Larkin Spivey Finding Faith In War

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

That Flag

On this Flag Day, I am reminded of a story from my book, Stories of Faith and Courage from the Vietnam War:

Al Kraboth attended The Citadel and played basketball with Pat Conroy. While writing his best-selling book, My Losing Season, Conroy interviewed Kraboth and his wife at their home in New Jersey as part of his project to document their 1966-67 basketball season. During the interview, the discussion turned to his friend’s experiences as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. In response to Conroy’s questions, he told an amazing story.

            Kroboth was the navigator of an A-6 Intruder when it was hit by gunfire while bombing somewhere in South Vietnam. He lost consciousness and didn’t even remember ejecting. When he woke up on the ground, he found that he had broken bones in his neck, back, and scapula. He was captured by the Viet Cong and forced to walk at gunpoint through the jungle. In spite of his injuries, he was marched barefoot over the worst imaginable terrain for three months, through rain and mud, mostly at night, to the final destination, Hanoi. He told of harrowing episodes when people along the way tried to kill him and of how close he came to dying due to sickness and starvation.

            The most memorable and moving event of his ordeal came on the day of his repatriation. As the big C-141 landed at the Hanoi airport, he said that he watched without emotion—until he saw the flag painted on the plane’s tail:

The flag. It had the biggest American flag on it I ever saw. To this day, I cry when I think of it. Seeing the flag. I started crying. I couldn’t see the plane, I just saw that flag. All the guys started cheering. But that flag . . . that flag.[i]


            We probably don’t understand this kind of emotion for a flag or any other symbol unless we have suffered for it. The symbol of our faith, the cross, represents Jesus’ suffering for us, and takes on a deeper meaning when we suffer in some way for him. It’s unlikely that we will ever face an ordeal like that endured by a POW or by our Savior, but any risk we take or sacrifice we make to share our faith will bring us closer to the place we need to be—the foot of the cross.

Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. ~Romans 8:17


[i] Ibid., 371.

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