When Barry Bridger was a prisoner of war in the infamous Hanoi Hilton, it was common to find rats, snakes and tarantulas in his cell.
He and other Americans suffered heat rash from the searing sun. When the temperatures dipped, they were denied blankets.
Bridger said that kind of abuse paled in comparison to the torture the soldiers endured from their captors, who were "breaking bones, ripping flesh."
Bridger's spirit, though, never was broken. In the face of such horror, he was struck by the way soldiers looked out for one another. They would do anything to help a man in need, even if it meant facing more time in the torture chamber. His time in Hanoi left Bridger deeply impressed by the strength of the human spirit, of what compassion and faith can do to sustain a man.
These days, Bridger travels the country spreading that message. On Tuesday, June 2, he will be in Saratoga Springs at 7 p.m. at the Saratoga Hilton City Center, sharing the story of his captivity and the lessons he learned. Admission is free.
Bridger was a 26-year-old pilot in the Air Force when his plane was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967. Moments earlier, Bridger had seen a missile heading for his plane and knew a second one could be following, since the Soviets often sent one missile to distract pilots, then hit them with another.
So as Bridger flew out of the way of the first missile, he stayed alert for a second one.
By the time he saw it, though, it was too late. He glimpsed the missile in his mirror just as it ripped through the back of the plane.
There was a deafening explosion. Chunks of the plane caught fire and fell off. The control panel went haywire.