BY DUANE A. VACHON, PH.D. When nuclear powered USS ENTERPRISE arrived on Yankee Station on December 2, 1965, she was the largest warship ever built. She brought with her not only an imposing physical presence, but also an impressive component of warplanes and the newest technology. By the end of her first week of combat operations, the ENTERPRISE had set a record of 165 combat sorties in a single day, surpassing the KITTY HAWK’s 131. By the end of her first combat cruise, her air wing had flown over 13,000 combat sorties. The record had not been achieved without cost.
When the ENTERPRISE was again on station in the spring of 1968, two of its
pilots were LCDR Edwin A. Shuman III and LCDR Dale W. Doss, an A6 “Intruder”
team. The Intruder pilots were known to have, in the words of Vice Admiral
William F. Bringle, Commander Seventh Fleet, “an abundance of talent, courage
and aggressive leadership”, and were sent on some of the most difficult
missions of the war.
On March 17, 1968, Shuman was the pilot and Doss his Bombardier/Navigator (BN) when they launched in their A6A Intruder on a night, low-level strike into North Vietnam. A radio transmission was heard indicating that they were proceeding to execute their assigned mission. They had requested that other aircraft keep radio transmission to a minimum. At this time they should have been over land.
Shortly, another aircraft assigned to support the mission in an anti-missile
role attempted to establish radio contact since no “bombs away” call was
heard, and receiving no answer, the aircraft supporting the mission proceeded
to the pre-briefed lost-communications rendezvous point. Contact with Doss and Shuman was never regained.
Radio Hanoi announced the capture of LCDRs Shuman and Doss on the following
day. Both men were placed in a Prisoner of War status. The two were held in
the Hanoi prisoner of war system for the next five years. They were both
released, along with 589 other Americans, in the spring of 1973 in Operation
As Christmas 1970 approached, 43 American prisoners of war in a large holding cell at the North Vietnamese camp known as the Hanoi Hilton sought to hold a brief church service. Their guards stopped them, and so the seeds of rebellion were planted.
The 19th-century Hoa Lo prison was known as the Hanoi Hilton by the Americans confined there.
A few days later, Lt. Cmdr. Edwin A. Shuman III, a downed Navy pilot, orchestrated the resistance, knowing he would be the first to face the consequences: a beating in a torture cell.
“Ned stepped forward and said, ‘Are we really committed to having church Sunday? I want to know person by person,’ ” a fellow prisoner, Leo K. Thorsness, recounted in a memoir. “He went around the cell pointing to each of us individually,” Mr. Thorsness continued. “When the 42nd man said yes, it was unanimous. At that instant, Ned knew he would end up in the torture cells.”
The following Sunday, Commander Shuman, who died on Dec. 3 at 82, stepped forward to lead a prayer session and was quickly hustled away by guards. The next four ranking officers did the same, and they, too, were taken away to be beaten. Meanwhile, as Mr. Thorsness told it, “the guards were now hitting P.O.W.s with gun butts and the cell was in chaos.”
And then, he remembered, the sixth-ranking senior officer began, “Gentlemen, the Lord’s Prayer.”
“And this time,” he added, “we finished it.”
The guards had yielded.
Everett Alvarez Jr., who was the first American pilot captured in the Vietnam War when his Navy plane was shot down in 1964, said in an interview that the defiance Commander Shuman engineered was emulated by senior officers in other large holding cells.
“It was contagious,” said Mr. Alvarez, who was in another cell during the first prayer service. “By the time it got to the fourth or fifth cell,” he said, the guards “gave up.” He said the prisoners were also singing patriotic songs.
Commander Shuman remained incarcerated at the Hanoi Hilton for more than two more years. But by then the prisoners’ right to collective prayer had been established.
“From that Sunday on until we came home, we held a church service,” Mr. Thorsness, an Air Force pilot and recipient of the Medal of Honor for heroics on a mission in 1967, wrote in his memoir, “Surviving Hell: A POW’s Journey” (2008). “We won. They lost. Forty-two men in prison pajamas followed Ned’s lead. I know I will never see a better example of pure raw leadership or ever pray with a better sense of the meaning of the words.”
Edwin Arthur Shuman III was born in Boston on Oct. 7, 1931, the son of a marine architect and Navy officer. Growing up in Marblehead, Mass., he began to sail at age 5. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1954 and arrived in Vietnam in September 1967.
Shuman spent 17 months in solitary confinement. On one occasion, when he violated regulations, he was beaten for hours with a whip.
Schuman returned to North Vietnam in 1991 as part of a three-week humanitarian medical mission, mainly out of curiosity about what had become of it.
“I didn’t view this as a healing process,” he told The Baltimore Sun when he came back. “I never had a nightmare.”
He said that he liked the Vietnamese people, whom he found to be hardworking.
Most of the prison was demolished in the mid-1990s.
Mr. Shuman died in Annapolis, Maryland His death occured on December 3, 2013. from complications due to a fall on his boat on his way to a goose hunt. His wife, Donna, said the cause was complications of surgery on a leg he broke on Nov. 22 when he fell in his small boat while preparing to hunt geese.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by two sons, Edwin IV and J. Brant, and a daughter, Mary Dana Giardina, from his first marriage, which ended in divorce; a stepson, Robert Borte III; nine grandchildren; a great-grandson; three sisters, Mary Russell, Sally Smyth and Ann Mills; and two half brothers, William and John Boeckeler.
After returning from Vietnam, Mr. Shuman was in charge of the Naval Academy’s sailing program. In August 1979, he commanded the Alliance, the program’s aluminum sloop, in the Fastnet race off England and brought his crew back safely amid a storm in the Irish Sea that left 15 other sailors dead.
“I have often compared ocean racing in bad weather with being a prisoner of war, an environment with which, unfortunately, I have some experience,” he wrote in the U.S. Naval Institute magazine Proceedings, in 1999. “Harsh conditions, cramped quarters, bad food and diverse personalities. Instead of the guards beating on you, mother nature takes over.”
“You can’t get out so you make the best of it,” he continued. “It’s a character-builder.”
Shumann awarded the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross
with 2 Gold Stars, the Bronze Star with (V), and the Purple Heart.
He was put to rest at the U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery with Military on December 10th 2013.
The information in this article was sourced from a variety of sources both internal and external. Every effort was made to ensure that the information is current and correct. These articles are presented to honor the heroes they are written about.