Not long after John Borling was thrown into a North Vietnamese prison in June of 1966, he heard a man from another cell shout out a set of instructions to him, the key to a secret code that American prisoners of war used to communicate with each other. Over the next six years and eight months, the young fighter pilot used that code when tapping messages to his fellow Americans. The thoughts of hope they shared would bind the men, keeping their spirits high until they were ultimately freed in 1973. In Borling, whose educational background provided him an appreciation for poetry, the isolation, abuse and fear were a muse. They inspired poetry he and fellow POWs memorized and recited to one another day after day, week after week, to break the monotony.
Forty years later, Borling has published a full collection of his verse in Taps on the Walls: Poems from the Hanoi Hilton, which includes the following chilling, yet stirring selection: Beneath Thin Blanket by John Borling From huddled sleep, from humbled sleep, my sickened shape awakes. Still lost in darkness, Beneath thin blanket. Sick lungs suck deep, asthmatic deep, It’s cold, controlless shakes Across the chamber, Beneath thin blanket. I struggle steep against the steep Of loathsome life that breaks The sure and sureless, Beneath thin blanket.
I’ll fight till sleep, till tired sleep My sickened shape retakes. Still lost in darkness, Beneath thin blanket. Copyright: Master Wings Publishing LLC, an imprint of The Pritzker Military Library