Former POW Shares Life Lessons

I recently had the privilege of being in an audience listening to Col. Leo Thorsness, U.S. Air Force (retired), who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He received the Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism.

Woven throughout his life story were several valuable life lessons.

Learn to focus. When he was flying his aircraft and attempting to avoid the surface-to-air missiles, he said, “I really learned to focus. I only had two things I needed to do.” The first, he said, was to not let his plane hit the ground. The second was to not hit the surface-to-air missile.

Teamwork matters. Col. Thorsness said that while he was the one flying the plane, it was the guys on the ground who made it like new each day so that he could fly his next mission. His wingman and others in the air with him also were invaluable.

“If each level of the team did their job that day, we were successful,” he said. “If they didn’t we were dead or POWs.”

Communications means survival. When Col. Thorsness was confined to prison, the only way to communicate with other prisoners was through a tap code they had developed. That tap code allowed them to share valuable information. “My ability to survive tomorrow,” he said “was all because of communications.”

Know what matters. To keep his mind sharp, Col. Thorsness, who like the other prisoners had no paper or pencils, kept track in his mind of the topics discussed among the prisoners. Work, he said, was at the bottom of the list. At the top were family, friends, faith and fun. “Those things are what make life,” he said. “You put those in your life and near the end, you can say that was a good life.”

Don’t take freedom for granted. Col. Thorsness said, “If the doorknob is on the inside, it’s a good day.”

 “If the doorknob is on the inside, it’s a good day.”

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