The freedoms we enjoy today were not free – they came with a price. While serving their country, those who had that freedom taken from them to become prisoners of war know this better than anyone.

During the Vietnam War, 766 Americans are known to have been prisoners of war. Prisoners of war were everyday people – teachers, lawyers, construction workers, athletes – who were placed in unimaginable circumstances. American POWs struggled to survive horrid conditions and physical pain. Their hope depended on drawing strength from one another.

Retired Air Force Col. Carlyle “Smitty” Harris, who flew the F-105 fighter-bomber, was 36 years old when his plane was shot down over Vietnam on April 4, 1965. He was the sixth American Prisoner of War captured in North Vietnam and spent nearly eight years at the Hoa Lo prison, better known as the Hanoi Hilton.

His story, as told in today’s Daily Journal by staff writer Leslie Criss, is one of courage, faith and perseverance.

In 1973, Harris started writing about his experiences as a POW. Crucial to his survival in those eight years of captivity was a tap code he was exposed to before going overseas. Working with author and publisher Sara Williams Berry, he now tells his story of a code among the prisoners that allowed them to relay messages, uniting them and providing encouragement and comfort during those darkest days. This unique method of communication gave them a lifeline when they needed it most.

“Tap Code,” which chronicles Harris’ years as a POW, will debut with a book signing on Saturday, Nov. 9, from 4 until 7 p.m. at Reed’s Gum Tree Bookstore in Tupelo.

Harris and others who were forced by circumstances to become prisoners of war truly know the meaning of freedom. We are indebted to him and others who served and shaped our history, moving forward the cause of freedom and peace.

They are our history, our real-life heroes.

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