Former Prisoner of War Shares Insight with Naval Base San Diego

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Story Number: NNS140621-09Release Date: 6/21/2014 12:10:00 PM

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Mark El-Rayes, Navy Public Affairs Support Element West

SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- Former prisoner of war, retired Navy Cmdr. Henry James Bedinger, delivered his lecture, "The Gates of Hell, Stories from the Lulu," at the base theater on Naval Base San Diego, June 13.

Bedinger was a POW in Vietnam from 1969 through 1973. For the past few years, he has spoken to military and civilian audiences about his experience in captivity at the hands of the North Vietnamese.

"It was never pleasant thinking about them taking away everything we own. They took everything," said Bedinger. "But one thing they could never take away from us was our faith. Three faiths - faith in God, faith in country, and faith in family and friends that we would not be forgotten."

Bedinger took off from the aircraft carrier USS Constellation (CVA 64) in a McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II and was shot down near Laos, November 1969. He spent the next 40 months as a POW until he was released in 1973 as part of Operation Homecoming, a series of diplomatic negotiations that resulted in the release of 591 American POWs held by North Vietnam.

"I am in awe of this great American who endured so much for our country. He brings a message of hope and resiliency to today's Sailors, one that we can all learn from," said Rear Adm. Frank L. Ponds, commander Expeditionary Strike Group Three. "It was truly an honor for us that he came to the waterfront and shared his story."

Bedinger's lecture focused on the lessons he learned from that experience, the importance of leadership and communication, the relationships he forged with fellow prisoners, and the decisions he made that ultimately allowed him and the other POWs to survive the ordeal with honor.

"When you hear his stories, you start to question whether you can, under similar circumstances, withstand all the torture, questioning, and beatings," said Capt. Tony Cardoso, assigned to Expeditionary Strike Group Three. "Despite all of that, his success was clearly predicated not only in his strength, but the strength of the community he was in."

Bedinger is involved in several local organizations in the San Diego community and he tells his story with the hope that it will inspire others.

"When you see the American flag, please remember my story. Please remember that you are the new generation of warfighters," said Bedinger. "You carry the stories of the past, and you wear it very well."

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