ANNAPOLIS -- Again and again during his 47 days as an Iraqi prisoner of war, Navy Lt. Jeffrey N. Zaun drew on the strength and discipline of his training at the U.S. Naval Academy to survive.
"It comes to you when you have to deal with the possibility of enduring for a long time," the 28-year-old bombardier-navigator said yesterday during a triumphant visit to his alma mater.
"It comes to you when you're confused after a long interrogation. It helps you keep your head on straight. It's easy to lose your sanity."
Lieutenant Zaun, a 1984 academy graduate, was forced by his captors to denounce the U.S.-led waragainst Iraq after his A6-E Intruder was shot down during a bombing mission over southwestern Iraq on Jan. 17. The television footage of his swollen, battered face and wooden words shocked Americans, helpingto galvanize public sentiment against Iraq.
Once he and the other POWs were handed over to Iraqi political authorities, Lieutenant Zaun wasn't sure he would live through the war.
"I thought we were probably going to get shot any day," he said. "It was pretty depressing."
Lieutenant Zaun's bravery and endurance earned him a hero's welcome yesterday from the academy's 4,400 midshipmen, who roared their approval when he appeared to eatlunch with them in King's Hall.
The diminutive officer beamed as he listened to their cheers. During a brief speech, he shared his greatest lesson from the war.
"America's freedom doesn't depend on silent submarines or stealth technology, it depends on the valor of its warriors," Lieutenant Zaun said. "Remember you're warriors. Don't lose sight of that."
He also thanked the midshipmen for their support after his capture, particularly the 31-foot banner they sent to his parents, Calvin and Marjorie Zaun, in New Jersey.
"Those were some pretty dark days and you helped comfort them a lot," he said. "I appreciate that and I thank you."
After his speech, LieutenantZaun joined the table where he ate hot dogs heaped with chili and Cheddar cheese, milk and chocolate chip cookies.
Douglas Cosley, a 22-year-old midshipman from Miami who ate with Lieutenant Zaun, said the former POW's ordeal made a vivid impression on him and his classmates. "Any one of us could be called to do the same job as Lieutenant Zaun," he said.
Mike Martinez, a 20-year-old midshipman from Fontana, Calif., bounded up to the lieutenant to welcome him home. A friend snapped his picture with a 35mm camera as he shook Lieutenant Zaun's hand.
After lunch, Lieutenant Zaun was presented with the contents of Locker 57, which was emblazoned with his name after his capture and stuffed with mementos for his returnby the 33 captains of the academy's sports teams.
The lieutenant, who was a member of the gymnastics team at the academy, hauled away a box filled with an American flag, signed T-shirts, jerseys, oars, team balls, blankets and a mimeographed photo of Saddam Hussein used for target practice by the academy rifle team.
"We're all shooting for you," read the caption under the photo.
Kari Hogan, the 23-year-old captain of the women's crew, said she never doubted the outcome of the war or Lieutenant Zaun's survival. But the locker became a sobering reminder of the purpose of an academy education and the risks of a military career.
"Like Lieutenant Zaun said, we are warriors," she explained, "and that's what we're here for."