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. It MUST BE READ by those who gave our Viet Nam Vet's a terrible welcome home. These men and women served their country as asked and then were dealt a terrible hand when they returned.
At least the prisoners returning were treated better.
Now, bottom line. The last 50 pages of this book are hard to read because you can't read through your tears very well at least I couldn't. The story of the men being returned home was so emotionally moving that it became a joyful, yet emotional and painful experience.
BUT, here is something I couldn't quite imagine. The Epilogue of the book tells how these men returned to serving their country. They returned to their respective duties and took commands again and served with dignity. This more than anything shows the grit that these men are made of. We as a country should never forget them and should hold them in honor of the lessons that they have taught us.
We need to hold others in high honor, those that gave their lives. 58,000 plus died serving our country. 300,000 plus returned wounded and some maimed for life. All who served returned changed.
Defiant is well written, well researched and starkly honest. It will not sugar coat anything. It will tell the truth. You will be changed by reading it. You will also be drawn to remember the names of the 11 men who served with unbelievable courage, and the name of Ronald Storz will go down in your memory as a man you will never want to forget.
Please, Please, Please pick this book up, read it, think about it and then tell a serviceman or woman how much you honor them for serving their country..
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. The leadership quickly incorporates a simplified version of Morse Code that allows prisons to communicate with tapping fingers, broom strokes when sweeping or in Denton's case, blinking the code while being televised for propaganda purposes. From the start, the adherence to the Code of Conduct creates trouble for the captors who begin using torture to break the men's will to resist. When that doesn't work, the eleven key troublemakers/leaders of the prisoner resistance are plucked from the general POW prison (Hanoi Hilton) and transported to a much harsher prison that the men nicknamed "Alcatraz". At Alcatraz, the prisoners live in squalor and endure endless torture that bends but never breaks them. All eleven endure extreme physical pain at the hands of a sadist nicknamed Pigeye, who's proficient in using ropes to bend their bodies to the brink of snapping. Townley provides a fly-on-the wall perspective that allows readers to clearly see ("feel") the misery. What is difficult to fathom is that the torture wasn't occasional, but routine ... not for days, weeks or months, but YEARS. Amid the torture, these eleven prisoners STILL found ways to communicate, resist and endure. The display of ingenuity is amazing how things like loose wire, a small piece of clothing thread, tiny slivers of soap or other seemingly innocuous items became essential tools.
The book smoothly alternates between life in the prison and the desperate attempts of the families back home demanding government intervention to free their husbands/fathers. There is a palpable fear that as public support for the war sours, the POWs will be forgotten. I had no idea that the wives of the "Alcatraz Eleven" were responsible for creating POW bracelets and the iconic POW/MIA logo. The determination, dedication and courage of POW wives is an oft-overlooked chapter of the home front during Vietnam and Townley does a good job of meshing the two sides of the spectrum (prison/home life) to provide a complete picture of the POW saga. I found the entire book to be an emotional read. While the outcome is known, the book provides the details that still manage to evoke moments of sadness, frustration, fear and jubilation, especially when the families' struggles at home are detailed. The stories of the men and their families doesn't end when they return home, Townley graciously brings readers up-to-date on the lives of those involved, leaving no questions unanswered.
I found DEFIANT to be a thoroughly thought-provoking read from beginning to end. It is a story of patriotism, resilience, dedication and faith. While the Vietnam War may be a fading blemish on America's history, its public unpopularity should never overshadow the dedication to duty of those who selflessly served and the supportive families they left behind. DEFIANT reminds us of the caliber of men/women our country leans on in times of crisis.
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.
"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.
on July 7, 2015
Much of what is in this book is absolutely true. Even so as a former POW who spent 6 years in Hanoi I resent the theme of the book. It implies that the defiant were somehow different than the rest of us. They weren't. My experience in torture was every bit as bad as what is described here, but I was a low ranking guy and of less interest to the Vietnamese. Like the vast majority of all POWs, I did my best in continuing to resist and communicate for all those years. I and others were often caught at it and that brought on more torture.
The Vietnamese isolated those senior in rank fearing they might exercise leadership. They did anyway and were able to do so because the rest of us kept up the comm network. Also, when they were iso;ated, day to day leadership fell to more junior officers, and they suffered as well for exercising leadership.
Singling out a few is a big mistake in this instance. The "defiant" were no more defiant than the rest of us. That takes nothing away from those depicted in this book. They were courageous and defiant, but so were the rest of us.
on March 15, 2014
I just finished this book this morning, and even as I sit to write a review I am at a loss for words. I did not grow up knowing details of, or understanding much of the Vietnam War. I was not yet alive when this all took place. I know it was a painful time in our country's history that so many have extremely passionate opinions about, and to that I do not assume to hold such an opinion. I always wanted to understand more.
Alvin Townley's "Defiant" allowed me to see through a peephole into the human spirit of men like I can only hope we still have fighting for our country today. The story of the eleven men who were imprisoned in Alcatraz in Northern Vietnam were men of character, courage, faith, integrity and valiance. The torture that was brought to life on the pages of Townley's book forced me to lay the book aside more than once, yet I could not put it down. I am proud to be a part of a country whose history includes these men, along with their wives and families back home who fought tirelessy for their lives and release.
I felt heartache and sickness as I read of the days and weeks of endless torture. I cried tears of joy and pride that welled up in the end as the men returned to lives that had been put on hold for them, luckier than I know many were. Though not often, I did laugh - being a born and bred Texan it made me chuckle to read that Sam Johnson ate Tex Mex for five days straight upon his return to the Lone Star State.
I read a lot, though not a lot of historical non-fiction. However, I would recommend this book to everyone who would like to have a glimpse of this time in our history, or into the lives of these men who served us so well. Alvin, great job on telling their stories to the rest of us!
I am always impressed when an author who did not live through the events he is reporting does such a masterful job of recreating an era he did not know. This author, Alvin Townley, has done just that with his riveting, unflinching account of the torturous ordeal of the US POW's held in North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Like many Americans of my generation who were in high school and college during that war, I paid much more attention to protesting the war than to the plight of the POWs being held there. Of course, as I learned in this book, the secrecy of the Department of Defense and the ineptness of LBJ's Department of State did little to publicize what was going on, keeping us in the dark about the prison gulag where our men were imprisoned. I want to thank Alvin Townley for writing this book, and for writing it so well. I could not put it down. Please Mr. Townley, take on some other important and untold stories from our history and keep writing. You did a superb job with this one.
Alvin Townley’s "Defiant” captures the horror and depravation of being a POW (Prisoner of War) in North Vietnam’s infamous “Hanoi Hilton.” No book can ever convey the true horror of being a POW, however, Townley has demonstrated an ability to put into narrative the powerful will to survive that the pilots exhibited while being tortured, starved, and beaten.
Also, Townley gives the reader a glimpse of what loved ones at home endured. The uncertainty and worry over husbands, sons, and fathers being held by a brutal enemy takes a toll of a different kind for those who wait at home.
“Defiant” centers around a specific group of POW’s who became known as the Alcatraz Eleven during their incarceration at the “Hanoi Hilton.” The book delves into their lives before being captured, how they were taken prisoner, and their harsh treatment while prisoners, making them more than merely military statistics.
The Vietnam War had the distinction of being the longest war in American history. During this twelve year conflict 725 United States military personnel were captured and interred of which 64 POWs died while in captivity, 8.8 percent, and none refused repatriation after the signing of the Peace Agreement in Paris on January 1973.
The Vietnam War also produced the longest held captives than any other previous American war. The longest held POW in the Vietnam War was Floyd Thompson, a Green Beret, and the first American taken prisoner. He was captured on March 26, 1964 and was not released until March 16, 1973; two weeks shy of being a prisoner for nine years.
Everett Alvarez, a Navy pilot, was the longest held POW in North Vietnam. He was a prisoner for 8 ½ years after being shot down in 1964 during the first combat mission over North Vietnam following the Gulf of Tonkin incident.
Similar to the Korean War, American POW treatment varied according to whether they were captured in North or South Vietnam. In either location the goal was the same, break the morale of the POWs and exploit them for propaganda purposes.
The POWs in South Vietnam were kept in camps that often moved about to different locations to prevent American intelligence from learning of the number and location of POWs and attempt a rescue. This differed from World War II and the Korean War where POWs were generally kept in a permanent camp for the duration of the war. POWs were also held outside of South Vietnam and North Vietnam; some were held in Cambodia, China, and Laos.
“Defiant” is a powerful book in its own right and I highly recommend reading it. However, I find I can only give it 4 Stars because it did not offer anything new to the story of POW’s in Vietnam.
“Young Americans must never again be sent to fight and die unless we are prepared to let them win” President Ronald Reagan, 1988.
Michael P. Lefand Sgt, 1st Platoon, A Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry Brigade, 4th Infantry Division. 1968 – 1970 Central Highlands, Vietnam.
on April 15, 2014
I challenge anyone who reads this book to come away still maintaining that waterboarding is torture or, as the New York Times asserted in over 70 days of front page diatribes, that forcing Muslim men to parade naked in front of a female guard at Abu Ghraib was torture.
What these POWs had to endure in Hanoi was probably the most severe torture I've ever read about. I found myself wincing while trying to picture what these men really went through. I tried to imagine the pain but I could never truly comprehend the torture applied to these guys. It makes one ask what kind of person could inflict this much pain and suffering on another human being.
The book was very well written and it was well worth the time to read it.
This is a precise, well researched explication of the eleven POWs who were tortured and neglected for years in the infamous "Hanoi Hilton." The Viet Nam War was not a popular war. The families of the prisoners were forced to go to extraordinary lengths to keep the story of their loved ones alive and to effect real government support. In alternating chapters, the stories of these equally courageous families is discussed.
I cannot say I enjoyed this book. It is brutal and difficult to read. Townley does not pull any punches in describing the torture techniques used on these men, and it is unpleasant in the extreme to experience even vicariously. Yet I give the book five stars for the lucid and clear witnessing of the truth at hand. Townley also does not stoop to vicarious embroidery of details. He does not use pathos to pad the already almost unbearable truth. I believe in bearing witness, and in this case, the author has done so in a literate and well written work.