THE HAPPIEST MAN I EVER MET

Back in the mid-1990’s I was selected for and approved to attend a desirable class for my career.  The class lasted fourteen weeks and was held at Ft. Belvoir, just outside of Arlington, Va.  My employer at the time, the U.S. Army, paid all expenses for the class and continued to pay my salary while I attended and my wife and kids joined me after a few weeks of living separately.  There were hundreds of people attending this particular class, and we were divided into sections.  We stayed in the same section for the duration of the class so over the fourteen weeks, we got to know some interesting people in our section.  We were somewhat divided by our grade level/ or military rank so we were truly among peers from all across the country and from different services; there were some Air Force officers and civilians in my section as well as Army representatives.

As we got to know each other and our instructors, I noticed one of the teachers in our section came to class every morning with a huge smile on his face and he was always so happy.  I don’t think I’ve ever been around anyone that came close to being consistently that happy every day.  Apparently some of our class members knew Norm outside of our classroom but I didn’t.  Those who knew him wanted him to tell “his story”.  But Norm would just smile and say “we don’t have time in the class for that” or something similar.  But the pleas persisted and finally one day Norm agreed to tell his story.  We picked a day; we were all supposed to brown-bag our lunch and Norm would tell his story during our lunch period.

One of my most prized possessions on my bookshelves is Norm’s story.  His book was given to me by my wife for Christmas one year if I recall correctly.  The book was out of print; I’m not sure how she came up with it at all, but to really ice the cake she tracked down Norm to get him to sign the book.  The inscription on the first page reads:

“16 December, 2003

Steve,

It’s a blessing to know you.  Continue to trust in the Lord.  May God bless and keep you, Robin, and your loved ones in all that you do.

In Christ,

Norman A. McDaniel

Colonel, USAF (Retired)

VNPOW, ’66-‘73”

The title of the book is “Yet Another Voice” and the intro on the front jacket flap says

“Faith in God and in the promises of Holy Scripture do prepare beforehand and sustain a person in the midst of severe mental and physical torture at the hands of a cruel enemy.  This is the testimony of Norman McDaniel as he describes his experiences through nearly seven years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.  This same God in whom he found strength in those years of imprisonment has remained steadfast during a period just as critical and in some ways more trying- the readjustment to life in a free society.”

That day at lunch, I heard Norm speak his story from his own mouth about the seven years he spent as a POW, to include the physical torture and pain, as well as the mental and emotional pain inflicted on the prisoners.  And I heard him talk about how difficult it was to come home and try to fit back into a family that had been without him for seven years.  I heard him talk about how different life was when he returned than when he was captured.  THEN I understood why Norm was so happy; EVERY day that Norm woke up as a free man was cause to celebrate.  He wrung every drop of good out of every day he had been given.  He had a different perspective than anyone in the room that day; he knew what it was like to be without freedom; we had no idea and it was a gripping story to hear.  The back jacket flap of the book ends with these words:

“Some of the perils everyone faces in today’s world are seen here through the eyes of one who was denied freedom for a long time and who therefore sees things in a perspective that challenges everyone to examine the purpose and the goals of his life.”

A different perspective… As we are approaching a national holiday to celebrate our freedom I think we could use a little more of Norm’s perspective.  Happy Fourth of July; on second thought, Happy Every Day!

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