During nearly 5½ years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, Lee Ellis relied on his sense of humor to keep him going. But it took his first three months in captivity for him to recapture his ability to laugh.
Then 24, Ellis recalls the first time he flashed his humor as a POW. His cellmate was attempting to needle another American prisoner when Ellis rolled his eyes and quipped, “Jim, you’re just trolling, aren’t you?”
Ellis and his cellmate erupted in laughter. After three tense months of constantly worrying about their survival, their shared mirth unleashed a feeling of much-needed relief.
“From that point forward, we intentionally looked for every opportunity to laugh even in the direst situations,” Ellis writes.
The enemy did not approve. In some cases, laughter from the prisoners could get them booted into solitary confinement or subjected to torture. But the risk didn’t stop Ellis from trying to see the lighter side.
In time, many of the POWs began using humor as a way to stay sane. When another captured American joined the longtime prisoners, he told one of the fighter pilots, “Back home you’ve been declared killed in action, so don’t expect me to go to your funeral. I’ve already attended your memorial service!”
“In the POW camps, laughter proved to be crucial for our survival,” Ellis writes. “It provided a ray of light and gave us hope that this long period of darkness would someday pass.”
— Adapted from Leading With Honor, Lee Ellis, FreedomStar Media.