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Defiant: The POWs Who Endured Vietnam's Most Infamous Prison, the Women Who Fought for Them, and the One Who Never Returned Hardcover – February 4, 2014

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Editorial Reviews


You told it exactly like it was. In this unexpected way, your book made it all worthwhile. (GEORGE MCKNIGHT, POW, 1965-1973)

Defiant is a riveting tribute to the unyielding men who endured years of brutal captivity as POWs in Vietnam and the families they left behind. The men of the 'Alcatraz Eleven' are true American heroes and their extraordinary stories will serve as an inspiration for generations to come. (SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN, POW, 1967-1973)

These heroic men and women remind us how courage, devotion, and faith can triumph even in the darkest of times. In Defiant, Alvin Townley masterfully tells the inspirational and unforgettable story of our Vietnam POWs and the Alcatraz Eleven. (PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER)

Alvin Townley's story of the courage, valor and honor of eleven indomitable POWs and their wives is a new American classic that will be read as long as the breezes kiss Old Glory. As I read it I wept. (STEPHEN COONTS)

A moving, must read of extraordinary courage and mutual support in facing unimaginable hardship and torture. (ANN MILLS-GRIFFITHS, Chair, National League of POW/MIA Families)

This stirring tale by Alvin Townley of resilience and leadership under unimaginable conditions is a must read. (JIM LOVELL, Commander of Apollo 13)

This moving and authentic epic of unrelenting heroism shines like the sun as an example of American men and women at their very best. (Medal of Honor recipient GEORGE "BUD" DAY, POW, 1968-1973)

Riveting. Powerful. Authentic. I had tears in my eyes reading Defiant. If I can still cry, I know others will too. (MIKE MCGRATH, POW, 1967-1973)

Defiant will make you proud to be an American, and Alvin Townley's writing makes you feel as if you are there yourself. It would be a wonderful textbook for a course on how to be a POW, but it is also a book for anyone on how to face and overcome adversity! (WESLEY D. SCHIERMAN, POW, 1965-1973)

Alvin Townley has captured the individual accounts of these eleven men and woven them into a captivating story of resilience, courage and love of country. (ROBERT H. SHUMAKER, POW, 1965-1973)

A unique American epic which must never be forgotten. Thanks to Alvin Townley's ability to convert its heartbreaking reality into vivid prose, its men and women are alive as human beings as well as symbols of their commitment to each other -- and their country. (THOMAS FLEMING, author of The Officers' Wives)

Defiant is a must read for those who seek to understand and honor the very best of America and its heroes. Alvin Townley's exhaustive research shows us how our prisoners of war in Vietnam served with inspired bravery and unrelenting courage. We can now know in detail how the most abused of them all survived years of brutality and solitary confinement. (MELVIN R. LAIRD, Secretary of Defense (1968-1972))

In Defiant, Alvin Townley reveals a moving, inspiring, untold story of courage and sacrifice that stands as a vivid testimony to what the human spirit can overcome. This is an important and too often overlooked aspect of the Vietnam War's history…For those interested in Vietnam's Band of Brothers, it is a must read. (JAY WINIK, bestselling author of April 1865 and The Great Upheaval)

Defiant is an astounding story that will capture your heart and mind proving once and for all that determination trumps circumstance. (ANDY ANDREWS, New York Times bestselling author of How Do You Kill 11 Million People?, The Noticer, and The Traveler's Gift)

I carried this book from room to room and kept trying to put it down, but I couldn't stop reading. Alvin Townley shows the heart of what it means to be American in this tale of some of our greatest heroes. Defiant is superb. (GREGORY A. FREEMAN, author of The Gathering Wind: Hurricane Sandy, the Sailing Ship Bounty, and a Courageous Rescue at Sea)

Defiant is all about voices - those that went unused for days by solitary prisoners of war, and those of silently suffering women back home who eventually felt no choice but to speak out. Alvin Townley soberly evokes the terror, sadness, frustration, pain and inspiration they all felt, and along the way, gives us a Vietnam War most of us have never heard about, involving legions of American women and imprisoned men fighting together, thousands of miles apart. (ALAN HUFFMAN, author of Here I Am: The Story of Tim Hetherington, War Photographer)

The story of human courage, individual and family perseverance, survival based on a warrior's code of honor. Alvin Townley weaves the recollections of these remarkable men into a compelling narrative against the backdrop of war, freedom, forgiveness and reconciliation. An inspirational account of POWs who served with honor while in captivity and returned home with a commitment to serve their country. (Larry Berman, author of Zumwalt: The Life and Times of Admiral Elmo Russell "Bud" Zumwalt, Jr.)

If you have ever wondered how real courage and ultimate perseverance should be defined, all you need to do is read these pages. If you have ever pondered whether Americans still have the grit and the 'guts' to show the world what it takes to defend freedom, reading about the 'Alcatraz Eleven' will bolster your confidence. What these men endured nearly defies description, but Alvin Townley has managed to pull it off brilliantly. The writing is hard-hitting and powerful, dynamic and breath-taking. So, too, is his retelling of the stoic courage of the loved ones stuck at home with uncertainty and doubt: uncertainty about their own abilities to bear up, then doubt in the fortitude and truthfulness of their own government. What the families did from afar, and how they ultimately put backbone into their own leaders and pushed accountability onto the captors of the POWs, is a story heretofore largely untold. It is a narrative as striking in its own right as the tales of the 'Alcatraz Eleven' themselves. (PHIL KEITH, award-winning author of Blackhorse Riders and Fire Base Illingworth)

Alvin Townley's Defiant is a compelling recounting of the horror, hope, hell, and humanity that was daily life for the American prisoners of war who struggled through existence at Hanoi's most brutal prison camp. Expertly researched and compellingly written, Townley's account of the reality of life both in Hanoi's prisons and for the families of the prisoners at home is inspiring reading and should be part of any Vietnam War library. (ANDREW WIEST, author of The Boys of ‘67)

Alvin Townley has done a magnificent job of weaving together the powerful and complex story of eleven men who survived the unbelievable cruelty of their North Vietnamese captors. Defiant honors the bravery and sacrifice of our prisoners of war and their families as no other reporting has done to date. These men, many of whom I knew, deserve no less. (RICHARD G. CAPEN, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (1968-1971))

Alvin Townley's work speaks volumes of America and our service men and women, and their spouses….their honor, steadfastness, perseverance, spirit, and love of country…and clearly illuminates the differences in our militaries and governments. Reading 'today' of their time in captivity, brings the same emotions Americans shed upon their release and return in 1973. (GENERAL J.H. BINFORD PEAY III, U.S. Army (Retired); Superintendent, Virginia Military Institute; former Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Central Command)

With Defiant, Alvin Townley has done readers a huge favor. By describing the POWs' scenes of torture and deprivation in such detail--to the point we can almost feel our own bones crack under pressure--he reminds us that we should never take our civil liberties for granted. This book is a testament to the human spirit and how, in the worst of conditions with the best of men, it can be bent but never broken. (DAVID ABRAMS, author of Fobbit)

In a fast-flowing narrative replete with reconstructed dialogue, Townley writes reverently of these POWs (Publishers Weekly)

Inspirational. (Kirkus Reviews)

Defiant is a significant document of human survival and endurance under unspeakable circumstances, and, in a time when the White House levels charges of torture against fellow Americans, provides a reality check. (World Affairs)

A gripping account of the 'Alcatraz Eleven,' a group of American prisoners of war in North Vietnam who formed a tough core of heroic resisters despite brutal and relentless efforts to break them and convert them into fodder for the Communist propaganda machine. … Townley's telling of these important stories is fresh and vivid, thanks to his interviews with surviving prisoners and their family members. Defiant is an excellent book for younger readers with little knowledge of this searing chapter in American history, when a brash United States stumbled its way deeper and deeper into the Indochina morass. … Townley also adds an important, and often overlooked, dimension to the prisoners' stories -- that of their wives' campaign at home to thrust the plight of the P.O.W.'s into the national spotlight. (The New York Times Book Review)

Townley shines a light on [the POWs'] courage and what their families back home went through. (The New York Post)

Townley recounts, in detail, how Stockdale, Denton, and the other POWs endured years of almost unimaginable physical and mental torture, and the ways the men coped with the physical pain and emotional torment. (VVA Veteran)

Defiant is a page-turner. … Defiant focuses on the prisoners -- 'war criminals' to the Vietnamese -- who were upgraded from bad (Hanoi Hilton) to worse (Alcatraz). 'No one group endured any more than the 11 brothers,' Townley writes, and he proves his point. 'We should not forget,' and you won't. (Marine Corps Times)

About the Author

ALVIN TOWNLEY is the acclaimed author of Legacy of Honor: The Values and Influence of America's Eagle Scouts, Spirit of Adventure: Eagle Scouts and the Making of America's Future, and Fly Navy: Discovering the Extraordinary People and Enduring Spirit of Naval Aviation. He lives in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (February 4, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250006538
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250006530
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (158 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #87,308 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alvin Townley has spent six years traveling throughout the country and around the world, capturing stories of leadership, service, and inspiration. He has met with extraordinary individuals from all walks of life who are serving their country, pursuing adventures with a higher purpose, and making a difference in our world.

His pursuit of these stories has taken him to the infamous Hanoi Hilton in Vietnam with a former POW, into South Sudan and Africa with Peace Corps volunteers, to America's inner cities with Teach for America corps members, to surfing and diving adventures in Australia, and to aircraft carriers in three different oceans, including the Arabian Sea combat zone.

Alvin has discussed life and leadership with leaders like Michael Bloomberg, Ross Perot, Cabinet Secretaries Robert Gates and Hank Paulson, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, J.W. Marriott, Jr., Bill Gates, Sr., and Jim Lovell of Apollo 13. He has also spent time with Navy SEALs, Olympic athletes, emerging entrepreneurs, missionaries, values-driven professional athletes, and others who share his passion for service and adventure.

Alvin Townley's writing brings alive moving personal stories that inspire America.

Defiant (2014) reveals the story of the eleven POWs who endured Vietnam's most infamous prison, the women who fought for them, and the one who never returned. Best-selling author Stephen Coonts noted, "Alvin Townley's story of the courage, valor, and honor of eleven indomitable POWs and their wives is a new American classic that will be read as long as breezes kiss Old Glory. As I read it I wept."

Fly Navy (2011) explores the values and people - officers and enlisted, past and present - behind the century-old enterprise of naval aviation. Vice Admiral Tom Kilcline, Commander, Naval Air Forces 2007-2010, commented, "FLY NAVY crystalizes the imagination of flight into true inspiration."

Spirit of Adventure (2009) introduces America to a new generation of leaders - young Eagle Scouts who are leading lives of purpose and adventure. NFL MVP Peyton Manning commented, "Alvin Townley showcases the spirit of our young generation...Spirit of Adventure tells a compelling story about America's future."

Legacy of Honor (2007), his first book, explores how Scouting has influenced American life. President Jimmy Carter commented, "These Eagle Scouts will inspire readers to become leaders in serving others." Defense Secretary Robert Gates called the book "inspirational."

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By DACHokie VINE VOICE on December 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Growing up in Va. Beach during the 70s, I distinctly remember wearing my mother's POW bracelet to school in 1st grade, even though I had no clue what it really meant. I also vaguely remember Jeremiah Denton's celebrated return (he was stationed in Va. Beach) in 1973. But, aside from reading Denton's "When Hell Was in Session" ions ago and the occasional media quip simply reminding us that John McCain was a POW, I really never received a proper understanding of the suffering experienced by American POWs in Vietnam until I read Alvin Townley's DEFIANT. Townley's collective account of eleven men who stood united and strong after almost a decade of unimaginable physical and mental torture proved to be an emotional read from beginning to end.

Townley's book details the experience of the "Alcatraz Eleven": eleven men who distinguished themselves as being so defiant to their captors that they were transported to a special prison within the POW system specifically designed to break their will by any means necessary. Paralleling the story of the long-term misery of these men is the account of a different misery experienced by their families back home, desperately trying to learn more about the status of their husbands/fathers but encountering frustrating bureaucratic incompetence and red tape.

DEFIANT is presented chronologically, starting with the first of the "eleven" captured with the remaining men individually brought into the story as they are in-turn captured. Even before the core group of eleven are in the same camp, a hierarchy is established according to military rank and the prisoners are expected to abide by the US military Code of Conduct which details how the men are to behave (resist) in captivity.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Defiant is not a book that you will read quickly and or get through in a normal amount of time. Usually it doesn't take me long to devour a book and then post a review, but this book took me forever. Why, you ask? Because I found myself at a loss for the emotional strength to continue reading at times.

The pain and agony that these men went through who were prisoners of the North Vietnamese is just too hard to bear at times. Having lost many friends in Viet Nam I was not sure how I would react tot this book. But here goes.

Prisoner's of war should be treated according to the Geneva Convention. BUT, since this wasn't a war the North Vietnamese decided these prisoners were war criminals, not prisoners of war. Thus they treated them as badly as they could. Torture, solitary confinement, poor food, no health care and then more torture. This was the daily regime of these prisoners. It took it's toll.

But to read of the men's strong desire to serve their country and make their families, fellow soldiers and their country proud is amazing. They wanted to give up hope. They at times wanted to die. BUT, they never wavered on the desire to stand fast and make America proud.

But this book was hard to read because it brought back way to many difficult memories. Then to add to those memories to read how these men were treated just made me angry. Further, to read of the lack of any respect or human dignity being shown by their captors made me wonder what type of human beings communist could be.

This book MUST BE READ but anyone who wonders about what went on at the Hanoi Hilton and how our men survived. It MUST BE READ by anyone who questions the drive and loyalty of a person serving the military.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Nancy Loderick VINE VOICE on December 22, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was riveted by this book. Yes, it’s harsh and graphic. The North Vietnamese captors were inhuman. Yet, in spite of the horrific conditions and treatment the American POWs had, this book is one of triumph and optimism. Even if you don’t agree with war, you can’t help but admire these 12 POWs and their strong spirit.

Why I enjoyed this book:

* It’s so inspiring. The tales of inner strength and fortitude are wonderful. Yes, these men had moments of despair; they are human after all. In the end, they triumphed over evil. Not only were the POWs strong, but their wives and children were strong as well. The military wives didn’t give up. They did what they believed to be right, even if it went against the U.S. government.

* The history. I love history, but my studies of war ended with Civil War. Anything I’ve learned about later wars has been from my own reading. I was a child during the Vietnam War years, and only vaguely remember the TV showing the protests.

* The triumph of good over evil. Regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs, I think most will find this book showing that good can prevail.

This book doesn’t mince words, so it is not for the faint of heart. This is not a negative, since this is the reality of war.

I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn more about the Vietnam War. More importantly, it is a good read for anyone wanting to be inspired by the human spirit.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Wilhelmina Zeitgeist VINE VOICE on January 29, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Defiant: The POWs Who Endured Vietnam's Most Infamous Prison, the Women Who Fought for Them, and the One Who Never Returned" by Alvin Townley is eye opening history of the Viet Nam POW's. We don't really think much about them or about the war, was it really a war? No matter what your views of the Viet Nam War were or currently are, we must remember those men who didn't go to Canada when their draft numbers were drawn. They went to an unpopular war and did their best to serve our country.

There's a lot we heard about back when the news reporters filmed from the front. But, more happening "behind the scenes" none of us heard much, if anything, about. This is the story of the POW's, what they endured, how they survived, and the women who fought to bring attention to the plight of the men they loved, to not allow them to be forgotten, and to pressure the government to do something about bringing them back home.

The resilience of the women in this book is nothing short of amazing and inspirational. They worked tirelessly, or so it seems, to bring attention to the men they loved and the importance of need to brings those men back home. It was absolutely heartbreaking to know what the men were experiencing while these sensational women pushed for their release in what seemed to be an impossible situation.

A difficult book to read yet so inspiring. A must read for everybody who has even a passing interest in history or the Viet Nam War.
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