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The Power of Communication


Tap-Tap . .. . .tap-tap-tap . . .. .tap-tap-tap-tap .. . . . .tap-tap-tap . . .”


Captain Red McDaniel rapped carefully on the walls of his cell in the Hanoi Hilton, practicing the special camp code prisoners used to communicate with each other. He knew he had to be very careful.

His communist captors wanted to keep all of their American guests isolated and vulnerable. Prisoners caught trying to communicate would be tortured, and McDaniel had already been through that.

As the interminable days went by, McDaniel came to fear isolation far more than the threats of torture by his Vietcong captors. The highlight of each day was being taken to the washroom, where he managed to whisper briefly with two other Americans brought in at the same time. They told him about the camp code, an acrostic system that involved using a certain number of taps (or other signals) to spell out letters of the alphabet. McDaniel recognized the code as his lifeline, his only link with sanity.

If a new prisoner couldn’t learn the code and communicate with fellow Americans within thirty days of his arrival, he would gradually start to draw inward and deteriorate. The prisoner would slowly lose the will to live. He would stop eating and as his stomach became bloated, he would actually start to feel “fat.” Little by little, the prisoner would die alone as the strange predator, isolation, sucked his very life out of him.


Eugene “Red” McDaniel and James J. Johnson, Scars and Stripes, American Defense Institute, VA.

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