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New Book Provides Inside Look At One Man’s 6-Year Struggle As A Vietnam POW
Accounts of suffering are never easy to read. Sometimes they venture into what might be called torture porn. Other times, they’re just generic inspirational stories. “Six Years in the Hanoi Hilton: An Extraordinary Story of Courage and Survival in Vietnam ” by Amy Hawk falls in the latter of these categories, but is worth a read for those looking for an account from what might be called an everyman’s journey through the depths of the Hanoi Hilton.
It’s worth pointing out that Hawk is the adopted stepdaughter of the book’s subject, Jim Shively. The book is based on the recorded accounts from Shively and interviews with his contemporaries. As such, it presents a very unblemished account of Shively’s life. It falls a little bit into the category of hagiography instead of biography.
That said, “Six Years” is a fast read for those with an interest in history related to the air war in Vietnam. At 229 pages, including endnotes and index, it’s an entertaining way to spend an afternoon. It begins with a concise account of the career and lifestyle of an Air Force pilot of the early 1960s. Today’s pilots will read accounts of low passes over civilians and parties both in the US and abroad and long for the old days.
This is where the fact that the book is written by a family member takes its toll — that could have greatly fleshed out the personality of young Jim Shively, but we don’t get to read it. It sounds as if he must have been an interesting young man with a lot of stories, but unfortunately, all this potentially great background story gets rolled under a broad catch-all of “what happens in Vegas…”
Military pilots will have some issues with some elements of Hawk’s account, though. A high-G turn is a “break,” not a “brake,” for example, and the responsibilities of each pilot in the formation are explained unclearly. Pilots will recognize other descriptions of aviation in the book, but they read slightly off, as if relayed from a pilot to a civilian, which they were.
The book’s account of Shively’s capture was moving. Before he pulled his ejection handles, Shively knew he faced a choice between death and imprisonment. He chose to survive. One wonders whether he ever regretted that choice during the days ahead.
The book is different than most when it discusses the early years of Shively’s imprisonment. The torture facing POWs in Vietnam is well-known. “Six Years” doesn’t skimp there. Its account of the infamous “rope torture” is extremely vivid, and will make any reader wonder how he could withstand it for minutes, let alone hours. The book’s descriptions of the diseases facing the prisoners and the camaraderie between them are as good as any of the genre. The dysentery was nearly as much of an enemy as the North Vietnamese.
“Six Years” spends much of its short length describing the POW’s conditions from 1970 on, when conditions were actually improving for them. The elaborate plays and classes the inmates of the Hanoi Hilton have been covered in other works, but “Six Years” covers them well. It does lapse into a little bit of sappiness when it comes to God, country, and the American flag that fellow POW Mike Christian improvised, made famous by John McCain’s 2008 Republican National Committee speech. Some will find those accounts as the best part of the book. Others will find them overdone and too idealistic.
And that divide summarizes the whether you will like reading “Six Years in the Hanoi Hilton” or not. If you want a tough-as-nails, kickass war story, you will be disappointed. If you want an inspirational account of a man whose faith in God and country got him through a horrible ordeal, then this is your book.
If you are history-minded and want to do a deep dive into how POWs were treated in North Vietnam, this is worth putting on your reading list, but only after “Faith of my Fathers,” “The Nightingale's Song,” “Five Years to Freedom,” and “Into the Mouth of the Cat.” What those accounts lack, though, is the everyman’s perspective. McCain’s captivity is well-known. James Rowe of “Five Years” was one of the few POWs to escape captivity. Lance Sijan of “Into the Mouth of the Cat” was a Medal of Honor-earning superman. Jim Shively represents the ordinary man becoming extraordinary through adversity. And for some readers, that’s exactly the inspiration they need.
“Six Years in the Hanoi Hilton: An Extraordinary Story of Courage and Survival in Vietnam ” by Amy Hawk (Regnery History, 2017) was released March 13, 2017.
Benjamin Franklin nailed it when he said, "Fatigue is the best pillow." True story, Benny. There's nothing like pushing your body so far past exhaustion that you'd willingly, even longingly, take a nap on a concrete slab.
And no one knows that better than military service members and we have the pictures to prove it.
The Pentagon has identified a Green Beret who was killed on Tuesday by enemy small arms fire in southern Afghanistan as Staff Sgt. Joshua Z. Beale.
Beale was assigned to 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, according to U.S. Army Special Operations Command. He was killed during combat operations in Tarin Kowt, Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan.
Coast Guard Commandant Blasts Government Shutdown That's Forced Service Members 'To Rely On Food Pantries And Donations'
The commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard called the ongoing partial government shutdown "unacceptable" following reports that some Coast Guardsmen are relying on donations from food pantries while their regular paychecks remain on hold.
"We're five-plus weeks into the anxiety and stress of this government lapse and your non-pay," Adm. Karl Schultz said in a video message to service members. "You, as members of the armed forces, should not be expected to shoulder this burden."
The battlefield of the future could feature robot medics delivering life-saving care to casualties in the line of fire. At least, that's what the Army is aiming for — and it's willing to pay millions for help doing it.
by Martin Slagter, The Ann Arbor News, Mich.
YPSILANTI, MI - When a brigade of U.S. troops was ambushed by the North Vietnamese Army in the Song Tra Cau riverbed on the morning of May 15, 1967, Lt. Charles Kettles volunteered to lead the rescue, and he refused, again and again, to back down when faced with a barrage of gunfire.
His aircraft badly damaged, left spilling fuel, and his gunner was severely injured during the treacherous operation.
But he helicoptered in and out of the battlefield four times, saving the lives of 44 soldiers in a death-defying emergency operation that would become a legendary tale of bravery in the Vietnam War.
Nearly 50 years later, Kettles received the Medal of Honor on July 18, 2016.