Forty years ago, hundreds of POWs came back from the Vietnam War. FOX 29's military salute features a particular pilot who was shot down in 1967 over Vietnam. He spent five years in a brutal prison camp in North Vietnam. It is a privilege for us to know him, and now, you get to know him.
"Bad torture was when they tied your elbows until they touched," he remembered, "when there's the guy behind you lifting your arms up over your head, dislocating them."
"A memory I'll never forget is hearing somebody being tortured to death," he continues.
"The first three months, there was so much shock, the trauma of getting shot down, bailing out of an airplane, getting captured, hauled around at gunpoint, getting beaten up, you know, getting tortured," he described.
Meet an American hero, Colonel Lee Ellis. He's a retired Air Force pilot, who was shot down over Vietnam on November 7th, 1967. He became a prisoner of war, and spent five and a half years in the infamous, brutal prison known as the Hanoi Hilton. He was there with Bernie Brace, John McCain and countless others.
"A couple of guys were tortured to death, maybe four, five; and then three, four guys got things like typhoid fever. A couple of guys went on a starvation diet as protest. They went too far and then just went crazy," he recalled.
FOX 29's Mike Jerrick showed him to the FOX 29 studio, Ellis received a big round of applause from the Good Day staff. Everyone knew that they were in the presence of a special person.
"Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much," said Ellis.
"How could you not lose fate?" Jerrick asks of Ellis' stay in the Hanoi Hilton.
"Faith is believing in something that you can't see yet. So I believe that I was going to go home. Well, I have strong Christian faith, so I believe that God had a purpose for me, and my job was to hang in there, do my part: to live through it, and then come home. I believe I had faith in our government that they would take care of us. And I had faith that my family would hang in there. I was single but my parents were alive, and I had the belief that they could take care of themselves. So you just have to believe. The alternative to not having fate is pretty bad."
Colonel Ellis says that what he experienced, tested his courage and honor.
"When I was facing a communist interrogator, one-on-one, by myself, in a foreign land that I thought I would never go home again and be killed, that's when the fear was gripping. I mean, it was paralyzing almost. So I just had to go back to, what is my mission, who am I, and what is my duty?
While in captivity, he said he employed important principals of leadership that made the difference between life and death.
"How do you not think about [all the POW horrors] every day of your life?" asked Jerrick.
"I look forward. I don't look back."
Colonel Ellis will now teach all of us about personal courage with his book, Leading With Honor: Leadership Lessons From The Hanoi Hilton.
"One of the things I wrote the book for was to highlight this incredible, courageous leadership that we had in the POW camps. I feel like that's my responsibility, to tell the American people, ‘hey, leaders, great leaders can do great things, but they have to have courage.' Without courage, you can't lead with honor. And so that's my message and that's my purpose. I could retire and just go play golf and fish. But I'm still on purpose."
On purpose at seventy years old, Ellis is married and has four kids.