Reviewed by Charles H. Bogart
This remarkable book is much more than a biography of Lt. Col. Barry B. Bridger; it is also a guide to living life to the fullest. The story is of two parts, Lt. Col. Bridger’s life up and through captivity and his life after leaving the U.S. Air Force. His time as a POW started on January 23, 1967, when his F-4 Phantom fighter was shot down by a SAM over North Vietnam and ended 8 years later when he was repatriated home. One of the points that Lt. Col. Bridger makes in the book is that while PTSD affected 31 percent of those who served in Vietnam, it affected less than 5 percent of those held POW. This difference, he holds, was of the result of the POWs maintaining a positive outlook on life.
Lt. Col. Bridges spent the first six years of his life in the Durham County Orphanage Home before being adopted. With adoption, he found loving parents and later a wife who moved forward hand in hand with him. The heart of the book concerns his time as a POW in North Vietnam, and how he survived the physical and psychological tortures inflicted upon him. He holds strong opinions concerning certain individuals over actions they did during and after the war. There is much for the reader to learn from his tale of POW life and how he coped with it. Missing from the story is how his family moved forward with their lives during his period of captivity.
Many may be put off by Lt. Col. Bridger’s faith in God, a God who to him works through prayer to help one maintain their mental health and succeed in meeting life’s challenges. The reviewer, however, could relate to the relationship Lt. Col. Bridger has built with God. It is not a relationship built on dogmatic religious beliefs, but built on the idea that there is a supreme being who can provide each of us with comfort and guidance if we reach out for it. If there is one consistent message that can be learned from Lt. Col. Bridger’s life it is that with perseverance, courage, determination, and faith in God all things can be overcome to allow one to live a life free from mental anguish.
Strictly speaking, this book is not a straight forward military history but more of a book on how to live a life that allows one to cope with the events that disrupt life’s smooth flow. Yet having said this, the book does lay out parameters that provide guidance on how to successfully navigate one’s military career path and yet remain true to oneself and immediate family. This is a book well worth reading to contemplate how to maintain one’s mental health during periods of crisis.
Charles H. Bogart recently published A Kentucky Boy in the U.S. Navy: 1958-1961.
The Spirit to Soar: Inspiring Life Lessons and Values for a Victorious Life. By Jim Petersen (New York: Morgan James Publishing, 2022).