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Book Review: Unexpected Prisoner – Memoir of a Vietnam POW

unexpected-prisonerUnexpected Prisoner – Memoir of a Vietnam POW

By Robert Wideman & Cara Lopez Lee

What were you doing when you were twenty-three? Were you in college? Working a full time job? Robert Wideman (Bob) was flying a Navy bomber over Vietnam.

Then his plane was hit. He did what he was trained to do, trying to gain control, then eject to safety. More accurately, he was alive, but not exactly safe. Bob was immediately captured, and began what would turn into six long years in North Vietnam as a POW.

His experiences were often difficult to read, his fear of the unknown at first, and then the fear of the known. Each time he was pulled from his cell to go to be interrogated he might be tortured or asked to do something to turn on other prisoners. Some of the guards treated the prisoners better than others, but there was always the chance of being told to kneel on the concrete floors for hours or far worse.

Many of the prisoners had injuries from their plane crashing in the jungle or from overzealous questioning by some of the harsher prison commanders. But the prisoners banded together to help each other in most incidents. But, like any group of people that don’t necessarily choose to live together, some of the prisoners didn’t get along with other prisoners. Personalities clashed sometimes to the point of fights.

What I found very interesting was Bob’s take on fear. He said a person cannot live in a constant state of fear – so eventually you can sleep through bombings nearby and drive out thoughts of what might happen until it actually does. I believe this was what helped him and some of his other comrades through the long years of captivity when others did not fare as well.

I am not suggesting his time as a POW did not affect him, but maybe not as much as other prisoners that lived in constant fear.. He left Vietnam in March 1973, a very different man than the one that was shot from the sky in 1967. In many ways he was not the man he would have been if he had done his tour during the war and gone home to his wife. But no one can say how experiences, good and bad, affect the rest of their life. Certainly these experiences season our judgment and reaction to situations, but our attitude also plays a big part.

In the afterword to his book, Bob tells the readers his opinions on war in general. He doesn’t appear to be a bitter man as many would have living through his experience. He felt he was treated more humanely than some of the other prisoners, but doesn’t minimize the experience of other POWs that had much worse treatment while imprisoned.

Copyright © 2017 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

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