he is still with you and will take care of you come what may in life or death, is the key to overcoming the fears, worries and insecurities that life in the flesh presents.” I found McDaniel’s passage here applicable to many of the trials and tribulations everybody at some juncture of their life faces, whether it is job change, death in the family, divorce, etc. After the Hero’s Welcome: A Pow Wife’s Story of the Battle Against a New Enemy
However, McDaniel did not end this brief, but very powerful 114 page book with his release from North Vietnam and his return to his family in the U.S. When freedom came, McDaniel found that he needed God more than when he was captive in North Vietnam. Finding difficulties in reintegrating himself back in a fast-moving society that had radically altered while McDaniel languished in a P.O.W. camp for seven years was daunting. Would he be able to discipline his children that grew up with an “absent father”? Would the love from his wife still be there? Was she faithful in his absence? Would she admit to infidelity, if it occurred? Becoming part of a family that had become adjusted to living without him was intimidating and challenging. McDaniel had other less subtle challenges. Adjusting to driving, money, clothing styles and acquiring and using personal belongings gave McDaniel what he referred to as “information overload.” However, with the help of the same “Higher Power” that helped him though his most difficult times, so it was again that this divine assistance once again helped him successfully overcome this difficult transition. Truly, this is a fascinating story of the tenacity of one man to survive and persevere regardless of the odds against him, who walked in God’s shoes, and was thus never alone! Truly an important historical document, as well as a testimony of the omnipotence of God in all matters of life!