Tag Archive: vietnam war


My 2018 “summer of reading” continues with, “Six Years In The Hanoi Hilton An Extraordinary Story Of Courage and Survival In Vietnam”.

Whether you are like me and grew up with the war in Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement as a backdrop to your life or not, you will surely want to check out this book by Amy Shivley Hawk, step-daughter of U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, James Richard Shivley (1942 – 2006), who was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967 – and suffered the consequences. She did a great job of transcribing her Dad’s impressions into this book and her chronological approach is fittingly perfect for learning moments and doesn’t make us wait very long, before we get to the meat of the story of being shot down and captured.

I remember news journalists like Dan Rather referring to many of our servicemen as “never accounted for”, like they wrote about his colleague, Captain Joe Karins, whose plane continued to fly along side of Jim’s after he ejected follwing being hit by enemy fire. [pg. 48]

This is a primer about the horrific prison of war camp conditions our soldiers endured during capture in the Vietnam War. If it wasn’t true history, you might think it is a movie like “Deer Hunter”. To all of my fellow Baby Boomers and high school (eleventh grade and up) or college school history teachers, please use this book as an opportunity to educate!

Have you ever wondered, as I have, what really happened behind the scenes in North Vietnam, when one of our men was captured? Were the rumored extreme tortures they endured really fact? This book will tell you, in graphic detail. Many of us are familiar with the fact that Arizona Senator and former presidential candidate, John McCain was a POW in North Vietnam, but this is a story about the other men who, heretofore were nameless and faceless along side of the great Senator. It is culled from family accounts, Captain Shivley’s diaries, CD, tapes and our unique American perspectives on a war that we fought with “one hand tied behind our back”, as my own WWII veteran Dad said often. And that was true until President Nixon launched the B52s on Hanoi when Henry Kissinger’s peace talks were not yielding the desired results from Hanoi.

This book is the stuff from which solving the MIA/POW movement was made of, a look inside of the infamous network of prison camps in Hanoi under Chairman Ho Chi Min. This is no “Hogan’s Heroes” comedy, for sure. I marveled at the description of how the prisoners learned to communicate via a tapping code, and simultaneously cringed at the tortures described which affirmed that many of my generation are lucky not to have been drafted back then, because we surely would not have survived such an ordeal of capture, if not killed by bullets.

It seems my World History classes taught that the Japanese tortured our captured WWII servicemen similarly; the Asians have special knack for inventing gruesome treatment of prisoners of war, as compared to “waterboarding” of our current “terrorism” era.
The book is a reminder that war is hell, to cherish your own basic freedoms and like James’ slogan says, “Don’t sweat the small stuff – and it’s all small stuff.” (pg. 172) There are many more positive things I could write about this book, but I will let you alone to read and glean them for yourself.

From the ‘Special Notes to POWs’ to the Acknowledgements chapter and how he became a US Prosecutor, my rating is a no-doubt, Five-out-of-five Bronze Spokane stars

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I wasn’t looking for another space book to review, but when I returned “Endurance” to the library and then browsed the “New” section, this cover caught my eye:

The rocket men featured are astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders; the crew of Apollo 8.

“Rocket Men”, penned by Robert Kurson, is historical, educational, suspenseful. Those are but a few of the adjectives I can use to describe this incredible book, which is necessary reading at this juncture in American history, given the inexperience we have in the Oval Office currently which has the country in a similar snit as back in 1968. It reads almost like a novel, except it really happened!
Whether you grew up as an American with the “space race” and NASA by your side like I did, or (especially) not, this is a riveting must read!

Kurson had a great planned layout for this book. He gets right into it with the beginnings of the space race and builds some drama as the Russians leap way out in front. Then after he sets up the moon as a goal versus events like the Cuban Missile Crisis, Robert Kennedy getting assassinated, the ongoing unpopular Vietnam War, Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination and the protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, he goes into the personal stories of Frank Borman, then back to NASA, Jim Lovell then back to NASA, Bill Anders and back to NASA and the strife of our country at that time. I found one of the most endearing qualities of this read to be how he wove the struggles and faith of the astronaut’s wives and families into the story of “Rocket Men”.

We are suddenly launching Apollo 8 before the middle color photo pages! You need to read how they got to that point. Twenty-four chapters, a great Epilogue and Acknowledgement section, plus easy to comprehend diagrams. I couldn’t put it down except to sleep, eat and do my own work.

Its the story of the space race between our USA and the Soviet Union (Russia) and the genius of NASA’s group of scientists, which eventually led to the Apollo space program more particularly. Feeling that we were losing the race, a bold president challenged the nation to be better and win. My favorite president, John F. Kennedy, is mentioned often, because if it were not for his famous gauntlet of words thrown down before the Congress of the United States in 1961, we would have lost the race to the Moon to the Russians. Ironically, within the genius brain-trust that made Apollo 8 a success was Wernher von Braun, a former Nazi Germany rocket scientist, who was responsible for Hitler’s V-2 campaign against London and other European countries, late in World War II. This brought to mind a movie my parents took me to called “Operation Crossbow”, which recounted Europe’s response to the V-2 Campaign. You never know who will become your helpful bedfellow in this life.

The improbable success of the Apollo 8 moon mission is the focus of the book and by the time you finish reading, you will feel, like I do, that its success was something that was “meant to be”. If you ever doubt there are such circumstances, this book will change your mind. Names from my youth like Yuri Gagarin, Sputnick (“fellow traveler”), Laika (Russian for ‘barker’) and Alan Shephard are revisited and for me, personally, all while I was a teenager learning how to become a young man.

Did you know that in all, twelve Americans walked on the moon between 1969 and 1972? I must have known this, but in truth, those mission almost became commonplace back then! Unbelievable that our men flying to the Moon became routine at that point in time! Since Apollo 17, though…we have never returned there. It is fifty years later.

Remembering the name, Chris Kraft (how can one forget such a unique and appropriate handle?) and his quote on page 323, “never more courage than on anything we ever did in the space program”, because they accelerated it in order to meet the, by then late, President Kennedy’s deadline challenge.

One of my favorite quotes from the book came from his mention of the deadline challenge our great President Kennedy threw down, “Only by attempting ‘the impossible’ would a nation truly find out who it is…”

Another one is from Borman’s wife, Susan, who after being criticized for showing emotion after her husband Frank’s first launch on Gemini 7 said, “But…I have come to realize you can’t be all things to all people. So I decided not to pretend and not to try to hide my feelings – I decided to be myself.” The Author equally writes about how Marilyn Lovell and Valerie Anders coped and showed strength and concern for the safety of the sudden mission – in different ways.

This book is real life history, which is so very worthy your time.

Earlier than half-way into the book, Kurson so aptly employs the description the lift-off of the troubled and slightly untested Saturn V booster rocket on that fateful morning in December, 1968, that I had to go find the video on YouTube!

Even the Epilogue is an epic as it reminds us of how Apollo 13 had an explosion which almost doomed the crew. Great job, OMG…

For me, as a personal “by-the-way”, this story reminisced these launches, which were on the news daily back in those days. My father insisted on us watching the evening Walter Cronkite CBS News at dinner time, because our dining together was mandatory; a good thing that I didn’t like then, which, in retrospect should be more emphasized in today’s American families. Space stories are reminders that our earthly “problems” are petty when viewed against the dark vastness of the universe, of which our planet is a beautiful, but tiny dot.

I give this book five-out-of-five Earths!

Enough (respect) about Ted Williams (not the baseball great, the homeless “golden voice” bum guy), this post is for a true American “original”, a man who never fought any “bums”, because if he did, he knocked them all out quickly or toyed them into frustration, Muhammad Ali.  The day of his sixty-ninth (69) birthday this year coincides with the national U.S.A. celebration of the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior – two of the “greatest” born under the astrological sign of Capricorn, of  “all times”!  That, in and of itself, is inspiration for me to write about it here in addition to the fact that I gleaned that my beloved overseas is not fully aware of the magnitude of Ali’s presence and influence. 

 I use the first cut on this album…only the first few seconds of it, where he says is his trademark braggadocio of the 1960s, “I AM the Greatest!”, over the musical instrumental introduction of records that I play when I am lucky to have been on the radio during this holiday weekend through the years gone by.  In the “business” we called it a “drop”.  I am not that lucky this year because of aforementioned issues with “the way it IS” in “radio” nowadays (sux), however, rest assured that this post is to wish the best boxer of my era, a very Happy Birthday.

Muhammad, please forgive me for using the image to the left, it is the only vinyl that I own that represents you, and I respect your change of name, liking “Muhammad Ali” much better than your “slave name”..  We haven’t heard much about you, Muhammad Ali, lately – and given your age and the punishment that you took on your way to fame, that is a “great” thing!

Muhammad , the former “Cassius Clay” embodied all of the principled rebelliousness that shaped this reporter in my early teens.  With the Vietnam war and the U.S. civil rights movement sculpting the lowdown discourse of those days, “Ali” was a lightning-rod of criticism and praise, depending upon which side of the debate  (left or right we would  say these days) you found yourself.   I remember white guys really hating him; I remember black American guys really hating him (Joe Frazier “uncle Toms” we used to call them); I remember both of those groups rooting for him after came back from his  exile and knocking out George Foreman or having empathy for him when Larry Holmes basically ended his boxing career in 1980.  I think that at one point my own Dad didn’t like him, and that was mostly because Ali was one of the pioneers of the outspoken/well-spoken black American man and it was not fashionable for those of Dad’s generation to speak-out like Ali did.  Dad soon came around to MY way of thinking, and we used to be anxious to listen to the live matches on WCBS 88AM radio and read the New York Post’s account of his matches, blow-by-blow, in the next morning’s paper.

But this is to celebrate the personality of Muhammad Ali.  The rest of the cuts on this vinyl are his poetry, which may people forget about because of his politics.  Ali was an impromtu, spontaneous poet!  My father, the WWI Major,  called him a “rhymin’ Simon” lol because Ali could break-off some verse l-o-n-g before anybody ever imaged “rap” or “hip-hop”.  Imagine what Muhammad Ali might have been if part of THAT era?  Many imintated his ring style (“Sugar” Ray Leonard, Roy Jones, Junior come to mind), yet none could ever duplicate his demeanor or playful and poetically prophetic mind. Please, when you remember Dr. King this weekend, think about another “great” who came concurrently to help us as a leader on the world stage (Ali went to places like the U.S.S.R. and China, et al when our U.S. government would not reach-out to them with detante or embrace and encourage  perestroika). He became a true ambassador of our best qualities as a nation, much in the way that former President Jimmy Carter is these days.  He may have other vinyl albums, but this is the only one in my library.  Most of all for this discussion, Ali introduced the concept that a man could be “pretty”!  What is your fondest memory of Muhammad (notice not “MOhammad by-the-way) Ali?   Happy Cappy Birthday and “Ali bumbaye!”

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