The Story Behind the Story: An Inside Look at the Extraordinary True Events that Inspired ‘Glory Denied’ (Floyd Thompson)

Glory Denied is about the cost of war, in this case the Vietnam War, to an American family. But in many ways, it is also the story of our country’s painful growth in the 1960s and 70s.

United States Army Colonel Floyd “Jim” Thompson, the longest held prisoner of war (POW) in American history, and his wife, Alyce, were products of the idealism of post-World War II America. When Thompson was shot down and captured, they began a journey that changed them forever. Thompson survived nine years in captivity, enduring torture and extreme deprivation before he was released. Alyce, left at home with four small children, the youngest of whom was born the day after Jim was shot down, had to learn how to navigate her own captivity within the army bureaucracy while grappling with the expectations and judgments of our society. They both survived, but not without great cost.

Shortly after his capture, the North Vietnamese released one radio statement that was purported to be Thompson, but that was the only information the army had. Alyce wasn’t even completely certain that it was Jim on the recording. She believed that it was highly likely Jim was dead, and desperately wanted to get on with her life. She began a relationship with a veteran (called Harold in the opera), and, in order to protect her and her children’s privacy, she refused to let the army release Jim’s name on any of Missing in Action/POW lists (at the time, bracelets were issued with the names of POWs as a gesture of support for the missing and their families). As a result, Everett Alvarez, a navy pilot who was captured a couple of months after Thompson, was named as the longest held POW when the conflict was finally over. It took several months for the error to be corrected.

In 1973, the Paris Peace Accords were signed and the prisoners were released. Imagine the shock to Alyce and her family when it was confirmed that Jim was, in fact, alive and would soon be coming home. She was honest with Jim about what had happened during his captivity and gave him the choice of whether or not to stay in the marriage. This was a huge adjustment period for the children as well. The two older daughters had some memories of their father, but the youngest daughter and the son had no recollection of him. In fact, the boy (who was named Jimmy), thought Harold was his father.

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