My father, collaborating with Ed Brandt, a Virginian-Pilot reporter, wrote a book, When Hell was in Session, not long after he returned from Vietnam. (Available at Amazon, by clicking right here.) It was made into a TV movie starring Hal Holbrook and Eva Marie Saint. Had I not read it, and newspaper articles, I'd know little about my father's experience as a POW in Vietnam. It wasn't a topic explored around the dinner table at home. I always wanted to talk to my father about it, but it wasn't easy. He referred to it now and then, but not in a way that invited a heart to heart.
Thank God for Alvin Townley. I'd been the family member most reluctant to share my mother's diaries with him when he wanted to use them for research, but my siblings, most of whom had met and been won over by his sincerity, talked me into it, thank goodness. His research and ever so well-written account of the Alcatraz Gang, of which my father was a member, illuminated my father's trials and triumphs and provided me with a big(ger) picture understanding. The timing of the book's release, a month before his passing, was fitting, and though Dad and I didn't talk about it in anything more than a fleeting way, I'm glad I was able to learn details of the story before he was gone.
What meant the most to me, in reading the book, was that it enabled me to put his experience in context with that of the other men and that I was able to gain a perspective of what the other families went through. The most meaningful aspects of attending the reception was being able to be in the presence of my father's comrades and to meet Ron Storz' son and daughter and Jim Stockdale's son. Kindred spirits, linked by a shared experience. Plus Micah and I got to be with several of my brothers, my sister-in-law, a few of my nieces and nephews.
In April, the Texas delegation in Congress hosted a reception for Alvin Townley to introduce the book and to honor the eleven men who "endured Vietnam's most infamous prison, the women who fought for them and the one who never returned." My daughter, Micah, and I joined other family members who were able to attend.
My brother, Jim, pictured at the podium, is Editor of World Affairs Journal which partnered with the Congressmen in sponsoring the event. Texas Congressman Sam Johnson is another of the Alcatraz Gang and pictured to Jim's left.
Jim visited Vietnam a year ago and shared his insight in this article in World Affairs Journal.
Also, in World Affairs Journal, James S. Robbins wrote this review of Defiant.
George Coker, Bob Shumaker, and Sam Johnson, former Alcatraz prison mates - Though I've hardly met them in person, these men are strands in the fabric of my life.
As the reception wound down, Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX) gave some of us a tour of the Capital which included sitting in my dad's seat in the Senate. Pictured: two of my nieces and a nephew and my daughter
Then, we walked to The Monocle, a restaurant my parents frequented, stopping en route to take a picture of Ben and Micah at the Supreme Court building.
Me, Ben, and Alvin