Retired Air Force colonel on the power of a positive attitude
By Capt. Cody Hawkins, 153rd Airlift Wing
/ Published December 09, 2015
CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- Few military members have ever experienced what retired Air Force Col. Edward Hubbard has gone through in life. Of those who have, it is likely even fewer carry his outlook on life.
The world, according to Hubbard, is driven by perceptions more than facts. While speaking to members of the 153rd Airlift Wing, he went on to explain why he has not had a bad day in almost 49 years - not one. Considering he was a POW during the Vietnam War for almost seven years, this was likely difficult for many in the audience to understand at first.
Hubbard told his story of one of his last bad days, which began July 20, 1966, while flying a mission over North Vietnam. First his aircraft suffered not one, but two surface-to-air missiles and both wings were ripped off. Realizing he was descending at a speed of roughly 600 miles per hour toward the ground in a damaged aircraft, Hubbard said at that moment he realized he had two choices that needed to be made, and quickly.
"I either had to go down with the plane or jump out," said Hubbard. "Once I realized the wings were gone, the decision became pretty easy."
After safely ejecting from his aircraft he considered himself fortunate that his parachute opened without fail. However, at 15,000 feet in the air he began taking enemy fire from the ground.
Once on the ground, it took only a couple hours for Vietnamese troops to capture Hubbard. This began his life-changing experience of 2,420 days--just over six and a half years--in a Vietnamese prison. Whether in war or not, most people entering into a prison situation are likely not happy about it.
"The first 150 days, I thought I was going to die," said Hubbard. "At the time, I had plenty of self-pity and a horrible attitude."
But on Day 151, Hubbard said something changed for him.
He paused and said, "I remembered a quote that went, 'I cried because I had no shoes. Then I met a man with no feet.'"
Hubbard said that was when he decided to change his perspective. That day he told himself he would survive his imprisonment and he would also, from that point forward, always keep in mind that someone somewhere has it worse than him.
In his case he considered those who had it worse to actually be the guards who watched over him and 253 other American prisoners. He said they were the trapped ones and truly imprisoned by their belief system.
Along with maintaining a more positive attitude, Hubbard and his fellow prisoners stayed sane by communicating with each other, despite being secluded and unable to speak with each other. Hubbard said prisoners communicated using a tap code or knock code, which uses a series of tapping sounds on walls to spell out words. Using tap code allowed him to learn Spanish, poetry, and even several bad jokes - all in an effort to pass time and keep his mental state healthy.
Hubbard and his fellow prisoners also found it critical to maintain their physical strength, despite living in a 6-by-6 foot room.
"Competition helped us survive," he said. "It gave us purpose and direction each day. It helped us set goals and be productive. In prison, the lack of productivity can end your life."
Despite being on a diet consisting of rice, what prisoners called "weeds," and water - only about 300 calories a day - competition came in the form of simple physical contests like pushups, sit-ups and jump roping (prisoners made ropes using torn pieces of bed sheets and braiding them together).
Hubbard said despite entering the prison camp at 175 pounds and leaving at a mere 98 pounds, he still left in 1973 with a smile.
Hubbard said he knew his attitude was everything.
"His message made me re-evaluate my current goals in life and remember that when I want to give myself a pity party, life is too short to have that kind of party," said Tech. Sgt. Emma Simental, personnelist at Joint Force Headquarters, Wyoming Air National Guard.
Today Hubbard speaks to corporations and military members about his experiences but he said he purposely leaves out a lot of details about his time as a POW because according to him they are unnecessary. Instead Hubbard focuses his efforts on encouraging people to change their perspective and in doing so make the world a better place.
"It's up to each of us to decide where we want to go and how we want to get there," he said.