Summary: We must get the Word into our heart! A message encouraging people to read through their Bible this year.

Psalms 119:9-16 KJV BETH. Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word. [10] With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. [11] Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. [12] Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes. [13] With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth. [14] I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches. [15] I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways. [16] I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.


Every Monday night, when I was not sacking groceries at the Piggly Wiggly, we would go to the library in Dothan. One Monday evening, I “accidentally” found a paperback copy of William C. Anderson’s book, BAT-21. It was a story about Iceal "Gene" Hambleton, a U.S. Air Force navigator who became the focus of the largest rescue operation for one man in Air Force history after his plane was shot down behind enemy lines during the Vietnam War. I discovered that Hambleton has since died in 2004 from complications of lung cancer. He was 85 when he passed away.

I found a Los Angeles Times obituary written by Dennis McLellan telling his harrowing story. Assigned to an air base in Thailand, Hambleton was on his 63rd combat mission over Vietnam when his EB-66, an unarmed electronic jamming aircraft, was hit by a surface-to-air missile at 30,000 feet on April 2, 1972. The only member of the six-man crew able to eject, the 53-year-old navigator spent the next 11 1/2 days evading capture.

He parachuted into Quang Tri province, just south of the demilitarized zone separating North and South Vietnam -- a particularly dangerous region at the time. The previously massive American ground combat presence in South Vietnam was gone, the North Vietnamese Army had just launched a major offensive against the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam and more than 30,000 North Vietnamese troops equipped with tanks and heavy artillery were moving through the area.

A forward air controller pilot involved in the major U.S. air campaign in support of the beleaguered South Vietnamese forces monitored Hambleton's descent, talking to him via his small emergency radio as he dropped into a dry rice paddy and took cover.

Hambleton, wounded by shrapnel when the rear of his plane exploded, kept in touch with U.S. forces with his emergency radio and directed numerous air strikes against enemy supply lines. A Rossville, Illinois, native, he had served in the Army Air Forces during World War II without seeing combat, but he had flown 43 combat missions in a B-29 bomber during the Korean War.

After the failed air-rescue attempts, it was decided that Navy SEAL Lt. Thomas R. Norris and a small team would infiltrate enemy lines and attempt to pick up Hambleton and another rescuer who had gone down in a search and rescue mission at the nearby Cam Lo River. Aware that North Vietnamese radio monitors understood English, the radio message from a forward air controller in the area told them: "Get to the Snake, make like Esther Williams and float to Boston" -- go to the river and swim east. Esther Williams was an American competitive swimmer.

Hambleton, however, was much farther from the river than Clark and would have to maneuver around enemy-occupied villages and gun emplacements. Rescue planners, who had discovered that Hambleton was one of the best golfers in the Air Force and had a vivid memory of the courses he had played, came up with a novel idea: guiding him to the river via a series of specific golf-course holes that had been provided by his golfing buddies.

As Hambleton recalled in a 2001 interview with Golf Digest, the planners told him, "You're going to play 18 holes and you're going to get in the Suwannee and make like Esther Williams and Charlie the Tuna. The round starts on No. 1 at Tucson National."

Hambleton said it took him awhile to figure out they were giving him distance and direction: "No. 1 at Tucson National is 408 yards running southeast. They wanted me to move southeast 400 yards. The 'course' would lead me to water."

On the night of his eighth day in hiding, Hambleton began walking the imaginary fairways that had been mapped out for him. "Playing" hole No. 4 of the Abilene Country Club on the ninth day -- 195 yards due east -- took him through the outskirts of a village.

As recounted in William C. Anderson's 1980 book "Bat-21," whose title derives from the call sign for Hambleton's aircraft, Hambleton passed a seemingly deserted hooch when a rooster suddenly emerged from the doorway -- "food!" thought Hambleton, who lost 45 pounds during his ordeal.

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