THEY WOULDN'T LET US DIE: 26 Prisoners of War Tell Their Own Story by Stephen A. Rowan

THEY WOULDN'T LET US DIE: 26 Prisoners of War Tell Their Own Story

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To many Americans, including reporter Rowan, the returning POWs carried off the only laurels of an otherwise ignoble war. Psychologically sound, alert, and by and large physically intact at the end of their ordeal (Rowan snagged them soon after debriefing), they seem to have survived terror, torture and isolation in an underdeveloped country. Given Rowan's opinion of the Vietnamese (hardly complimentary), it is not surprising that he asks his subjects mainly about their feelings under torture and in solitary -- whether they broke down under interrogation and told more than the Military Code allows (name, rank, etc.), why they resisted and what they thought about those that didn't. In captivity these professional soldiers were very much the men they were when free: disciplined, hierarchical (they needed ""an authority figure""), stoical, pragmatic (they lied to their captors after realizing they could get away with it), comradely (""We learned to love each other"") but reserved, rather puritanical (no homosexuality, in fact little thought of sex at all). To pass the time they did math equations, daydreamed about acquiring possessions, furnishing homes and fixing their cars, remembering the names of all the girls they'd ever dated; the only man who thought about the war at all promptly turned against it. (Rowan's comment about his one resister: ""it seems to me that Gene held back from telling me all he knew."") They knew that no one wanted them to die: ""I just wanted to go back to that home town and walk down the main street and be able to look at people in the eyes and not be ashamed of what I did,"" one man said (who, like most of the others, was ""in the bombing business""). The most urgent question is one that Rowan didn't ask (and which the men probably couldn't answer): how the POWs got to be the kind of people who could do the things they did in Vietnam?

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1973
Publisher: Jonathan David