Customer Reviews: Five Years to Freedom: The True Story of a Vietnam POW
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on April 24, 2003
Special Forces Lieutenant James N. Rowe was sent to Vietnam in 1963 as an advisor with the Military Assistance and Advisory Group (MAAG) to help train the South Vietnamese army. Early on in his tour, Rowe was captured by the Vietcong during a harrowing fire fight and became a prisoner of war for 5 horrible years.
Held deep in Southern Vietnam, Lieutenant Rowe would be confined in bamboo cages with no protection from the elements and suffered continuous bouts of dysentery, beri-beri, and fungus infections throughout his confinement. Medical care was practically non-existent and only became available when it suited his captors needs and whims.
During the initial years of captivity, Rowe would be confined with other Americans at his camp. He and other POW's would be witness to 3 fellow soldiers starving to death while the Vietcong offered no useful assistance to help save lives.
Subjected to years of political indoctrination from camp cadre and propaganda from Hanoi radio broadcasts, Rowe was psychologically tormented and abused. Adding to his further misery was that remaining American captives being held with him were released after 4 years leaving him completely alone and isolated for the remainder of his incarceration.
After several unsuccesful escape attempts, Rowe finally succeded in evading his captors in late 1968 and was rescued after signalling an American helicopter.
Five Years to Freedom is a very graphic account of jungle captivity and all the horrors associated with it. This book is also a story of incredible courage, strength, endurance, and bravery. Very well written and inspirational, this book is perhaps one of the finest accounts of POW captivity ever written.
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on June 7, 1999
Nick Rowe was already a giant among special operations soldiers when I had him as an instructor in Special Forces in 1982. Every page of his book only serves to demonstrate that which he would never claim - Nick Rowe is an American hero of the model few can match. Read the book to understand what character, courage and a will to live really mean. Years later, in the late 1980s, Nick Rowe autographed my copy of his book. I recall telling him how remarkable I found his story. His response, without batting an eye - "sure hate to have to research it again." There, in a nutshell is Nick Rowe, and the kind of wit that kept him alive. Get a copy of this book and read it. Then remember him every time you see the American Flag. Remember this man, James N. (Nick)Rowe died three weeks before Memorial Day, 1989, at a time this country enjoyed peace, and tell me tears do not come to your eyes.
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on August 17, 2000
I remember reading this book when I was in high school. Now, almost a quarter century later, I STILL remember this book. I'm buying another copy, as time has ravaged my original copy.
This book really helps put life in perspective. Our concerns pale in comparison. It also gives me the deepest respect for those who were POW's as well as those who have borne the brunt of war. People such as these are the true heroes of our time.
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on April 2, 2000
I remember watching an interview with COL Rowe about his time as a POW and was amazed by his story and will to survive when most would have give up. Recently, I read John McCain's book and was inspired by his story as a POW and decided to research other POW memoirs. In doing so, I was happy to discover COL Rowe's book and amazed that it hasn't become more mainstream reading. It is one of the most important books I've ever read - it shows us all that we can conquer any obstacle with the power of will and courage. - COL Rowe is an example to us all for his will, courage and patriotism. - Several years ago I found his grave at Arlington National Cemetary and have visted several times since. The following poem was etched on his gravestone and is something that I immediately memorized and have used in my own life to bolster the necessary courage and optimism to survive the struggles that life sometimes hands us. I only wish I could thank COL Rowe for his words that helped me in a very dark chapter of my life. - "So look up ahead at times to come, Despair is not for us; We have a world and more to see, While this remains behind" -J.N. Rowe, 1964
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on November 8, 1997
James Rowe represents exactly what it means to be an American. He battled with disease, starvation, and the most inhuman abuse that can be imagined, yet he remembered the cause he was fighting for even when it appeared his own nation had turned its back on that cause. James Rowe witnessed first hand the effects of communism on a nation and its people. For him, the enemy was well defined. We were fighting those who attemted to deprive people of human rights and basic freedoms that Americans back home were taking for granted.
Before I read his book, I didn't have a grasp on what it meant to be free. I know now that we as Americans must stand up for the freedoms afforded us by our constitution. We can't allow the corruption of government. Some may say that there is nothing worth fighting for but they would certainly change there ideas if they had gone through what James Rowe went through. There are things that are things worth fighting for. James Rowe understood this and never strayed from his beliefs even through years of attempted indoctrination.
When reading his detailed accounts of the suffering inflicted on him by his captors, tears came to my eyes many times. It was inspiring at the same time to see the strength of the human spirit carry him through times of trial. And through it all, he remained true to himself and his country. He deserves all of our gratitude. I recommend this book to every American. Let's not choose the synical or pessimistic view of our government. Let's protect it!
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on December 3, 2002
I tried to rescue Nick Rowe on a night I describe in my book, "Outlaws in Vietnam"--ever since then I have wanted to know more about this incredible man and his POW story. His writing in this book is richer and more descriptive than I was prepared for, and I went through his entire captivity with him, while reading it. This sorrowful horror could have happened to any of us in the Delta, and this expereince should be required reading for anyone interested in that war. Communism definitely is not nice--and now that this country is under this control, we should not forget the sacrifices American men made for the Vietnamese during this civil war.
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on February 17, 2002
I read this book once , then reread it when I was undergoing chemotherapy for Hodgkin's lymphoma. One thing that struck me was that Nick Rowes poor nutriton and treatment from his captors left his body with symptoms that were not unlike the side effects of chemotherapy. On top of everything else he had to deal with :interrogations , torture; Nick Rowe had constant and lingering physical illnes (not to mention insects trying to devour him). The entire time he is focused on keeping himself and his fellow prisoners alive despite having physical ailments that would have most of us resign ourselves to our deaths. This is the most inspiring book you will ever read. It will inspire you you to overcome any adversity or illness and will make you re evaluate your life. Ever see that in a review for some self help guro?This man deserves a statue , 25 feet tall .staring out in the direction of the city on Hanoi. RIP hero
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on August 18, 2001
This is one of the best books I have read about courage and survival. It is amazing to me that Col. Rowe endured so much, suffered so greatly, yet returned to become a leader and was loved and respected. He was ready to lay it on the line again. And he did, and was killed. He was not one of my commanders when I was in SF during the 80s, but I read his book and recommended it to many people through the years. A very inspiring book about a true American Hero.
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on July 7, 2004
Col. Nick Rowe's resovle to resist Marxist-Leninist indoctrination from the brutish revolutionaries that held him captive wavered many times. Yet, he never gave in. Taken captive in 1963 by VC guerillas, Rowe was held for five years in the dark emerald confines of the U Minh forest. The chief ploy that helped Rowe survive, his cover story that he was an engineer and knew nothing of military value, was blown away when leftist college students in the States betrayed US POWs by collecting information on them and informing Hanoi about their military backgrounds. (It is sobering to note that the types of individuals that delivered up their own countrymen into the hands of evil now occupy chairs in elite universities, where Marxism is the order of the day). Angered by this deception, the VC planned to hand Rowe over to the Enemy and Civilian Proselyting Section at Zone, where the decision of his living or dying could be made. The order was tantamount to a death sentence if Rowe didn't write and sign a confession. Thanks to good fortune and incredible force of will, Rowe managed to escape in his fifth year of captivity. Tragically, this American hero was gunned down in the Philippines in 1989 by communist insurgents there, betrayed this time by his own government, which knew of the danger Rowe was in but did nothing to get him out of harm's way. Five Years to Freedom is a long and detailed description of Rowe's environment, his captives, and his psychological and physical condition throughout five torturous years of captivity. Written only three years after his release, Rowe's story conjures image after image of hot, humid jungle, relentless monsoon, disease, brutality, filth, and deprivation. The triumph of Rowe's spirit is its saving grace. You won't regret buying it.
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on August 7, 2015
I have not written many book reviews, and although I'm retired military, I had not read any military-related books since my days in high school. I picked this book up on a whim while I was looking for something to read.

At first, it hardly sounded like a page-turner. The writing seemed stiff and bloated with what sounded to me like standard military propaganda (and after 23 years in the military, that was hardly an interest of mine). However, the writing then began to flow, and I was off on a journey. And what a journey it was. This is probably the most powerfully written epics regarding the plight of a POW that I'd ever read. Starvation, death, misery, sorrow and anguish. I found myself giggling at some of the references and stories, and actually had tears come to my eyes at times (I'll spare you the spoilers). All I can say is that if you are even remotely interested in reading a POW's story, this book should be your first stop. James N. Rowe was a great soldier and his story is absolutely worth the read. I highly recommend it!
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