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POW and American Hero Captain Charlie Plumb (ep. 31)

Charlie Plumb

In Honor of Memorial Day: Talking with an American Hero

“We found ourselves in parachutes floating down over enemy territory.”

Charlie Plumb spent his impoverished yet idyllic childhood in Kansas “kicking cans and playing in the light of the moon.” When it was time for college, he won a scholarship and hopped on a Greyhound bus to the military academy in Annapolis.

After graduating from the Naval Academy, he immediately married his high school sweet heart and went onto flight training. In 1963 he was in Vietnam and on his 75th mission, his plane was shot down.

Charlie says what got him through captivity was his “why” or his purpose — coming home safely to his bride. Years later when he finally got off enemy soil and called her, she shared that she had filed for divorce and was engaged to another man.

Charlie was never bitter. He didn’t regret not knowing that his wife had moved on. “I thought, how can I be unhappy? I’ve just been released from prison. 24/7 I didn’t know if I’d be alive [and today I’m free] you can’t rain on my parade.”

Charlie’s spirit captivated John and Charlie is one of the reasons John so vulnerably shares his story today.

In honor of Memorial Day, it is our honor to share the story of Charlie Plumb, an American Hero. He will inspire you to never take your freedom or life for granted.

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  • Charlie learned about forgiveness from his mom and discipline from his dad. Both were qualities he needed to survive the prison camps.
  • Critical to suriving:
    1. Keeping your sense of humor
    2. Finding a way to communicate with each other. “The importance of the communication wasn’t the thought we were passing around it was the validation of another human being.
    3. Having faith that there was a purpose to this [being shot down].
    4. Remembering you have a choice. The first few months I was bitter. But I realized I was killing myself by not knowing my purpose. I figured if their was a why, I’d find a way to so survive.
  • Those there longest (POWs) came back with a lower rate of PTSD because great leadership unified us under a mission statement: Return with honor. (Listen here to past podcast guest, Michaela Haas, expert on Post Traumatic Growth.)
  • What was your why/purpose? My bride. I planned our next 20 years on how I’d make it up to her. People ask if I wish I’d known she was going to divorce me. No, planning 20 birthdays, anniversaries, etc. is what got me through.
  • Therapists told me: You gotta get bitter! The longer you wait the more difficult it will be and you’ll have a mental break down. My thought process: How can I be unhappy? I’ve just been released from prison. 24/7 I didn’t know if I’d be alive – you can’t rain on my parade.
  • I ran into the man who packed my parachute. He said. “I’m not the only parachute packer in your life. Your parents, big sister, little brother, preacher, coaches, they are the ones who allowed you safe descent and passage through those 6.5 years.” Who packs your parachute? Whose are you packing?
  • Advice for anyone in-prisoned: Look at the value of challenge. Adversity is a horrible thing to waste.
  • Don’t blame other people for your problems, because away goes your opportunity to be better bc of the problem you’re facing.
  • Get Charlie’s book I’m No Hero here.
  • Learn more about Charlie at www.CharliePlumb.com


1. What is the best book you’ve ever read? The Bible, chapter of Job. Unbroken, it epitomizes your philosophy and mine on winning through adversity.

2. Tomorrow you discover your wealthy uncle shockingly dies at the age of 103; leaving you millions. What would you do? Bolder Crest supports vets with PTSD to expand their reach bc they’re doing a lot of good for veterans.

3. Your house is on fire, all living things and people are out. You have the opportunity to run in and grab one item. What would it be? A tin cup with holes in it that I brought back from the prison camp. I keep that cup just to remind me of the challenges I face and the value of the challenge.

4. You are sitting on a bench overlooking a gorgeous beach. You have the opportunity to have a long conversation with anyone living or dead. Who would it be? My mother. She endured so much while I was over there, but never placed blame. I never heard her say a bad word about anyone. The longer I live, the more I appreciate her approach to forgiveness. I’d love to talk to her about how to forgive the unforgivable.

5. What is the best advice you’ve ever received?  A coach told me it wasn’t the things around me that would change my life, it’s the choices you make about the things around you. You can choose to be a loser or a winner or choose to give away that choice.

6. Looking back, what advice would you give yourself at age 20? Believe in a purpose as the highest priority.

7. It’s been said that all great people can have their lives summed up in one sentence. How do you want yours to read? He was a servant.


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I can’t wait to see you here next Thursday! Today is your day. Live Inspired.

Live Inspired with John everyday on FacebookTwitterYouTubeLinkedInPinterest and get his Monday Motivation email: www.JohnOLearyInspires.com/Monday-Morning

12 replies on “POW and American Hero Captain Charlie Plumb (ep. 31)”

Thanks John! What you do has been an inspiration for hundreds, no doubt thousands of individuals. Several years ago I was in your audience in Tiffin, Ohio at an Educational Service Center Teachers meeting. Your story has had a positive influence on me in getting through tough times in my life – although none nearly as tough as you or Charlie.

I just wanted you to know and to encourage you to continue in your work of inspiring other to endure hardships, stand strong, think positive, make good choices and do their best with what ever hand life has dealt them. Also like Charlie, remember to keep God as the most important member of their survival time.

Wow, what an awesome interview! I have a special place in my heart for Veterans and this was so touching to me. Thank you

What a (can’t even find a big enough word) story! Thank you, thank you for sharing!!!! These podcasts make doing the dishes, laundry, etc. actually enjoyable ?

HI John! First of all I love your podcasts. I can’t wait for new episodes to be broadcast. I think you should consider posting a “reading list” of all the favorite books that your guests answer in the Live Inspired 7! I think that would be very helpful!! If you do have this, please point me in the right direction.

Thank you for all you do!!

That was an amazing podcast!! I love the question about the parachute… And the why??? I’m trying to figure all that out… But thank you so much!!! I would rate this podcast a 10 the highest number you can possibly get!!!

What an awesome story to here anytime but especially today, Memorial Cost. Thank you John and Charlie got making my life more meaningful because of your inspirational message.

What an inspiring story. Thank-you Mr. Plumb for sharing and thank-you John for spreading this great story on overcoming adversity.

Fantastic Show John. As President of InScope International, I sent this link out to my staff as part of my Memorial Day message.
Keep up the great work.
All the best.

Listening to this mornings Lived Inspired podcast with the one and only John O’Leary and Charlie Plumb totally made me stop what I was doing and listen with my whole heart. Charlie’s story inspired me to the core. We are here to serve with our life stories. We are here to give with our whole heart. We are here to stand in our faith and know that God’s purpose for us is ever evolving.
Thank you fir today’s podcast. It was like while food to my soul. Thank you for helping us rise up and stand in our own greatness. You are so appreciated and loved John O’Leary. God bless you.

Thank you! I am speechless…
So appreciate what you do, and Charlie Plumb’s incredible, inspiring life!