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Dedicated Little Sister of Former POW Finds Authorship Has Her All Booked Up

June 20, 1985|MARY BARBER | Times Staff Writer

It was a labor of love that began in 1966 when pilot John H. Nasmyth Jr. of South San Gabriel was shot down over North Vietnam.

And even though the former Vietnam prisoner of war was freed 12 years ago and now lives quietly on a secluded Canadian island, the labor of love continues.

As long as Virginia Nasmyth Loy is around, and as long as people want to hear about her heroic big brother and the determined family that fought for his release, she'll keep telling the story.

She has told it on television and radio programs and she continues to tell it from podiums on the lunch club circuit. Now she is telling it in a book.

The last time John Nasmyth made headlines was in 1973, when he wielded an ax and chopped down the billboard his family had erected in its South San 9Gabriel neighborhood in 1969.

Its message--"Hanoi Release John Nasmyth"--was the American public's first demand for the identification and release of Vietnam prisoners of war and those missing in action. The cause grew more visible as similar signs were erected across the nation and people began wearing bracelets engraved with POWs' names.

The sign that stood on a South San Gabriel corner for almost five years now decorates a wall in the Hacienda Heights home of the pilot's mother, Virginia Nasmyth.

"Little Virginia," as she was known to her family, was a teen-ager when her brother's plane went down in flames. Despite her youth she became the family's emissary to foreign lands, traveling to Paris, the Middle East, Algeria and Thailand, among other places, trying to win her brother's release. She kept at it and eventually her brother was freed, along with 19 other POWs, on Feb. 18, 1973.

Now 35, she is at work on another mission.

Within days of her brother's release, Loy began collecting material for a book about Nasmyth's imprisonment and the family's struggles. After countless rewriting efforts and rejections from publishers, she finally decided to publish the book herself. She was involved in every phase--including contracting for the book's printing and binding. She even got former President Richard M. Nixon to write the introduction on the book's jacket.

When it was completed late in 1984 she asked book stores to stock it and she offered it by mail to everyone on a long list of people who had shown concern for prisoners of war.

"I just had to do this," Loy said. She won't disclose how much the project cost her, except to say that publication cost "tens of thousands of dollars." She settled on the book's price, $15.95, "because it seemed right."

Surprisingly--self-published books are generally ignored by book reviewers and sellers--"Hanoi Release John Nasmyth" has received favorable notice. A Times review called it "the seminal account of a celebrated event (and) a visible testimony of brother-sister devotion and love." It is carried by several bookstores and one chain outlet in Southern California.

Despite her efforts to market the book, Loy still has 4,000 of the 5,000 first editions. Almost daily she fills orders that trickle in to her Santa Paula home. She also spends a lot of time on the road, speaking an average of once a week at service or patriotic club meetings. She regularly makes the rounds of stores, urging them to keep her book in stock.

"Hey, I'm exhausted," Loy said, after she spoke recently in San Dimas and Hacienda Heights.

The Nasmyth family has scattered from South San Gabriel.

John H. Nasmyth Sr. died in 1980. Nasmyth's mother has moved to Hacienda Heights. Two other children, Gebo and Peter, have moved away from California.

John Nasmyth, known as Spike, lives with his wife, Audrey, on an island near Vancouver, Canada, where he operates a private air service for sportsmen.

Loy and her husband, Rick, a lawyer, and their four children are moving this month from Santa Paula to a ranch in Upper Ojai.

Among the things they will take with them are 4,000 books that have to be wrapped and mailed or delivered by their author if they are ever going to get anywhere.

"It's a labor of love," said the author.

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