Former commander, prisoner of war tells reservists how will power can be stronger than firepower
By Senior Airman Madelyn McCullough, 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published March 04, 2015
McChord Field, Wash. --
Only in America can a former convict become a brigadier
Former resident of the prison camp known as the Hanoi Hilton,
then Capt. James Sehorn never imagined a lifelong relationship with the United
States Air Force or rising to the rank of brigadier general. Now retired and
living a comfortable life in Georgia, he flew here to visit the Reservists of a
wing he commanded from February to December 1990. Sehorn spoke at the 446th
Airlift Wing's commander's call during the November Reserve
"This business requires a dedication that cannot be generated
out of false loyalties," said the former F-105 "Thud" fighter pilot. "Look first
at yourself. Why do you want it? Do you believe in it? Commit yourself
absolutely and don't take a partial effort. Give it everything you've
After 31 years of service and spending more than five years as a
prisoner of war in Vietnam, Sehorn knows what it means to give everything for
his service. In fact, after being shot down, captured, and beaten by the
Vietnamese, he still refused to disgrace his country.
"I realized that I
had been broken," he said. "That was humiliating enough, but that wasn't the end
of it. It was at that point it became clear and apparent to me that the battle
of fire power had evolved into a battle of will power."
He was never
defeated in that battle, not even after 63 months. In fact, while he was locked
up he noticed something remarkable about the dedication his fellow
servicemembers had to their country.
"Out of 560-some prisoners I shared
that experience with in Hanoi, less than a handful conducted themselves in a way
that we as a group would have considered as less than honorable," he said. "Less
than 10 out of 560-plus. Now that says something about the military service of
the men and women who wear the uniform of this great nation. Sense of duty.
Sense of commitment. Sense of honor. That is the reason I take great pride in
saying I'm an ex con from Hanoi. It was the best tour I ever served; the one I'd
least like to repeat."
The motto of what became the 4th Allied POW Wing,
which originated in the prison cells of Hanoi, was "return with honor", he said.
Sehorn did just that. Once he was released Dec. 14, 1967, he returned
determined to stay dedicated to the mission and to his country.
home with the realization that we've got a mission and it is real," he said. "It
is necessary and I will be a part of if, but it has its price."
price was paid by his family.
"When I left for Vietnam, I had a daughter
two and a half years old and a daughter two and a half weeks old," he said.
"Five years and three months later I come home to a daughter seven and a half
years old and a daughter five and a half years old. I came home with a
commitment to the job, to the mission, and to our Air Force that was
disproportionate. Sixteen, 18, 20 hours a day. Five, six, maybe seven days a
week. The family took the brunt of it."
The relationship with his
youngest daughter was never fully mended, he said.
After he returned, he
switched from fighters to airlift and eventually made his way to the position of
commander at the 446th AW, his first ever position as a wing commander.
"You folks make it so easy to succeed," Sehorn said. "Anyone who comes
up here as a commander needs to remember one thing. Back off. Let them do their
job. There's an incredible sense of mission accomplishment in the Reservists in
this wing. I've never seen it anywhere to the extent that it is
The Vietnam veteran hopes to reinforce the value of the service
and dedication Reservists feel when they put on their uniforms, he said.
"I don't think we can forget that we are military force standing in
defense of this nation," he said. "You as Reservists stand in a critical gap
maintaining force capability, skill, and the knowledge and experience that
really adds a tremendous plus to who we are and what we are as a
Reinforcing that with the words of one of the men he spent those
years in Hanoi with, Brig. Gen. James "Robbie" Risner, he said, "'To be born
free is an accident, to live free is a privilege, but to die free is a
responsibility.' It is the essence of why you and I wore and wear these
uniforms. To ensure that when we die, we leave a free nation."