Many former Vietnam POWs came home and managed to successfully reenter society, some achieving exceptional prominence, such as Senator John McCain, who wrote the book's foreword. Yet not all were so lucky, and in this unhappy and troubling account military affairs journalist Tom Philpott has assembled a vivid oral history chronicle of the unfortunate deterioration of Jim Thompson.
Captured in 1964, in the early years of the war when Green Berets like Thompson were the major United States presence in Vietnam, he endured an initial five years of solitary confinement, in addition to the well-known hardships recounted in previously published memoirs by other POWs, beatings, torture, starvation, and numerous forms of humiliation and degradation. What breathes new life into this lengthy account of a familiar topic is the oral history narrative, in which Thompson's family and fellow soldiers tell their versions of the events. When Thompson's wife Alyce recalls their marital problems after his return, including his alcoholism and general lack of motivation, it provides the other side of the story, allowing the reader to judge the nature of their failed relationship. Likewise the accounts by Thompson's fellow soldiers and POWs provide insights into Thompson's strengths (he was especially good at coping with solitary confinement) and his weaknesses (he had a tendency to act and speak impulsively before thinking things through.) The inclusion of the full texts of relevant documents, such as his draft notice and the messages from the Department of the Army informing Alyce of Thompson's capture and subsequent intelligence, much more effectively conveys a sense of dealing with the bureaucracy than could be achieved by a conventional narrative.
Despite widespread recognition, including being presented the Prisoner of War medal by President Reagan at the White House, Thompson's family disintegrated. He had a serious stroke in 1980, and at the time of this book's publication was nearly 70 years old and quite frail. Glory Denied is a compelling account filled with fresh insights about the American misadventure in Vietnam.