By General Robinson Risner
©1992 Ballantine Books
Reviewed by David Heller

Only God and Veterans of the Vietnam War intimately know about a time in American history that still profoundly shapes, affects and, to a degree, defines America nearly thirty years later. Some 58,000 Americans never returned from the war in Southeast Asia. Of those who did return many would have difficulty living their lives unaffected by what they had endured. This great loss of human life has left a huge hole in our society, a hole that would have been filled by these men as they became husbands, fathers, doctors, teachers, coaches, etc. It is my opinion, that these men gave their lives for the sake of precious freedom, and the hole created by the loss of these brave men, needs to be filled by men who will answer the call to resist the “enemy” and endure for the sake of freedom.

I learned of this book from a couple of older military men with whom I work. I was told that this book is given to US and Israeli military personnel as a guide for resisting the enemy after capture. The Passing of the Night describes a young man who dreamed of flying and who pursued that dream with zeal; a young man who soon matured into a man faced with the harsh realities of war. The author tells vividly of the risks, dangers and near death accounts of air battle that he survives prior to being shot down and then captured by the Communist North Vietnamese.

After being captured Risner expected to be treated as a POW according to the Geneva Convention, which is the international agreement spelling out the treatment of captured enemy soldiers. The NVA did not regard the captured pilots as combatants enlisted in the army of another sovereign nation, but as criminals committing crimes against the people of North Vietnam. This was the beginning of seven and half years of deprivation, isolation, torture and pain. He describes the enemy as “harsh, repressive and cruel — totalitarian dictatorship.” In the chapter entitled “The Longest Six Weeks of My Life” Risner describes his torturer in this way: “By the time the day was over, I felt dirty and soiled as though he had been in my mind walking around with filthy old boots on. From the time they took me back to my cell I dreaded meeting him again worse than physical torture. That thought consumed every waking moment." Later he related, “Finally he got me to a certain place and seemed unable to take me any further. His intent had evidently been to force complete submission of my mind so that not only would I answer his questions as he wanted them answered, but also I would believe them. He could not take me to that place. I did not believe what he was saying ...”

I would recommend this book for the human interest value as well as the historical value of the story. The Passing of the Night is an historical account of the life of a prisoner of war as well as a first person account of how two opposing world views affected both nations and peoples of those nations. As a highly trained pilot deprived of his weapons and comrades, Risner had to learn to resist the enemy apart from them. Risner and others endured inconceivable conditions to become living testimonies of the faithfulness and mercy of a God whose presence was not restrained by the infamous Hanoi Hilton. Personally, I wondered how it was possible for even the strongest and bravest of individuals to survive such horrific circumstances. The story told in this book allowed me to understand in a greater way the process that Christians go through as soldiers enlisted in the army of God. I was reminded of being young, daring, and unexperienced to the realities of the warfare that I would encounter because I had enlisted as a follower of Jesus. General Robinson Risner, ace pilot turned author, tells his story with, at times, painful honesty and with an incredible attention to detail that moved me to tears and now motivates me to place my trust in God’s power to sustain men who call on His name. I was encouraged to believe that in spite of incredible hardship God does give grace to go on and to be free.

Copyright 2014