AP American History
The book I have chosen to read for this review is one entitled "SIX YEARS IN HELL." It is a book written by one Lt. Colonel Jay R. Jensen in a first person manor. He was a military pilot who flew over Vietnam and was captured and taken as a POW. This book covers his time in the military before hand describing the daily procedures etc. of his military life.
The author graduated from Jordan High School in Sandy, Utah in 1949. He then joined The Utah Air National Guard during the Korean war. Mr. Jensen was on active duty for 20 months, after which he attended Brigham Young University. He graduated with a B.S. degree in Accounting and majors in Banking and Finance. After college he obtained the rank of cadet Colonel in the Air Force ROTC. Lt. Colonel Jensen was well decorated after his retirement in 1978 that concluded 28 years of service. His decorations included: Two Silver Stars, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star with V for Valor, Air Medal, two Purple Hearts, Presidential Unit Citation, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with two Oak Leaf Clusters, POW Medal, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, Vietnam Service Medal with 14 Bronze Campaign Medals, Air Force Longevity Award (for over 24 years), Armed Forces Reserve Medal with Hour Glass Device (for 20 years), Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon, Vietnam Cross for Gallantry with Device, and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal. All these decorations and the time spent in the military I believe more than present his qualifications for writing this book.
This book that he was so qualified to write I must bend to say was rather well written. The author took time to explain everything individually and even those things that seem quite trivial were given careful explanation. If there was something that the author felt was not apparent or was not to be taken at face value he footnoted it at the bottom of the page. These footnotes were especially helpful for those of us readers who may not be that "militarily inclined." I particularly enjoyed the story of Roscoe the base's mascot which was probably one of the longest examples of footnoting throughout the book.
The book is written from the perspective of the author at the time he experienced it. The descriptions are so well written that one can almost see or relate to what is being described, but as time progresses you can tell the author's moods change as the mode of descriptions differs. The point of this book was obviously to show the reader a day-by-day look at the life of a military citizen while serving, during capture, and at the end of captivity. Through his accurate descriptions the author conquers this point quite well. The descriptions of the people are so well written that the reader actually "gets to know" that person. Although physical features are scarcely covered just by the details given of the type and speech of a person one can easily relate that person to somebody they know which makes the reading much smoother as the story progresses.
Lt. Colonel Jensen was stationed for attack in Vietnam and as the superstition goes the 13th mission was to be his unlucky one. As they suited up and took off on their 13th mission the only thoughts in their minds were reaching their 100th mission so that they could leave and go home.
During his flight he was hit by an SAM (Surface to Air Missile) and taken down only a short distance from the coastline. He was immediately captured by some locals and beaten and battered. After his immediate reception, he was taken by some people he describes as, "Quasi-Military Men" and put in a hut. He was often tortured and after a refusal to say anything more than his Name, Rank, and Serial Number he tortured again and when it became apparent that he was not going to say any more they took him on a long journey to Hanoi where he would stay at the "Hanoi Hilton" which was an old French prison. The "V" (Viet Cong) referred to it as Hoa Loa meaning "Hell Hole." He was later moved from Hoa Loa and into a place called the ZOO, a more comfortable and welcoming camp than the last, and was taken through many more moves after that. The rest of the story is told describing his tribulations at the "Hanoi Hilton" and is summed up at the end of the book talking about his return home and his hopes for the future including finding a new wife because his current wife had divorced him after his 5th year of captivity. While reading this book you actually get to feel what the pilot's feeling and the pain from the tortures are quite evident and during the story about the tourniquet torture I almost lost feeling in my arms, that is how strong the descriptions were.
This book had no index but the table of contents was very thorough and one while having the ability to read straight through, could also use the book as a reference looking at the table of contents that pointed to each chapter and sub-chapter which were descriptively named. So for instance in you wished to know about the different forms of torture you could look under chapters three and four. I believe the author has done this on purpose because in each chapter there is much redundancy from previous chapters which would help you to understand what you are reading if you chose to read it as a reference rather than as a piece of literary work.
The author is a very religious man, he was quite devout before the capture but afterwards he was more so. One can see why quite easily. When in solitary confinement what more does one have than faith? Well the author became quite faithful during this time and that brought him through. Once and often he thought about superstition. Here is an excerpt from early in his captivity recalling how the number thirteen had affected his life.
1. I had been married for 13 years
2. I had completed 13 years of active duty in the Air Force
3. We had moved 13 times
4. I had received news of my assignment on November 13, 1966
5. Thirteen days later I went TDY (temporary duty) to Nellis AFB, Nevada, to check out in the F-105F
6. At Nellis AFB I lived in room 13
7. I flew 13 training missions in the F-105F at Nellis AFB
8. Then I went on leave for 13 days
9. I left the states on January 4 and arrived at Korat AFB, Thailand, 13 days later
10. I lived in room 13 in the quarters at Korat
11. I was assigned to the 13th Fighter Squadron
12. This Squadron was part of the 13th Air Force, our head-quarters
13. I was shot down on our 13th mission
Now whether this is all coincidence or not this is another of the parts of the book that makes you really look at life and think. I sat and pondered for quite a while on whether superstition was valid or not just because of this.
The author's style of presentation is one that will make the reader think about the story being told, but also think about their own life and how it relates to the story the author is telling. Morals become a big thing throughout and would make even the most pious person think about their own life. Description was probably the key factor of this entire work and because of that, I was able to read this book almost straight through and was disappointed when I had to put it down to eat, sleep, or do any of those other things that day to day life brings to us. The thing that really grabbed me about this reading was that when I was not reading, but doing all of those things that life brings for us to do, I began to sympathize with Jensen because he was not able to do these things through his SIX YEARS IN HELL.