Pastor Rick Wilder

Each human being is called to remain faithful to the call of God in treating every person with love and justice. As disciples of Christ, we are called to love God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves.

I found this true story which I believe shows the dynamics of neighborliness.

The story happened in October 1967, during the war between North and South Vietnam. Vietnam was backed by the United States and other nations. The mission for the American planes on October 26th was to destroy the Yen Phu light bulb factory in Hanoi, North Vietnam.

The bombing had just started when an American Navy Skyhawk aircraft was shot down by the North Vietnamese. The pilot was able to eject from the burning wreck, but broke both arms and a knee while doing so. Later he lost consciousness as he splashed into Truc Bach Lake. As his heavy flying gear became water-logged, he sank to the bottom of the lake, trailing his parachute behind him.

Nearby, a retired Vietnamese colonel, Mai Van On had just returned home from work at the light bulb factory. He was about to enter his house when the air was filled with the chilling sound of the air-raid siren. His thatched house promised little protection from bombs and bullets so he set off for a tunnel along with many other local people. He had just reached the safety of the tunnel when he saw the ejected pilot splash into the lake.

What happened next was later described by On as “Instinctive.” He left the tunnel and swam out into the lake, and found the parachute of the pilot. While the bombing continued, he used a bamboo pole to lever the pilot off the bottom of the lake and pulled him to shore. By this time a crowd of soldiers and civilians had gathered and helped to drag the injured man on to dry land. However, their act was not one done in kindness. Once on dry land they tore his clothes and began to beat and kick him. Mai Van On stepped in and covered the man with his own body. The beating stopped and a military ambulance took the pilot to prison, where he would remain for the next 5 ½ years.

The pilot’s name was John McCain, who later became a U.S. senator and candidate for U.S. President in 2008. Years later, McCain asked On why he rescued him, an enemy pilot. On replied: “When I saw you were in difficulty in the water, you became a human in my heart.”

In this story, On became the human face of God. May we do the same.

Grace and Peace.

Rick Wilder is pastor of Onamia United Methodist Church.

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