REVIEW: DEFIANT by Alvin Townley

Last month, my friends at St. Martin’s sent me a copy of Alvin Townley’s DEFIANT, which is subtitled The POWs Who Survived Vietnam’s Most Infamous Prison, the Women Who Fought for Them, and the One Who Never Returned.  All I can say is – WOW.

I was a little kid when the Vietnam War was happening. I remember it used to be on the news at night and I was terrified, so I would go up to my parents’ room and watch “I Love Lucy” on their black and white instead. My cousin had an ID bracelet she wore with the name of a young man on it – a POW. I was in second grade and I remember being both fascinated and scared by this. How could someone be “missing”? Were they dead or not? What must that be like for their family? For years I’d ask her when I saw her if they had found that young man. They never did.

In DEFIANT Alvin Townley tells the store of the “Alcatraz 11” – eleven men held, tortured, and survivors of the most notorious and harsh captivity recorded during the Vietnam War. Held at the Alcatraz block at the Hanoi Hilton, these men were separated out due to their leadership ability, their strong mental toughness, and their will to survive. They endured an amazing amount of torture and horrific conditions, and after years, returned home to America. Sadly, one additional soldier in their group died in captivity. DEFIANT tells the story of these men and their experiences, but it also tells of their wives and families at home and the battle they waged to keep their husband’s stories front and center, to keep them in the public eye, and to fight with the government to get them home safely.

Personally, I could not put DEFIANT down. I started reading it and suddenly it was 2 am and I was still reading. I read the whole book in one night (which I don’t really recommend because it’s over 400 pages) and I cried so hard at the end when the men came home that my sobbing woke up my husband.

My friends at St. Martin’s recommended this book to me since I really enjoyed The Astronaut Wives’ Club by Lily Koppel. I would recommend to those who enjoyed that book, or who enjoy reading non-fiction about the Vietnam War.

2 thoughts on “REVIEW: DEFIANT by Alvin Townley

  1. I agree with your assessment of the book. I could not put it down either. Although I did keep interrupting the completion of the book from time to time because I wanted someone else to read what I just read… So I would stop and find my wife or family member and I would say “you have to read this ….just this paragraph ….just this chapter…you are not going to believe this”….whatever it was I was reading…I wanted to share the experience Townley so elegantly had shown me. It was simply an amazing book. These men were some of our countries greatest heroes and Alvin Townley makes them come to life on the page as he puts you right there with them in that horrific place he describes so well ….it’s frightening, horrifying, unthinkable and you can’t lay it down.

  2. I had the pleasure of meeting the author last week at Admiral Denton’s funeral. You’re right – he has written a fine account – and my understanding is that every surviving member of the Alcatraz Eleven signed off on the book; i.e., they approved of the rough draft. That’s pretty extraordinary in itself.

Let me know what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s