You have a very unique story - and one someone couldn’t really tell unless they experienced it first-hand. What inspired you to tell this story?
My two sons and six grandchildren - they’re the most important thing to me. I wanted to leave them something that had meaning. After four years of writing, I had my story down on paper about my time in a North Vietnamese prison camp, but nothing else. One of my daughters-in-law said I needed to put some of my life before and after prison into the book. A Colorado Publisher connected me with author and editor Cara Lopez Lee in 2014, and she helped me piece things together. We published Unexpected Prisoner two years later.
What do you think will surprise readers most about Unexpected Prisoner?
Even given my experience, I think readers will be surprised at my attitude toward the North Vietnamese. I don’t really have bad feelings toward them, because the treatment could have been so much worse.
When I came home from the war, I read everything I could on POWs and the Vietnam War. I learned that since the beginning of time, POWs have been treated very, very badly.
For example - In World War II, the Japanese chopped off two American heads for every mile of the Bataan death march. Twenty-seven to forty percent of American prisoners held by the Japanese died in captivity. In our revolutionary war, 20,000 colonial prisoners died in the holds of British ships in Brooklyn and Boston harbors. Five times as many colonists died on those ships as died on the battlefield. Of the 5 million Russian prisoners held by the Germans in World War II, 3 million died in captivity. The Russians captured 95,000 German troops at the battle of Stalingrad, and only 5,000 of those prisoners ever came home. Thirteen thousand union soldiers died at Andersonville within 14 months during our own civil war - that’s one soldier every 45 minutes! Our tour guide at Andersonville took 45 minutes to do the tour.
Only 7 American prisoners died in Hanoi the whole time I was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. Only 28 prisoners died in North Vietnam. If you compare the treatment we received from the North Vietnamese with the treatment POWs received from their captors in other wars, ours looks pretty good.
You enjoy sharing your experience with audiences through speaker presentations. What is your favorite part of that process?
I get a rush from telling my story - it can be addictive. The audiences are always good, and I enjoy the connection with them.
How has sharing your story benefited others (and have there been any unique stories prompted by audience members)?
Many veterans - especially those who were in the infantry - seem to relate to my story. I think my story supports what many veterans went through and what they feel.
It surprised me - but I’ve also seen that teenagers have benefited from my story, as they have their own challenges and can relate to the adversity in my memoir. So really - it can appeal to anyone going through a difficult time in their life.
(Q&A, as well as the information from previous post have been forwarded to Lily's Reviews)