An iron door opens on a compound of the "Hanoi Hilton" prison in North Vietnam on March 18, 1973.
February 12, 2013 - The United States was fresh off signing the peace accords to end the long and bloody war in Vietnam when, on February 12, 1973, over one hundred and forty American prisoners of war were set free.
Among the men to start a long journey back home that day was John Borling.
Sarcastically called the "Hanoi Hilton" by American POWs, it was a place of torture, deprivation, and often solitary confinement.
Borling spent much of his time there just trying to survive. He also composed poetry — in his head, without benefit of pencil or paper.
He is now out with a book of poems he wrote and memorized during those years, "Taps on the Walls: Poems from the Hanoi Hilton". It's a tribute, as he puts it, to the "power of the unwritten word."
Borling, now retired from the Air Force, joined NPR's Morning Edition host Renee Montaigne to talk about the book. read more & listen to interview>>>
How did a prisoner of war survive six years and eight months of soul-crushing imprisonment and torture in the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War? By writing poetry. And how did he do it without pencil or paper?
Then-captain John Borling “wrote” and memorized poems to keep his mind sharp and his spirits up. He shared his creations with fellow captives by their only means of communication—the forbidden POW tap code. Rapping on the cell walls with his knuckles, Borling tapped poems—certainly of pain and despair, but also of humor, encouragement and hope—to keep everyone’s strength and spirits alive.
With a foreword by fellow POW, Senator John McCain, Taps on the Walls contains all the poems General Borling created during his confinement. Readers will discover remarkable stories of endurance, life lessons, and means to achieve personal triumph.
The pen is truly mightier than the sword. No matter that the pen was only a mind and scarred knuckles and the sword, painful and interminable captivity.