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Taps on the Walls: Poems from the Hanoi Hilton Hardcover – February 12, 2013
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About the Author
John Borling, Major General, USAF, Ret., is a native Chicagoan and Air Force Academy graduate. A fighter pilot, his many decorations include the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, and two Purple Hearts. During his 37 years in the Air Force, Borling served in high-level command and staff positions throughout the world. After military retirement, he continued to serve at the chairman/CEO and board director level of many for-profit and not-for-profit entities. He also founded and directs SOS America, an organization that advocates universal military service for America's youth.
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Top Customer Reviews
What still amazes me is that he created and constructed these poems in his head (he had no pencil or paper to work with), and then committed them to memory; and then tapped them to his fellow prisoners. It does demonstrate what the human mind can (and must) do when one has to keep one's brain active. It is a testimonial to the creativity of a human being's brain and a tribute to the courage and resilience of John Borling and his fellow sufferers in Hanoi.
Reading the poems, I felt overwhelmed by the strength of those brave men. Bud Gilligan
Borling's poetry is not great poetry but that is not really a part of the evaluation of this book. The fact that he was able to memorize these poems, tap them to his fellow otherwise isolated prisoners as a means of sharing that spirit of survival almost defies credibility. Yet here are some of his best and should be sampled:
The scepter raised and silent challenge made,
Again I mental summon lance and shield,
And somehow last till regal colors fade.
It's now, the victor absent from the field,
Hard pallet draws me, huddled down upon,
A distant tower tolls a muffled chime;
Another muddled day has eddied on
To join the addled streams of tousled time.
Embittered languor blankets captive man;
So armored, sally forth at dawn, consigned
To stand alone, and parry best I can
Until appointed tourney's end, resigned.
For time's an old and boring enemy.
Too cruel to kill forgotten men like me.
SONNET 4 45 43 (IN TAP CODE) SONNET FOR US
The world without, within our weathered walls,
Remote, like useless windows, small and barred.
Here, months and years run quickly down dim halls,
But days, the daze, the empty days come hard.
I used to count a lot, count everything,
Like exercise and laps, and words of prayer.
What hurt that hunger, thoughts and that thirst can bring,
Companions, waking, sleeping, always there.
But policy insanities unwind,
Till bad is good and betterment is worse.
So refuge blanket, net, and molding mind
Create a mingling dream-real universe.
I'm told that steel is forged by heavy blows.
If only men were steel, but then, who knows?
Borling is most cogent in the Introduction and Epilogue he has written for this book. In his words, now displaced from the horrors of his experience, where light comes in to put things in perspective, Borling writes eloquently, somehow adding to the poignancy of the poetry he has finally agreed to share. Read, read aloud, and remember. Grady Harp, March 13
Without the benefit of writing materials, John memorized his poems and shared them with his comrades using a tap code created and passed along by former POW Carlyle Smith "Smitty" Harris.
The Tap Code is communication system using a mental table of five rows of letters in alphabetical order left to right in five columns where "K's" are represented by "C's." Each letter is represented by two numbers. For example, the letter "0" intersects at the third row and the fourth column and was represented by three taps, a quick pause and followed by four more taps.
In addition to General Borlings impressive biography, the forward to this book was written by former North Vietnam POW now Arizona Senator John McCain.
The poems use military and fighter pilot jargon; however, a 9-page glossary explains those terms and acronyms.
Having served twenty-two and a half years in the Marines, thirteen months in Vietnam in the late 60's and eleven years with a veteran service organization, veterans and their plight hold a special place in my heart and mind and this author's poems touch my very soul. My best guess is that many others will be moved too.