Larry (Lucky) Chesley-Vietnam War

Larry, also known as Lucky to many, joined the Air Force in 1956 He was shot down in 1966 while flying over Vietnam and spent the next 2,495 days, just short of seven years, as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

In the fall of 1965 I was stationed in Florida and volun­teered to go to Vietnam. We went to Georgia on our way to Vietnam. While we were there, we would go into the officers’ club to enjoy ourselves, and I would stand off by myself and watch people. One particular night I was looking at the crowd and my eyes stopped on this young man and the Spirit told me that this man would not be coming home. I thought “What a horrible thought!” and dismissed it. My eyes were moving around the room and they stopped on another young man and the Spirit said he’s not coming home and then the Spirit said, “And neither are you.” On our very first mission over Vietnam that first man was shot down, in March the second man was shot down, and in April I was shot down.

We were on a low level mission over Vietnam going 760 miles per hour. I grabbed the handle to eject myself, but it didn’t work, so I reached for the rings above my shoulders to pull a face curtain over my face to block the wind, but I couldn’t find the rings, so I reached up with one hand to pull a ring down, and I finally ejected myself. It knocked me unconscious and broke my back in three places. I floated to the ground very quickly and I could see the Vietnamese coming to capture me and they did almost immediately. They stripped me of all my clothes down to my garments and my socks. They didn’t know how to use buttons, zip­pers, or snaps. They just cut my clothes from my body with a machete. There I was, sur­rounded by the enemy … with a broken back, in my underwear, scared to death, and some­thing inside of me said “Larry, pray.” Prayer wasn’t a new thing to me. I had prayed every morning and every night for years as a young boy before I had ever got into this predicament, but I didn’t know what to pray for. So I kind of dismissed it but the feeling came really strong, “Larry, Pray.” So I looked toward heaven and said a very simple prayer. I said “Father in Heaven, I may have to walk a long way and I can’t do it without my boots.” Within one minute they brought back my boots-the only things they ever returned to me. I didn’t know what a great blessing it was to have those boots until some days later when we reached Hanoi and saw men who had walked to prison barefoot and had worn the meat off of their feet all the way to the bone. And then I knew what a great blessing it was to have those boots.

We marched for about five miles until we got to a truck. They threw me in the back of the truck, tied my arms behind my back, tied my wrists together, and tied them to the top of the bed of the truck leaving me hanging with my arms behind my back, and we started down the road. And again I said, “Dear Father in Heaven, this is killing me. Can’t you bless me?” Within about five miles that knot came undone on top of the truck, I fell into the truck and I was able to loosen the cords and get circulation back in my hands. Another simple little prayer and a simple little answer.

The next day we stopped, and I was guarded by a Vietnamese soldier. He was very sadistic; he had an AK-47 automatic weapon, but he also had a stick about eighteen inches long and an inch or an inch and a half wide and he loved to beat me with that stick. He beat me across my head and shoulders, and even my broken back, but he mostly beat my arms. He beat my arms until they swelled up to be three to four times their normal size, and I still carry a scar on my left arm from his beatings. That night as I knelt to pray I said, “Dear Father in Heaven, isn’t there somewhere you could send this sucker, like the front lines or something?” The next morning the guard was gone.

Within twenty-four hours I had asked for three little things and I had gotten all of them.

In 1969 they moved a group of us out of Hanoi to a camp called Son Tay. Son Tay was the worst camp, of the nine camps, I ever lived in. Every night and every morning I prayed individually, we prayed as a room and we prayed as a whole camp that the Lord would move us to a better camp. Finally the Lord said okay. On July 14 they came in with trucks, we rolled up our gear, we got in the trucks and we went to the new camp. It was a better camp but compared to anything you can think of it was still hell. But it was so much better than the hell we had been in, we liked the new hell. That night we got on our knees and we thanked our Father in H eaven for the blessing of being in a new camp. On November 22 of that same year, the Green Berets, America’s finest fighting men, crashed in the Son Tay camp ; and liberated an empty camp. I would have come home two and a half years sooner if God hadn’t answered my prayers. I learned a great lesson. I had been taught it all my life. Thy will be done at the end of my prayers. I say that with more fervency than I ever have in the past when I pray now.

I received no medical treatment for my broken back. I rode twenty-one days on bombed out roads, and went through my initial torture sessions with a broken back. I know that God lives and that H e is my Father and that H e knows me by my first name. When I got home and they took X-rays of my back, they said that yes my back had been broken in three places and that there was nothing they could do for me. It had healed perfectly. A muscle had grown down the right side of my back, about the size of my forearm to hold it as a brace.

I only cried twice in prison other than when I was being tortured. The first time was when my mom wrote me and told me my wife had divorced me, and the second time was in March 1966. The pain had overcome me. I started to cry. My roommate’s name was Jim Ray. Jim saw that I was crying so he crawled up into the window of our room and started screaming for a doctor. We heard a guard coming so Jim got back down off of the window and onto his own bunk. The guard came in and started beating him and so Jim jumped off of his bunk, picked up the guard and threw him out of the door and up against the wall. The guard took off his rubber sandal and started shaking it at Jim. The guard was probably 5’4″ and Jim was 6’2″. The guard didn’t speak English and Jim didn’t speak Vietnamese. Jim said, “If you hit me with that I’ll take it away from you and beat the hell out of you with it.” The guard slammed the door and left.

When the guard left, Jim and I knelt down by our bunks and took turns praying. Jim is a Baptist and I am LDS. We prayed that the Lord would soften the hearts of our enemies. The first rule of prison was eat everything you get and the second rule was never hit a guard. We heard the commotion coming, and we knew what was about to happen. An English􀁨speaking officer came in and told Jim that he would be severely punished because he couldn’t hit a guard and go unpunished. H e ranted and raved and after a few minutes shut the door, locked it, and left. Jim and ·1 got on our knees again and prayed that our Father in H eaven would have mercy on our souls. The guards didn’t come back that night which was a good sign. The next morning was Tet. Tet is their New Year’s. At their holidays they would usually take us out and give us a hot cup of tea and a sugar cookie. This day was no different. They came and took Jim and me out of our room into a room that was decorated. They gave .us our cup of tea and cookie and we ate it and were about ready to go back to our room and the English­speaking officer said to Jim, “You can’t hit our guards and go unpunished. Go stand in the corner for one minute.” That was his punishment. Jim and I believe that God, who can touch the hearts of our enemies, soften them, and that is what H e did for us. The importance of that story is Jim loved me; Jim loved me more than he loved himself. And there aren’t very many people like that today.

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