Friday, March 15, 2019

Captured: An American Prisoner of War in Vietnam

Townley, Alvin. Captured: An American Prisoner of War in Vietnam
March 26th 2019 by Scholastic Nonfiction
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Jeremiah Denton was a naval aviator who was shot down and captured by the North Koreans in 1965, and was held for eight years. This follows his time in various prisoner of war camps, including the Hanoi Hilton. Since Denton was an admiral, he managed to secretly contact other prisoners and make sure that they remained connected and focused on their mission to return home with honor. The North Koreans maintained that the Americans they captured weren't prisoners of war, and therefore cared for under the Geneva Convention, but were instead criminals, and were treated incredibly harshly. The prisoners managed to communicate with notes on small scraps of paper, code, and Morse code tapped out on the prison cell walls. The armed forces have a strict code for people taken prisoner, that they shouldn't give away classified information even if tortured, but the North Koreans were so cruel that they did eventually break some men and forced confessions out of them. Denton gave a filmed interview at one point, and had the strength to blink out "TORTURE" in Morse code! Very little news of the outside world got to the prisoners, but they tried to keep faith that they would eventually be released. As the war dragged on, their families came to resent the military's insistence that families remain quiet about their loved ones who were prisoners, and the POW-MIA association managed to change the government policy on the treatment of these soldiers. After that, the treatment in the camp got a little better. Denton was finally put in a room with another man, easing his feelings of isolation, and food, hygiene and medical treatment became a bit better. The extreme torture ceased. It wasn't until 1973 that an agreement was reached and POWs were sent home. Denton finally made it back to his family after eight years, and went on to be elected to the US Senate.
Strengths: This was perfect. I have so many students asking for books about Vietnam, and the POW experience was a big part of that. This goes into some detail about the torture, and is a great overview of the experience without getting into the more horrifying aspects of the torture. I hadn't been aware of the secrecy surrounding the POWs; I was eight in 1973, and was just starting to be aware of current events. I remember POWs coming home, but wasn't sure from where. While Denton's experiences are the focus of the book, there are lots of other prisoners showcased. There are a decent number of pictures and maps to help readers understand the set up, and relevant supporting historical details are inserted when they are needed. This is just what I needed. Now, may I have one about the Korean Conflict?
Weaknesses: The pages of the E ARC turned so slowly that I read another whole book while waiting for the pages to turn, which was frustrating and made it a bit harder to get a good grip on the events. I'm looking forward to seeing a print copy.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and this will be constantly circulating. Excellent treatment of a topic that is little covered in middle grade literature.


  1. this looks like a powerful story. Definitely a book I would have read as a student.

  2. Yes, this realy does look like a book I would have read--or would like to read now! Eight years a POW--wow. And he went on to be a Senator. Remarkable. I would have spent the rest of my life recovering from the PSTD. PS--I was twenty in 1973 and remember the POW's coming home. I had a draft number of 76 but, even by 1971, the war was winding down and there wasn't much chance of my being drafted.

  3. I think you need to edit the first paragraph, as you refer frequently to ‘North Koreans’ instead of Vietnamese