“In the day when I cried out, You answered me, and made me bold with strength in my soul.” – Psalm 138:3
The Military Code of Conduct is a uniquely American invention, introduced by General Dwight Eisenhower in 1955. Al Erickson, former Chief of operational support at the Joint Services Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape Agency at Fort Belvoir, Va., explains that “The code is based on time-honored concepts and traditions that date back to the American Revolution. It embodies principles that have guided hundreds of U.S. prisoners of war and potential prisoners for almost 45 years. Unlike the Geneva Conventions, which are an international legal guide regarding POWs, the Code of Conduct is a moral guide. If you follow it, it enables you to best serve yourself, the nation and your fellow POWs.”
The first two articles provide guidance to our military for their behavior on the battlefield:
- Article I – “I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.”
- Article II – “I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist.”
The next three articles instruct soldiers on their conduct if they are captured and become a prisoner of war (POW).
- Article III – “If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.”
- Article IV – “If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information nor take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am senior, I will take command. If not, I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them up in every way.”
- Article V – “When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank, service number and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause.”
And finally, Article VI explains where a soldier’s faith belongs:
- Article VI – “I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.”
It was on his 23rd bombing mission over North Vietnam, on October 26, 1967, that naval aviator John McCain’s A4-E Skyhawk jet was shot down. Parachuting into a lake near Hanoi, and breaking both arms and a leg, he was captured by the communists. For the next 5 ½ years, he was tortured and starved, leaving him with permanent injuries. Two of those years were spent in solitary confinement. But one year into his captivity, the communists offered him unconditional release as the son of an admiral. He refused, demanding they release others who had been held longer. His reasoning: cling to the Military Code of Conduct. As he stated later in an interview with People Magazine: “Three things kept me going: “Faith in God, faith in my fellow prisoners and faith in my country.” He was finally released on March 14, 1973.
He was a strong believer in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. When he was asked what being a Christian meant to him, he gave a simple reply: “It means I’m saved and forgiven.” In other interviews, when asked about his personal faith, he replied “Because the foundation of my belief is redemption, I’ve been able to receive additional comfort, strength and the desire to move forward.” He was a man of prayer, explaining that “It wasn’t a question of asking for superhuman strength or for God to strike the North Vietnamese dead. It was asking for moral and physical courage, for guidance and wisdom to do the right thing. I asked for comfort when I was in pain… I was sustained in many times of trial.”
In fact, Senator McCain said that he “prayed more often, and more fervently, during his imprisonment than I ever had as a free man.” He recounted many instances during his confinement where Christ answered his prayers. Here is one example: “During solitary confinement, I was tied up in a terribly painful position, with my arms pulled backwards and my head pulled down between my knees. One night, a guard came in and loosened the ropes, then came back 5 hours later and tightened the ropes again. Two months later, on Christmas Day, I stood outside for 10 minutes, and the same guard came up to me. The guard stood by me, then drew a cross in the dirt with his sandal, looking at me. Then the guard erased the cross, and walked away. My friends, I will never forget that man. “I will never forget that moment.”
The life of John McCain, a true American hero, was a testimony to our verse this week from Psalms, where God has promised to give us “strength of soul” when we cry out to Him for refuge in our time of need.