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Glory Denied: The Saga of Jim Thompson, America's Longest-Held Prisoner of War Hardcover – May 17, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

Army officer Jim Thompson's horrific experience in a series of North Vietnamese prisons was nasty and brutish--but definitely not short. He was held as a prisoner of war for nearly nine years, longer than any other American POW. His treatment was torturous: "I was put into a horizontal cage maybe two feet wide, two feet high, and five feet long. There I was kept for four months, chained hand and feet." And sometimes he was just plain tortured: "I sat there with a pen in hand as they shouted at me to write," he recalls of a time his captors tried to make him issue a statement condemning the American war effort. "Periodically they hit me with bamboo. Not hard enough to knock me unconscious or to break the skin. Just enough to hurt. They kept at it for eight, ten, twelve hours a day." (He eventually gave in, and signed a statement.)

The irony is that Thompson's life improved little upon his return to the United States. His wife had taken up with another man, his family fell apart, he drank to excess, and his son was convicted of murder. Readers will be at once tempted and reluctant to call Thompson a hero--tempted because of how much he suffered for serving his country and for his numerous escape attempts, but reluctant because Thompson was himself responsible for much of the pain he brought on himself and his family following his return.

Military journalist Tom Philpott has produced an oddly fascinating book about Thompson's ordeal. Glory Denied is not a piece of narrative nonfiction, but an oral history. It tells Thompson's story through the words of Thompson and those who knew him. Readers who want a more uplifting POW story may want to try Faith of Our Fathers by Senator John McCain (who contributes a foreword to Glory Denied), yet Philpott's book may come closer to capturing the agony so many Americans continue to associate with Vietnam. --John J. Miller

From Publishers Weekly

Col. Floyd James "Jim" Thompson of the U.S. Army Special Forces was captured by the Vietcong in South Vietnam in March 1964 and held longer than any other prisoner of war in American history, suffering greatly physically and emotionally. He was released, along with other American POWs, in March 1973. Thompson's troubles, however, only multiplied after his release. During his captivity, Thompson's wife, Alyce, moved with their four young children into the home of an army sergeant and told the children their father was dead. The Thompsons reunited after his release, but their marriage soon dissolved, and Thompson later suffered a stroke that diminished his mental capabilities. For this biography, Philpott, who writes the syndicated column "Military Update," interviewed 160 people over 15 years. In an even more v‚rit‚ manner than Mailer's The Executioner's Song or George Plimpton's Truman Capote, Philpott tells Thompson's story mainly through the verbatim testimony he gathered from Thompson's family, friends and colleagues, along with various newspaper articles and other ephemera that have collected around Thompson. The Thompson family's postwar lives read like a Jerry Springer show, replete with severe alcoholism, spousal abuse, adultery, teenage pregnancy, bitter divorce and the jailing of Thompson's son on a murder charge. Philpott arranges the entire story deftly, with the most riveting sections covering Thompson's incarceration. Much of Thompson's own contributions come from interviews he gave for another book before his stroke. Philpott himself emerges here mostly through his choices in montage, and his refusal to comment directly gives this work real dignity. (May 14) Forecast: A New Yorker abridgement (Apr. 2 issue), a short foreword from Vietnam POW Sen. John McCain and release in time for Memorial Day should launch this book with verve, and its uncanny mix of human and military interest should quickly propel it onto bestseller lists. Expect serious sales and reviews that dwell on Philpott's primary source-based narrative method.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1St Edition edition (May 17, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393020126
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393020120
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,655,005 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Will o' the Wisp on April 22, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I've read a number of autobiographies of Vietnam POWs and "Glory Denied" is certainly the most disturbing one. Army Col. Jim Thompson's story reminded me of the biblical story of Job, except in the end, unlike Job, Thompson loses even his faith and is left simply with his stubborn sense of personal survival.
If there was ever a man who never got a break in his life, it was Jim Thompson. Raised by a domineering and abusive father, drafted into the Army he at first hates military life but then comes to love it. But even in the military things do not come easily for Thompson. Commissioned through OCS, he does not volunteer for Special Forces but is ordered into it when the Army, at JFK's directive, rapidly expands the Green Berets. Sent to Vietnam, Thompson and his team are sent to one the most remote and potentially dangerous outposts the Army has and he and his team find themselves very quickly in over their heads.
An interesting aspect of the book is that most of it is not about Thompson's actual experiences as a POW but rather deals with is pre- and post-Vietnam life. His saga as a POW for nearly 9 years is a brutal one---isolation, malnutrition, torture. It is not until he has been a prisoner over 4 yrs that he finally meets other Americans, a group of soldiers and civilian personnel captures at Hue during the Tet Offensive. By this point Thompson is reduced to about 100 lbs and looks to the other POWs to be in his 70s when he's actually in his mid 30s.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Kyle Tolle on April 15, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Special Forces Captain Jim Thompson was shot down (while an observer on a reconnaissance flight) over South Vietnam on March 24, 1964. Held first in jungle camps in South Vietnam and later moved to North Vietnam, Thompson would not see another American for 4 years and would spend a total of 5 years in solitary confinement and isolation.
Suffering brutal torture, disease, and starvation, he would endure some of the worst treatment ever imagined for almost 9 unbelievable years. Eventually, he would be recognized as the longest held prisoner of war in American history. During his confinement, Thompson never wavered in his defiance of his captors and continually upheld his convictions in America, his patriotism, his pride, and his beliefs.
Upon returning to the United States, hoping to re-establish a stable home life, Jim Thompson is quickly immersed in tragic events that would continue several years after his return. Starting with the revelation of his wife's infidelity during his captivity, major turmoil would befall his family soon thereafter. He is unprepared for 9 years of change that has influenced his family and this sadly leads to, among other things, alienation of his children, addiction to alcohol, estrangement from his wife, and eventual divorce.
In a constant uphill struggle, Thompson painfully suffered through many subsequent events in his life that literally brought him to the edge of despair and his attempting suicide.
Glory Denied is quite possibly the saddest, most tragic, and totally heart-wrenching accounts of POW captivity ever written. It is also a story of love, understanding, forgiveness, hope, faith, and survival.
Sixteen years in the making, this book is exceedingly well written and prepared and evokes much emotion in its content. Deserving of 10 stars, this book is very highly recommended to everyone.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Winkler on May 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Glory Denied tells the story of Captain Jim Thompson, U.S. Army, the longest-held prisoner in the Vietnam War, or in any of America's other wars, for that matter, a distinction which is credited generally to Navy pilot Everett Alvarez, but whose time in captivity was actually shorter by several months than the almost nine years of imprisonment suffered by Thompson, four of which were spent in the isolated jungles of South Vietnam as a solitary American after his capture in 1964, and where, without companionship, he survived and on his own endured hardships and torture the likes of which few can fully imagine.
Although a standard narrative could tell this story from an author's single point of view and lift Thompson from his relative obscurity, Philpott has chosen oral history, and here is an example of that method at its very best. Carefully researching background material and skillfully organizing the interviews, supplementing them with appropriate documents, most notably some very insightful self-analyses written for Thompson's psychiatrist, he lets the speakers themselves show us Thompson from every possible angle, through the eyes of anyone and everyone, it seems, involved in this long and complex saga, and through their words the complexity of the man and the situation becomes revealed.
Thompson goes off to Vietnam in 1963, full of good intent, having found his home in the Army Special Forces, intelligent and articulate but with limited background and education, determined to make the best possible career of it, leaving behind a less-than-perfect marriage, albeit one idealized in his own mind.
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