Author: Robert Wideman. 

Publisher: Robert Wideman. 
 ISBN-13: 978-0997364606.

How do you survive when those around you would like you gone? How did you live and keep your sanity when others berate you, torture you, starve and try to disgrace you hoping to leave you weak and vulnerable? What happens when on you mission you are shot down and wind up as an American POW in North Vietnam a war that so many thought should never have been fought and a people that never wanted us to at all. Told in the first person narrative from the first page Robert Wideman, the author and POW in North Vietnam lets you into his heart, mind and thoughts as he takes a six year journey from one prison camp to another, with guards that were brutal and others indifferent hoping to someday see his wife and free.

From the moment his captors had him and the interrogations began you realize that he had a moral fiber and integrity that would not allow them to break him at first and yet hoping to survive the briefest moments and live in conditions so unimaginable as he describes the camps, the food not fit for humans, the lack of sleep, clothes and necessities and the stares, punches and cold heartedness of those they were paraded in front as if they were some sort of circus acts waiting for the ringmaster to command them to start their performances. The author describes his prison, the camps and the other men who would become his inmates sharing his sparse cell. No conveniences, no way to communicate with others they devised a code similar to the Moss Code to learn what the other prisoners in different rooms were enduring and what they knew about the outside world. But, the VOICE of the Viet Cong came over the loudspeaker system spouting their lies, propaganda and making these men or hoping to make them feel defeated and small.

Courage, fortitude and the will to stay strong and never falter. As the prisoners bond and the guards vary in the degree of their taunting and punishments each one reflects back on their lives back home and the things they miss the most. Routines established in these camps, chores, degrading as they seem, when to wash, bathe, the smallest amount of necessities, breaking out in boils and worse, living with ants and hoping not to eat a bug from what they were given, the inhuman treatment was something that no one should have endured as they counted the months, years and minutes hoping for freedom. Being a prisoner and considered a criminal he is forced to answer questions, be interrogated and punished when refusing. The phony gestures to make them at ease and get them to talk did not go over the heads of any of the prisoners.
For six years he lived with many men of different rankings and personalities and then when the upper brass or Heavies were captured they enforced another code or restrictions on the POW’s as if the Navy was in charge of them and not the guards. Living with someone named Larry and another named Howie set the author on several paths of confrontations. Interrogations were many and some were more brutal then others.

All the while thinking about Patricia his wife, his parents and brother hoping to return home and resume his life. Men who were educated in many areas and finally being given some type of books to read when things seem to simmer down in the camps. But, moving around, changing rooms and dealing with different personalities, lack of conveniences and then receiving packages from home the littlest hope kept him going. The ending is quite compelling and the reunion with his family not what you might expect. After debriefings, media, press, trying to get back into flying and life not everything goes smoothly and the POW’s were not given their just do or extra two years in their pension for doing more than serving their country by putting their lives on the line. I thought it was ingenious how they created a communication system between the rooms and managed to signal each other when punished and the guards were coming close.

The final pages are enlightening as the author relates what happened when he submitted his manuscript about his experiences the first time and the responses he received that cost him a promotion. The Vietnam experience he states that, “there will always be people who pursue power by ingratiating themselves to those in power without pausing to assess the goals of those leaders.” As you enter each room that he spent time in, witness the encounters with each person he met, hear the voices of the interrogators as they tried to break him down as he did his best to rise above their commands we understand even more why this was a war that was fought in a country that did not want us to defend how they ran their government and why this was an unwinnable war but those in power would do nothing to stop it fearing they might “jeopardize their careers.”

Read the final pages and hear the words and thoughts as the author sums up many fine points, delivers powerful messages and explains why this war and those that we are fighting now are just our way of taking control of those not as powerful as us and even with the truth revealed and apologizing for our wrongs takes character. There are those that supported the war and those that did not after reading this compelling and thought provoking memoir you the reader will decide for yourself how far men and women handle war and just how far you can TEST A MAN before he breaks. Read the final pages to learn more about what the author learned before he too soldered on.