Defiant Vietnam POWs, defiant wives at home (William Stark)

First came a knock on the door, then the bad news, then a request for silence.

Don’t tell anyone that your husband/father/son/brother has become a prisoner of war.

That was the way it went early in the Vietnam War. U.S. government officials didn’t want to antagonize the North Vietnamese captors, give them propaganda fodder, or undermine negotiations to bring the prisoners home.


How that “Keep Quiet” policy got changed, and how the shift led to better treatment and the eventual return of POWs who had been subjected to horrific torture — beatings, meat hooks, leg irons, years of solitary confinement — is a story that’s not widely known.

It’s also one with a decidedly San Diego flavor.

The story figures to get more attention this year, which in April marks the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon and the end of America’s most bitterly divisive war.

“People who have heard the story before need to be reminded of it, and people who have never heard it before should learn it,” said Alvin Townley, an Atlanta-based writer whose 2014 book, “Defiant,” details the POW saga. “What those men and their families went through and did is an inspiration to all of us about how to endure in even the darkest times.”

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