SAN DIEGO – A former Vietnam-era prisoner of war (POW) visited the crew of the guided missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53) to conduct a lecture on the Code of Conduct, March 27.
Retired Navy Cmdr. Henry James “Jim” Bedinger addressed more than 100 crew members about the three years, four months, 19 days and roughly 12 hours that he spent in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” until his release in 1973.
Bedinger shared his story, which focused more on the heroism of others rather than himself, by talking about his cellmates, one of whom was a young Navy pilot by the name of John McCain.
“John inspired me,” said Bedinger. “When I first got there, he was so excited to hear the scores of recent games. Him being so upbeat after being there so long was a sense of relief for me, I knew I could get through it too.”
Bedinger said the camaraderie between the POWs helped them get through their imprisonment and attributes this perseverance to believing in and following the Code of Conduct. He specifically pointed to the Code of Conduct’s second article, which states “I will never surrender of my own free will.”
“I will never surrender, I might get captured, but I will never surrender. There is a difference because saying ‘I surrender’ is saying ‘I’ve given up’,” said Bedinger. “Even though I was captured, I didn’t give up hope, I didn’t give up on the principles that our country was founded on and why I thought our country was there in Vietnam trying to protect the South Vietnamese way of life and their freedom.”
According to Bedinger, “Americans don’t surrender, we may be captured, but we don’t surrender.”
Bedinger finished his speech by thanking those in attendance for enduring hardships as proud members of the Navy during a time of war. He closed his lecture by delivering the same short speech he gave when he first returned to America, 41 years ago. “I remember at eight or nine years old touching the Liberty Bell and wondering ‘could that bell ever ring?’ Because as an 8 year old, that’s an awfully big crack,” said Bedinger. “Today, I know that it rang. And it still rings for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And not just for us here at home, but for freedom-loving people the world-over. God bless you for making that happen today and every day. God bless our commander-in-chief, who persevered through the hard times to bring us home. God bless the United States of America.”
As the Mobile Bay crew endures the long hours and stressful environment of going through a Selective Restricted Availability at the BAE shipyard in San Diego, Sailors said that hearing a first-hand account of what POWs went through helped them keep things in focus.
“When you hear about the hardships and atrocities they went through, it really puts everything into perspective,” said Yeoman 1st Class Eric Mitchell. “Cmdr. Bedinger epitomizes the true meaning of honor, courage and commitment.”
Mobile Bay is currently undergoing a CNO’s selected restricted availability at the BAE Shipyard San Diego after returning from deployment in April 2013 and completion of eight months of follow-on sustainment operations. Mobile Bay is assigned to the John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group and Commander, Carrier Strike Group Three.