A CODE TO KEEP: The True Story of America's Longest-Held Civilian Prisoner of War in Vietnam by Ernest C. Brace

A CODE TO KEEP: The True Story of America's Longest-Held Civilian Prisoner of War in Vietnam

KIRKUS REVIEW

From America's longest-held civilian POW in Vietnam, a brisk but unexceptional account of his eight-year imprisonment, 1965-73. The code of the title is the Marine Corps' Code of Conduct--and Brace's adherence to it is the theme that trickles through this generally dry chronicle. Curiously, the initial obstacle to Brace's keeping the code was self-imposed. In 1961, devastated by a bad marriage, he accidentally crashed a Marine plane and seized that wild opportunity to fake his death and start a new life--an act that led to his being drummed out of the Corps. Civilian service for the CIA's Special Operations Group in Laos and his capture in that country by North Vietnamese forces in 1965 followed. Thus, Brace's imprisonment became a road back to honor paved by his resistance to the enemy. Soon turned over to the Pathet Lao, then back to the North Vietnamese, he endured years of hellish and solitary captivity in a small bamboo cage, executing several short-lived escapes (as punishment for one he was buried up to the neck for a week without food or water: ""I had become nothing more than a detached head. . .The most intense concentration could not produce a twinge, tingle, or muscle contraction in any part of my body""). His situation improved relatively when he was transferred to a series of prisons in Hanoi, including the infamous ""Hanoi Hilton,"" and ""Camp Plantation,"" where he communicated--via a wall-tapping alphabet code--with an American for the first time in three years: John McCain, now a US Senator (who offers a brief introduction to this book). Brace's release finally came in 1973; after months of hospitalization, he was pardoned by Gerald Ford for his Marine court-martial conviction. Today Brace is remarried and a top executive at Sikorsky Aircraft. Brace's delivery, as it slides between matter-of-factness and sentimentality, is merely competent; but the courage evinced here may stir some readers, and his book is a useful addition to Vietnam War lore.

Pub Date: Feb. 23rd, 1988
Publisher: St. Martin's