Faith is the complete trust or confidence in someone or something. It is the belief in God, his power and his mercy. It is the ability to believe when no one else believes. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things yet seen or realized. It is neither oppressive nor coercive, for it is an unshakable belief. Thus, through life we walk by faith, not by sight.

Ned was born in Boston on Oct. 7, 1931. The son of a marine architect and Navy officer, he was raised to respect his parents, treat others with kindness and love God. He was handsome, athletic and smart. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1954 and arrived in Vietnam in September 1967 aboard the nuclear-powered carrier, the USS ENTERPRISE.

The ENTERPRISE had arrived on Yankee Station on December 2, 1965 and at the time, the largest warship ever built. She brought with her not only an imposing physical presence, but also a lethal component of warplanes and advanced technology. By the end of her first week in hostile waters, the ENTERPRISE had set a record of 165 combat sorties in a single day. By the end of her first combat cruise, her planes and aircrews had flown over 13,000 combat missions. But the record had not been achieved without cost.

On March 17, 1968, Ned and his Bombardier/Navigator, Dale Doss, launched in their A6A Intruder on a night, low-level strike into the heart of North Vietnam. After their departure, they emitted their first radio transmission indicating that they were “feet dry” and over land, proceeding stealthily to their target, a rail yard just north of Hanoi. It would prove to be their final communication.

Undated U.S. Navy photograph of Ned beside his A6 Intruder.

The following day, Radio Hanoi announced the capture of Ned and his bombardier. Following what had begun as his 18th combat mission, suddenly he had become a prisoner of war.

Both Ned and Dale were transported to a filthy place near the center of Hanoi, called by its prisoners, the Hanoi Hilton. There Ned (like Dale and hundreds of others) was beaten, tortured and held in solitary confinement. After 17 months, he and Dale were reunited and joined some of their fellow prisoners. For what seemed like ever, that sat, waited and gave emotional support to one another. Then a miracle occurred.

Shortly before Christmas in 1970 Ned and 42 other American prisoners of war decided to break prison rules and hold a brief service in celebration of the birth of their savoir. But their barbaric and inhuman guards stopped them. In their presence, Ned stepped forward and asked his emaciated fellow servicemen, “Are we really committed to having church Sunday? I want to know person by person.” Fellow prisoner, Leo K. Thorsness, later recounted in a memoir, “When the 42nd man said yes, it was unanimous. At that instant, Ned knew he would end up in the torture cells.”[1] The following Sunday, Ned stepped forward to lead a prayer session and was quickly hustled away by angry guards. The next four ranking officers did the same, one by one, they too, were taken away to be beaten. And then, Thorsness remembered, the sixth-ranking senior officer began, “Gentlemen, the Lord’s Prayer…and this time, we finished it.” The guards relented and no one was punished.

Lt. Commander Edwin A. Shuman III remained incarcerated at the Hanoi Hilton for more than two more years. But it was Ned, the downed Navy pilot, of impeccable courage and unshakable faith who had by then won the prisoners’ privilege to collective prayer.

Note: This piece was taken from the third chapter of Gene Ferraro’s book entitled, Virtues & the Virtuous: Inspiring Lessons and Insights about Virtue, Virtuosity, and the Essence of the Human Spirit (Volume 1). Virtues is Gene’s 15th book. It can be found on Amazon. A portion of each sale is donated to one of several non-profits which Gene supports. Volume 2 of the series will be released in January 2017.

[1] Lt. Col. Thorsness, an Air Force pilot and recipient of the Medal of Honor for heroics on a mission in April 1967, wrote what he had witnessed in his memoir, Surviving Hell: A POW’s Journey (2008), “I know I will never see a better example of pure raw [faith] or ever pray with a better sense of the meaning of the word.”