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Book Review : Both Sides of a POW's Tale

March 01, 1985|BETTY LUKAS | Lukas is a Times copy editor. and

Hanoi--Release John Nasmyth by Virginia Nasmyth and Spike Nasmyth (V. Parr, Santa Paula, Calif. 93060: $15.95)

More than 10 years ago, an American was released from a Northern Vietnam prison camp with fanfare. Much of the hoopla surrounding Air Force Maj. John (Spike) Nasmyth Jr. was generated by his South San Gabriel parents, who during his imprisonment had erected a huge sign that read "Hanoi--Release John Nasmyth" in front of their home.

They had promised themselves when they put up that sign in 1969 that only John would take it down. Take it down he did in 1973--with a special ax. The Nasmyth family made good copy and good television at the time. Their never-say-die philosophy, their persistent efforts to have Nasmyth released were an inspiration.

Since that momentous February, when he and other POWs stepped off an Air Force plane to freedom, Nasmyth's career has been updated in the press periodically, most recently in a 1978 story that described him as a "millionaire bachelor involved in buying and selling real estate and airplanes."

And now, between the hard covers of a book, we have the exhaustive chronicle of the Nasmyth saga, written by Nasmyth and his sister, Virginia.

"This book, this labor of love, was begun one afternoon in 1969," writes Virginia in her author's note. "I wanted to write a chronicle of what it must be like to be a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, and what it was like to have someone you love suddenly fall under the dubious title of 'missing in action.' "

What the book becomes then, in alternating chapters, is a parallel disclosure of how Nasmyth's capture affected him--what his life was like--and how it affected his family, and to what demanding and courageous lengths they went to procure his freedom.

Accompanied by official and personal letters, journal entries, photos and newspaper stories pertinent to the family's juggernaut campaign to obtain Nasmyth's release, the book is certainly the seminal account of this celebrated event and its major participants.

But more than that--for me, at least--it is a visible testimony of brother-sister devotion and love.

The Nasmyth family hero, incidentally, now lives on a remote island northeast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia. And the longtime perennial bachelor found a bride in 1983.

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