TUPELO • A story of courage in a Vietnam POW prison and on the home front is this year’s selection of the Tupelo Reads community reading program.
“Tap Code,” by retired Air Force Col. Carlyle “Smitty” Harris and Sara W. Berry is the 10th installment of the series and the first featuring local authors. The Tupelo Reads committee announced the choice Thursday morning during a news conference near the F-105 Thunderchief jet displayed at Veterans Park. Harris flew a F-105 Thunderchief during the Vietnam War.
“For our 10th year, we couldn’t think of a more inspiring story that has grit and determination and perseverance – some of the same qualities we’re needing right now to get through this interesting time we’re in,” said Tupelo Reads chairwoman Lisa Reed.
“Tap Code” is the story of Smitty and Louise Harris and how they endured while Smitty was held captive for eight years. Harris was shot down over Vietnam on April 4, 1965.
While imprisoned in the Hoa Lo prison – nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton” – Harris revived the Tap Code, a long-unused method of communicating through tapping on a common water pipe. He covertly taught the code to many POWs, and in turn they taught others. The POWs were able to communicate without their captors’ knowledge.
The book also focuses on Louise, who raises their three children alone in Tupelo, unsure of her husband’s fate. One of the first POW wives of the war, Louise becomes a role model for many wives, advocating for herself and her children in Smitty’s absence.
Smitty Harris, who was joined by his wife at the news conference, said Berry did an outstanding job compiling their stories into a book.
“My daughter worked with Sara, and convinced Sara to give it a stab,” he said. “She did an absolutely beautiful job of putting manuscripts, things she got out of books and other sources all in one story. Also, she spent lot of time interviewing Louise to get her story.”
Reed added, “Sara weaves the story so you get a sense of what’s going on at home and what’s going on in the prison. It’s just woven together so well and you get both perspectives, which I thought was really great.”
Berry, who also attended the news conference, said the selection of “Tap Code” for Tupelo Reads is a tribute to Smitty and Louise.
“I’m so honored and thrilled for the fact that many more people will be able to hear this beautiful story,” she said. “And like Lisa said, the timing could not be more perfect because the message is so important right now of courage, and that’s what you get in this book. I think, by the end, everyone will see Smitty and Louise as two heroes we can emulate.”
A number of events involving the book are planned for later this year. The Harrises and Berry will be the keynote speakers during Lunching With Books on Wednesday, Sept. 30 at the Lee County Library.