Finding God in Hanoi Hilton’s torture

By Kevin DeAnna

Navy Capt. Eugene “Red” McDaniel found God in the torture camps of Communist North Vietnam.

And now WND Books is presenting a new edition of his riveting and inspiring tale of survival with “Scars and Stripes,” to be published on October 9, 2012.

McDaniel’s testimony recounts the ordeal of an American airman who took his faith for granted, but was forced to rediscover it in the midst of unimaginable suffering.

McDaniel was raised as a Christian and attended a Christian college. While he believed in God and had a nominal faith, he writes, “I wasn’t sure what I had that would qualify me for title ‘Christian.'”

He admits that he attended the Baptist school of Campbell Junior College for athletics, not religion, but knew that there was something deeper that was missing.

McDaniel gave his life to Christ after meeting his future wife, Dorothy Howard. Her father was a Baptist minister and after spending time with the two of them, McDaniel realized what they had was “good as gold.” He walked forward to the altar to make his real commitment as a Christian but doesn’t remember much of a “big splash” after that.

It was only later, in his darkest moments, that McDaniel learned “the totality of what it was all about to be in Him.”

On May 19, 1967, McDaniel and his A-6 jet were shut down over North Vietnam. He ejected and took refuge in a tree, counting on a quick rescue. McDaniel prayed for deliverance, noting, “When I stopped to think about it, I couldn’t remember when I had to pray for anything really crucial like this.”

His hopes soared when American pilots spotted his parachute and reported that rescue helicopters would be at his location within minutes.

Read the story of the first-person experience in North Vietnam’s Hanoi Hilton prison camp, in Red McDaniel’s “Scars and Stripes.”

But the rescue didn’t come. It its place was a mob of North Vietnamese soldiers and civilians who drove him to Hanoi, kicking and screaming at him along the way.

Imprisoned in the infamous Hanoi Hilton, he was thrown into a windowless, cockroach-infested cell. Instead of medical treatment or even the opportunity for sleep, McDaniel was immediately tortured. His wrists were bound with ropes and his shoulders almost ripped out of his body as his Communist interrogators screamed questions at him.

After less than a week in captivity, McDaniel had already lost the use of his right hand and had nothing else to look forward to than more torture. When the North Vietnamese arrived instead of the expected rescue, McDaniel admitted, “My faith in God had taken a nose dive.”

Over the next few months, McDaniel was able to establish tentative contact with other American prisoners, despite severe threats of retribution. After even brief contact, he was punished with solitary confinement in absolute darkness, unable to move or sleep.

As the torture continued, McDaniel confronted the reality that death could come at any moment. Despite his Christian past, he knew that because of his current crisis of faith, “there was something, some part of my spiritual life not yet complete… if I had to face tomorrow in the torture room, when death would not come, when the pain would be so bad that death would be easier, would I smile then?”

In May 1969, two Americans prisoners escaped and the Vietnamese “in a kind of rage,” increased their torture beyond anything McDaniel had experienced before.

McDaniel repeatedly and systematically was beaten and forced to hold his arms in impossible positions. If the arms relaxed for even a moment, he was struck with a fan belt. His knees became infected from kneeling on them for days at a time and the skin ripped away from where it was bound with leg irons.

For more than six days, McDaniel was denied any sleep. Dirty rags were shoved down his throat to cut off air. His arm was broken, and he was given repeated electric shocks. Eventually, McDaniel thought to himself death would be welcome.

Suddenly, amidst all of the pain, McDaniel realized that “I had lived on the ‘good times’ of Christianity, but I had never been tested by pain, as He had been, and the dimension missing in my life was tied directly to that.”

At his lowest possible moment, McDaniel prayed. “I knew if He didn’t do something, reveal something of Himself to me, I could not make it. And, in my feeble way again, I said, ‘Lord… it’s all Yours… whatever this means, whatever it is supposed to accomplish in me, whatever You have in mind now with all of this, it’s all Yours…'”

Only a minute after he prayed that desperate cry, McDaniel “became aware that the ropes were being taken off my arms.”

Suddenly, McDaniel said, “I was alone, all the grim horrors of the past days and nights still with me, but now I had a moment of peace. I didn’t know how to absorb the immensity of the moment, the sheer dimension of it.”

McDaniel lay at peace, “drawing on that aura of the presence of God.”

McDaniel’s ordeal was not over. He remained in prison until 1973. There were other beatings, and other torture sessions. However, he knew that “God was not far outside this hell. If I had to go on with this nightmare, then I was sure He was with me. Nothing else mattered.”

Incredibly, after years of torture and separation from his family, McDaniel writes that there is a part of him that is even grateful for the experience.

Noting that the Apostle Paul wrote that nothing could separate people from the love of God, McDaniel reflects, “The darkness of loneliness and pain was worth it all to enter into the knowledge of that fantastic truth.”

Read the story of the first-person experience in North Vietnam’s Hanoi Hilton prison camp, in Red McDaniel’s “Scars and Stripes.”

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