Acton Institute Powerblog

Colonel Bud Day, the Hanoi Hilton, and the Problem with Military Secularism

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bud daySenator John McCain called Colonel George “Bud” Day, “The bravest man I ever knew.” Day (1925 -2013) was a veteran of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. A Medal of Honor recipient, Day was shot down in his F-100 Super Sabre over North Vietnam in August of 1967. Ejected from his jet and severely injured, he continued to be a thorn in the side of the North Vietnamese for the remainder of the war. Tortured ruthlessly for information, he was a leader of the organized American resistance in the Hanoi Hilton Prison.

His heroic exploits are chronicled in American Patriot: The Life and Wars of Colonel Bud Day. For an in-depth look at the kind of dangerous missions Day flew for the Air Force in Vietnam, check out Bury Us Upside Down: The Misty Pilots and the Secret Battle for the Ho Chi Minh Trail by Rick Newman and Don Shepperd.

There have been some great tributes to Day, but like many public tributes they gloss over or neglect altogether the importance of faith. I’ve discussed on the PowerBlog before the deep impact of faith of the great men who served alongside Day under extremely difficult circumstances in the Hanoi Hilton. Heroic men like Jeremiah Denton and Robinson Risner. Day was a Christian too. He was a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. He participated in an interview with the Lutheran Witness last year. Reading the interview, you get a strong sense of just how much his faith made an impact on making him a great warrior and man.

Today there is a strong push to have atheist military chaplains, which is ridiculous and an oxymoron. There are already plenty of secular resources for military members and the move is an obvious attempt to diminish the strong role of faith for many military members and their family. It is an attempt to try and redefine what it means to be a chaplain in society.

If you read the riveting accounts of many of the survivors of the Hanoi Hilton, there is a common thread of faith sustaining them through their unimaginable ordeal. It’s great literature too. In The Passing of the Night, Robinson Risner recalled:

To make it, I prayed by the hour. It was automatic, almost subconscious. I did not ask God to take me out of it. I prayed he would give me strength to endure it. When it would get so bad that I did not think I could stand it, I would ask God to ease it and somehow I would make it. He kept me.

Finally, though, the pain and aching increased to where I did not think I could stand it any longer. One day I prayed, ‘Lord, I have to some relief from this pain.’ I quoted the Biblical verse that He would hear us and that we would never be called upon to take more than we could bear.

Whittaker Chambers proclaimed, “The crisis of the Western world exists to the degree in which it is indifferent to God.” Attempts to secularize every facet of the military, would in the words and witness of heroes like Bud Day, subtract something from the mission and their will to survive. Unfortunately, when we lose great Americans like Colonel Bud Day, we lose another great moral voice that served the highest ideals of our nation but isn’t afraid to call out our government when it is wrong.

Ray Nothstine Ray Nothstine is Associate Editor at the Acton Institute, and Managing Editor of Religion & Liberty. In 2005 Ray graduated with a Master of Divinity (M.Div) degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. He also holds a B.A. in Political Science from The University of Mississippi in Oxford. Before coming to Acton, Ray worked as a free-lance writer for several organizations, including the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He gained ministry experience in churches in Mississippi and Kentucky. After college, he also served on the staff of U.S. Congressman Gene Taylor (D-Miss) in Gulfport in 2001-02. The son of a retired Air Force pilot, Ray has also lived in Okinawa, Philadelphia, New England, Hawaii, and Egypt.


  • Richard Wolfe

    Thank you for this. I listened to the tribute to him given by our Senator McCain. But for your article, I would never have known from the media about COL Day’s faith. What an amazing omission. God help us for the way in which we triviliaze faith in our Triune God .