He had dreamed of being a military man as a youngster during World War II. Marrying shortly after high school, he was drafted by the Army in 1956 and sent to a faraway land called Vietnam in 1963 at a time when America still seemed innocent. In fact, Floyd "Jim" Thompson might have led a perfectly ordinary life had he not been captured on March 26, 1964, just three months after arriving in Vietnam, becoming one of the first Americans taken prisoner, and ultimately, the longest-held prisoner-of-war in American history.
Now, for the first time, Thompson's epic story, and that of his family who also paid dearly for his sacrifice, is brought to life in Glory Denied, a searing reconstruction of one man's tortuous journey through war and its aftermath. Weaving together scores of interviews with Thompson and his family, comments from friends, fellow soldiers, former prisoners-of-war, and excerpts from service records, medical reports, and intelligence briefings, Philpott delivers an exceptionally nuanced and moving portrait of a man, a family, and a nation.
The first half of the saga follows Thompson from his youth through his marriage and early days in the Army, to his harrowing survival in Vietnamnine years in jungle cages and dank prison cells, surviving torture, disease, and starvation. We see how, by happenstance, a painful childhood honed a soldier's survival skills amid unspeakable horrors. And most vividly we see Thompson's family struggling with the consequences of his absence. Indeed, particularly arresting is Philpott's ability to juxtapose Thompson's capture, torture, and multiple escape attempts with the trials of his young wife Alyce, pregnant with their fourth child and devastated when her husband was declared missing in action. The once dependent wife, unaware of her husband's survival and feeling trapped, would make choices that forever would tie her own fate to the war she despised. And the Army's compliance with those decisions turned the spotlight off Thompson and allowed another prisoner of war to be remembered in his place.
The final half of Glory Denied chronicles the journey of the Thompsons in the decades following America's longest war. While wounds from the war, both physical and social, healed for most Americans, the nightmare of Vietnam only shifted into another stage for the family. What became so apparent was that Alyce had changed. The children had changed. The nation's values had changed. But Thompson's valuesand dreamshad not. He had missed an unprecedented social revolutiona revolution that now mocked his sacrificeand he had missed nine critical years of an Army career.
The final chapters of Glory Denied read like a classic tragedy, filled with stories of reconciliation, abandonment, and addiction. It is a tale as absorbing as any Arthur Miller play, a relentlessly heartrending story that tells us as much about our nation's history as it does about a family named Thompson. Glory Denied, which combines the historical detail of Neil Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie with the pathos of a James Jones novel, is a masterly work of oral history, a project that has consumed its author for more than a decade. Neither the book nor its subject, Jim Thompson, will soon be forgotten.
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