Honey and I recently re-visited the National Naval Aviation Museum at Pensacola, Florida. We’ve always enjoyed this museum, and it had grown and changed since our last visit several years ago. I was especially moved by a display on The POW Experience which includes the handwritten poems of several servicemen while they were Vietnam prisoners of war. Here’s one that particularly caught my attention. I’ve taken the liberty of adding some notes on the image itself, in case the photo circulates around the web:
As you see above, the author is indicated only as “PH,” and if he is otherwise identified in the museum display, I didn’t see it. But with a little web research, I find that the author is Porter Halyburton, a Navy lieutenant who was a prisoner of war for seven and a half years. His 2013 commencement address at the Savannah Country Day School includes the poem and is well worth the read for his comments on life, meaning, and forgiveness. There is also a 1998 interview about his POW experiences here.
As Halyburton says in his address, “It is a wonderful privilege to be alive and free in this great country of ours.” I offer my thanks to him, to all the men and women who have served, and to their families.
I think this poem deserves to be shared, so I am also including the text of the poem, as it appears in the Savannah Country Day School speech:
Trembling and silent before the threshold,
We stand on the eve of our Resurrection.
Hardly daring to believe that at last
The valve may crack and we may seep
Into the tip of an infinitely expanding horn,
To be belched into that crowded carnival,
An old song.
She stands before me, silent, across the wide river;
Her smile seen dimly through the damp fog.
Watching through my peephole, I can only
Whisper her name — Freedom.
And I, within my hardened shell,
- “P.H.”, Porter Halyburton, 1/2/73