The Battle Behind Bars: Navy and Marine POWs in the Vietnam War. Stuart I. Rochester. Washington, DC: Naval History & Heritage Command, Department of the Navy, 2010.

The Battle Behind Bars, by Stuart I. Rochester, offers an overview of the prisoner-of-war situation during the Vietnam War, 1961–75. Available in both print and e-book formats, this book immediately pulls the reader into the world of the POW. In a mere sixty-eight pages, the chronicle of captivity, the resistance efforts, types of punishment, and various coping techniques are addressed thoroughly. Stories are shared to educate and engage.

POW treatment differed depending on where a soldier was captured. Soldiers captured in the south seemed to fare worse than those who were “housed” in the north in Hanoi. Readers may remember hearing about the prison POWS named “Hanoi Hilton.” A sense of humor helped many of them cope, naming other compounds “Heartbreak Hotel,” “New Guy Village,” “Little Vegas,” and “Camp Unity.”

Throughout the course of the war, the Naval and Marine commands learned how to better train their troops in the event of capture. No amount of preparation can prepare someone for the level of torture and punishment meted out to the troops; however, ingenious methods of communicating with other POWs were used, including coughing, sneezing, tapping, etc. Unfortunately the resistance inevitably led to further punishment. Rochester describes the torture in enough detail to only partly realize the extent of terror experienced by the soldiers.

The road back home and life after capture are briefly discussed. There remains a question of the large amount of US personnel who went missing in action. As of the writing of this report, there were still 1,723 Americans still unaccounted for from US involvement in Vietnam.

This short report is packed full of engaging stories of human perseverance, struggle, and honor. Suggested readings are included to lead the reader to further information. Anyone from high school and up interested in learning more about the Vietnam War and specifically the very real POWs from the war would find this an interesting read!—Rochelle Hunt Krueger (kruegerr@unk.edu), University of Nebraska at Kearney


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