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on May 5, 2003
Former marine pilot Ernest C. Brace was employed as a U.S. contract pilot for USAID, flying in Laos supporting Vietnam war efforts, when his airstrip was overrun by enemy forces in May of 1965 and he was taken captive.
In his initial 3 years of captivity in Laos, Brace would be held alternately by Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese troops. Suffering inhuman conditions and being caged like an animal, he would end up attempting 3 daring escapes earning him brutal beatings and subsequent injuries that would affect him the rest of his life.
Upon being transferred to North Vietnam, Ernest Brace would continue his last four and a half years of imprisonment in the Hanoi Hilton, Plantation, and Briar Patch prison compounds. While confined in these locations, though not obligated to do so, he honorably followed the U.S. serviceman's code of conduct earning him the respect and admiration of all the American prisoners he was with.
Although never tortured like other POW's, Brace would risk this many times as he became a major junction for communications between prisoners which helped boost morale and also heightened resistance to captors. Offered early release due to his civilian status, he declined with the intention of only going home when the sum total of American servicemen were also released.
Upon repatriation from Vietnam in 1973, after almost 8 years in captivity (four and a half of those years in solitary confinement), Brace would find his return triumphant and bittersweet at the same time. Learning that his wife had remarried during his imprisonment and spending a full year in hospital visits to repair his injured body, he would eventually find success, happiness, and prosperity in the years to follow.
Ernest C. Brace, the longest held civilian POW of the Vietnam war, is a true American hero in every sense of the word and is an outstanding example of how patriotism, loyalty, courage, and inspiration are brought out in a person. So much so that he was awarded the highest civilian award given by the Department of Defense for his actions during confinement in Vietnam.
A Code To Keep is a well written and remarkable narrative on POW captivity and comes highly recommended to everyone.
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on February 24, 2002
I read this book quite a few years ago. I was in a Marine infantry platoon in Vietnam, and am not easily impressed by war stories. Too many of them are exaggerated, or just plain untrue. When this book first came out I found out Brace and I were both working at Sikorsky Aircraft in CT and I lived about a half mile away from him, so I read the book. It made an impression on me few war books have. Brace was drummed out of the Marine Corps in disgrace when he walked away from his crashed plane on a training flight in the States. Eventually he was flying missions for the CIA in Laos where he was captured by the Pathet Lao. He felt he had "a code to keep" as a POW, and his behavior was recognized by other prisoners as outstanding enough that he was the only civilian prisoner of the Vietnam War recommended for a medal. His tale is riveting, and it makes us realize that even if we mess up in life, we can come back and redeem ourselves.
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on February 8, 2006
"A Code to Keep" is the story of Ernest C. Brace. Brace was a former Marine pilot, who left the Corps in the early 1960s under a cloud. His plane had crashed on a training mission in Maryland and Brace simply abandoned the aircraft. In May of 1965, he was flying for USAID in Laos when captured by the Pathet Lao. Any connection to the CIA is unmentioned. He was soon turned over to the North Vietnamese and went on to suffer nearly eight years captivity until the general release of the POWs in the Spring of 1973. Though a civilian, Brace comported himself as a military man. Though not mistreated as badly as many fellow POWs, Brace sought no special privileges his civilian status might have given him. Every POW tale tells its' own special story and CTK is no different: CTK relates the continuing struggle of senior POWs to maintain a command structure in prison and to minimize any cooperation with the North Vietnamese captors. Senior POWs as McCain, Risner, Stockdale are here, as are other brave high raking Americans in Hanoi's captivity. So too is WO John Anton, author of the excellent "Why Didn't You Get Me Out?" Brace deals less with the aspect of torture and mistreatment than other POW tales. He even portrays an almost neutral attitude toward his captors. Brace is also somewhat benign to those Americans who cooperated with their captors. He labels them "The Peace Idiots" rather than "collaborators". Perhaps the author has come to terms with these folks. Moreso to his credit. What bothered and disturbed this reviewer about CTK is Brace's status as a Laos captee. Only 9 Americans, Brace included, were ever repatriated alive from that mysterious country. All were released through Hanoi. The remains of close to 200 more men were also returned. Some 450+ are still unaccounted for! The author makes it crystal clear that the Laotian captees in Hanoi were justifiably worried that they would never come home. NVA Officers only encouraged that fear. Neither side wanted to admit having troops there! The affected Americans dubbed themselves LULUS - The Legendary Union of Laotian Unfortunates. Only a last minute intervention by President Nixon had the Lulus repatriated on schedule in 1973. RN remains the only American President to seriously address the POW/MIA issue. As of January 1, 1808 remain missing in 5 Asian countries. The bottom line is that CTK is yet one more solid entry of POW epics. A star is deducted for that old and ongoing malfaction: no Maps! Brace was so deep in the Laotian boonies that even a Rand McNally map does not help place him! Brace made a long trek to Hanoi; a decent map would have helped document his journey to ultimate freedom. As it says above, each tells its' own story. CTK yields yet another vantagepoint into that long Indochina War that affected so many of us. Fortunately for all, life does indeed go on after repatriation.
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on February 10, 2000
I had the pleasure of working with Ernie in a privately owned company a few years ago. I was amazed when I found out exactly what he went through for so many years. When his son loaned me a copy of his book I could not put it down.
This book is a page turner, every event in Ernie's life takes many turns. You are always asking yourself how much can this man take? Why doesn't he just give up? After reading this book you can see that a man of his character would never consider that an option. This story is a harrowing account of a civilian pilot taken prisoner and held for many years. Held in various locations he finally ends up at the famous "Hanoi Hilton". Ernie is a wonderful man and I appreciate his sharing his story. Try your library if you can't find it here.
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on February 28, 2005
Among the very many Americans who were captured in Laos during the Vietnam War, Ernest C. Brace was among the handful few who came home. Brace was captured in 1965, and he wasn't allowed to return back home before 1973. While he was in captivity he was tortured and for many years he was held in a small bamboo cage. At one point this kind of treatment made him unable to stand on his feet.

Later on he was moved to Hanoi and after a while allowed company with fellow American POWs. The first American he came in contact with was John McCain. He taught Brace how to make use of his tin cup to make Morse signals. In this way the prisoners were able to communicate. Later on he was moved into a cell accompanied with other POWs who had been captured in Laos.

One of the things I liked the most with this book was that it had a happy ending. When Brace arrived home he once again proved that he was a survivor. He managed to survive freedom. The homecoming was a shock to him, since his wife had remarried and despite knowing differently, told the children their father was dead. Ernest C. Brace gives a lot of praise to his second wife, Nancy. She came into his life while he was still in hospital. His younger children moved in with them, and Ernest Brace got a new job and a career.

Ernest Brace ends his book in 2001 by telling us that he retired in 1993, and there is a photo of him together with M. and Raisa Gorbachev taken the same year. He tells that it was taken when he was asked to accompany the Russian couple on a trip from Washington D.C. to San Francisco.

Ernest Brace is a man who survived against the odds. This is a captivating book that makes you sit down and think long after you have finished it.
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on September 26, 2004
Teriffic!! Couldn't put it down. I read this book over a year ago, loaned it out to several people and have still never got it back. It made a big impression on me and I still can't get it out of my head. I've read virtually every book by former POWs in Vietnam but this one is entirely unique because of the bizarre background that Mr. Brace had prior to becoming a POW. As an attorney in the Army JAG Corps, I've both defended and prosecuted soldiers for committing crimes and misconduct similar to that of Ernie Brace which resulted in his court-martial conviction and dismissal from the Marine Corps. This book, written in total humility with no pretensions, really shows that we can all redeem ourselves and regain our honor and character, regardless of whether we have used poor judgement in life. It also helps to put a lot of what we consider to be "problems" in their proper perspective. Realizing what he went through, most of our hangups today are nothing in comparision. This is a great book to teach people about character, without stuffing it down your throat and being pious. It also has a fantastic ending.
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on January 23, 2014
Even though Mr. Brace was thrown out of the military, he kept his military bearing throughout his imprisonment. Which is notable since he was the longest serving POW of the Viet Nam conflict. Amazing still that he survived since he was captured in Laos, which usually meant one would never be heard from again. Its a great book on how one man kept his spirit to live when most would have given up. I highly recommend this book.
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on July 10, 2001
I have read this book many times over the years, first when I was 12 years old hearing about my famous cousin who was a prisoner of war, then again at about 16. As I read this book I was in complete awe that one man could with stand so many years of such hardship, things were done to this man that most of us have only seen in the movies. He lost his family, but gained it back with a new wife and life. If you read this book only for the history then you are missing half the story this is a story meant to inspire something special in a person. If you take nothing from this book I ask that you take this mans legacy with you when you close the book, after all how much did it take from hisself to find the bravery to sit down and relive those terrible years in his mind over and over again.
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on February 15, 2015
Very complex book about a marine, who was drummed out of the U.S. marine corps, and subsequently used his military training to work for air America. He was captured in Laos, imprisoned, escaped, and tortured. His story is such that he was turned over to North Vietnamese troops and was transferred to North Vietnam's infamous POW prisons. This should be the final chapter in this book, but, it is just the beginning. This man distinguished himself by keeping communications open with other Pow's and never quitting on himself, his comrades, or his country. His story should be read by all Americans about a civilian, that was imprisoned for seven years.
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on August 24, 2012
The author has an excellent memory and has put together the kind of account that has you shaking your head at the strength of the human spirit. You will ask yourself if you could possibly have survived the same circumstances, (I know I couldn't have!). One of the things that stood out for me was how he really never had any ill will towards the Vietnamese.
As a civilian he was not bound by a military code of conduct but chose to follow it anyway. I believe this was important to his survival, he and others like him had a deep sense of honor and gained self respect by being good soldiers,marines and airmen even under the most difficult circumstances.
As an aside, James Stockdale was one of the iron willed leaders of the prisoners. You may remember him as Ross Perot's running mate. At the vice presidential debate much was said about his quip 'who am I, why am I here'. It was a self effacing question, not the ramblings of a senile old man as he was blasted by the press. Stockdale went on to say he had read the Lincoln Douglas debates prior to this one to get some perspective. The others there probably never heard of them! It still bothers me how this true hero was treated because some political hacks didn't understand a rhetorical question. If you read the book you may feel the same way.
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