The best books about Twentieth Century POWs

The Books I Picked & Why

Surviving Hell: A POW's Journey

By Leo Thorsness

Book cover of Surviving Hell: A POW's Journey

Why this book?

In the introduction of this most life-altering book I’ve ever read, Leo Thorsness states he didn’t write this memoir merely to describe the horrid treatment he and others endured as prisoners of war in Vietnam. He wrote it to remind us to count our blessings. Food. Clean water. Protection from elements. Freedom from torture. Medical treatment. Safety. Companionship. I wish I could relay to him how successfully he met his goal. Since reading Surviving Hell, I am never far from the thought of how fortunate I am. He repeated an old adage that has become one of my favorites. “If a man has enough to eat, he has a lot of problems. If he doesn’t, he has only one.”

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Bury Us Upside Down: The Misty Pilots and the Secret Battle for the Ho Chi Minh Trail

By Rick Newman, Don Shepperd

Book cover of Bury Us Upside Down: The Misty Pilots and the Secret Battle for the Ho Chi Minh Trail

Why this book?

As a pilot and an American, I found the content of this extremely well-written book mesmerizing. As a writer and editor, I was blown away by the clean copy. More impressively, both authors replied to my emails. Rick Newman is the wordsmith, and I daresay perfectionist. Upon learning I found only two typos in over five hundred pages, he begged to know where. Major General Don Shepperd, USAF Retired, was a Misty pilot in Vietnam who graciously agreed to be a technical consultant on my novel. His inside knowledge of the continuing struggle to return remains of US service members was invaluable. 

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Baa, Baa Black Sheep

By Gregory “Pappy” Boyington

Book cover of Baa, Baa Black Sheep

Why this book?

The copy I read came from my dad’s collection. It was signed by the author. I don’t know how Dad knew Pappy Boyington, but years ago when Dad and I were walking through a throng of people at Oshkosh, Pappy broke away from a conversation with two very attractive women to wave and call Dad by name. A teenager at the time, I stood in utter shock and amazement while my dad talked planes with a legend. Though the book covers Pappy’s exploits before, during, and after World War II, a large segment is devoted to his time in a Japanese prison camp. One of his fellow detainees was Louis Zamperini, famous Olympic miler. 

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By Laura Hillenbrand

Book cover of Unbroken

Why this book?

There is little left to say about this award-winning book-turned-movie. The story is so riveting it is nearly a one-sitting read. By the time Olympic runner-turned B-24 bombardier Louis Zamperini was delivered to a prison camp, he had already endured a horrific forty-seven days in a life raft with his best friend. Their stint of starvation was followed by a longer stint of more starvation and unfathomably cruel treatment. I married a marathoner and raised four champion distance runners. Our meal conversations about this story dwelled heavily on the lost potential. Due to an injury during captivity, Zamp was never able to train hard again. It is widely believed he could have been the first human to break the four-minute mile.

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Through the Valley: My Captivity in Vietnam

By William Reeder Jr.

Book cover of Through the Valley: My Captivity in Vietnam

Why this book?

In a rescue-gone-wrong, Reeder’s chopper went down, landing on its side and leaving the pilot frantically attempting to disentangle himself from the safety harness to escape the burning craft. Years later, after relaying this story to a large audience, Reeder was told by a fellow veteran that he had witnessed the incident and had Reeder in his gunsight, intending to save him from burning to death. The would-be shooter had looked away an instant, and when ready to fire, found Reeder gone. Reeder managed to evade the enemy for a time but was eventually captured and subjected to unfathomable cruelty and deprivation.

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