“SAMs are tracking me. I’m trying to lose them.”
“MACE 24, implement evasive maneuvers immediately.”
“My wing’s been clipped…Betty’s squawking at me. I have to bale. Tell my family I love them.”
Colonel Stevens wrapped his hand around the ejection handle between his knees and yanked upward. The polycarbonate canopy exploded off the F-16 with near deafening sound and Stevens jettisoned from the cockpit at a force of 14 g. His stomach ventured to stay behind, but reluctantly followed. Once Stevens cleared the craft, the parachute discharged ripping him from the chair and floating him behind enemy lines. Hide and seek had begun.
Stevens’ SERE training shifted from potentially useful to absolutely vital. Survival and Evasion were the first order of business. North Korea’s renegade regime would relish the capture of a US airman. Success in the first two directives would eliminate the need to implement the final two: Resistance and Escape.
The North Koreans patrolled the boarder frequently and likely spotted his parachute. If so, they were already in pursuit. Stevens kept his ears attuned for enemy movement while he shed his jump gear. The shrill shriek of a jungle primate echoed through the air, but no human voices or military vehicles.
Stevens dislodged the nylon chute from the palm branches above and concealed it under the greenery of the jungle floor. The verdant environment would provide ample material for camouflage and the Colonel sliced away some foliage with his boot knife. Mosquitoes, biting flies, and other pests soon discovered the fresh flesh in their midst and advanced upon Stevens’ perspiring face and neck. He ignored their bloodletting and focused on the crucial task of survival.
He strategically placed emerald colored fronds in his flight suit to enable surreptitious movement through the moist vegetation. He needed to move quickly yet stealthily to distance himself from the landing point and elude capture.
Stevens traversed the terrain as a gymnast on the floor routine with grace and speed. He left little trampled flora in his wake and created a six-mile cushion in an hour. A trickling stream halted his trek, but far from a detriment, it offered life. Though not Aqua Fina, it would suffice. Stevens crouched down and filled his military issued canteen and then dropped an iodine purification tablet through the top. After three minutes, he partially secured the cap and shook the water allowing some liquid to coat the threads around the top. After fully tightening it, he let it rest. In ten minutes he would have drinkable water-survival’s priority.
A vehicle rumbled in the distance and pricked the Colonel’s ears. He sprawled on the jungle floor in a paralytic-like state. With his ear plastered to the ground, he determined the vehicle was advancing toward his position. Running was too risky. Patience was the answer. Stevens initiated a meditative breathing pattern, which slowed his pulse and limited diaphragmatic motion. Nothing would compromise his position.
The engine roar intensified and the sound of Asian dialogue entered the mix.
Foot soldiers are scouting ahead, the Colonel reasoned.
The scent of cigarette smoke drifted into the area. They weren’t far away now. Machine gun fire rattled through the jungle only twenty yards from his location. They certainly weren’t sneaking up on their prey.
They’re trying to flush me out. Slow, steady breaths.
Two Korean soldiers paused about ten feet away from him. One flung his burning cigarette butt into the brush and it landed on the back of Stevens’ neck. The searing flesh twitched in response. He managed to regain composure and allowed the burning nicotine stick to extinguish on his skin.
The soldiers hushed and turned in his direction, scanning the area. Stevens prayed. Hide me, O LORD, in the shadow of Your wings from the enemies who surround me. An infantry boot planted itself just inches from Stevens’ shoulder crushing the plants around it. He could have given it a spit shine, but they certainly weren’t interested in that. Eternity infused the seconds. Jungle life stood still. Wait. Pray.
A crackling voice through the soldier’s radio interrupted the surreal silence. Stevens understood portions of the conversation–they were relocating the search efforts. The two man hunters ran over and boarded an approaching jeep which wheeled around and left Stevens unscathed and undetected.
Twenty-nine hours later, an apache chopper carrying a US special ops team rescued the Colonel and headed for Seoul. The Colonel bowed his head. You are my hiding place, LORD. Thank You.
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