Special Forces heroes like Captain Mark Smith, LtCol Nick Rowe and MSgt Dan Pitzer gained legendary status by surviving them. Captain Rocky Versace, Captain Ike Eisenbraun and Sgt First Class Ken Roraback were murdered in them. Their remains have never been returned.
The camps were a different world...a world where an ill-equipped and under-fed enemy worked hard to break their captives through starvation, beatings and torture. They took advantage of every opportunity to turn their captives against each other with promises of early release for those who were "progressive" which meant they were willing to denounce the US presence in Vietnam.
Chief Warrant Officer Frank Anton entered that world on January 5, 1968, at age 24.
For the next 62 months, he and his fellow prisoners endured the worst that the enemy had to offer while American forces watched from a distance. During that time, nine of his comrades died.
During debriefing after his release, Anton was shown pictures of himself that were taken during his period of captivity in the south. The pictures appeared to have been taken from a very short distance away indicating that American forces not only knew of his whereabouts, they were close enough to photograph him.
Confronted with this information, he had only one question for his debriefers:
If they were that close and could see the condition he and the others were in, then "Why didn't you get me out?"
This is without question one of the most visually presented books on the issue and on the war in general.
Anton and Denton managed to present facts as facts, avoided speculation and have built a credible case for the issue of live POWs.
The book is not devoid of controversial material...
Bobby Garwood is mentioned in some detail on 40 or so pages and it is clear that Frank Anton is in disagreement with some popular perceptions of Garwood. He lays out his feelings very clearly and makes no excuses for them. He lays out specifics and avoids assumptions. He presents his personal feelings and gives his reasons for those feelings with vivid recollections and no sarcasm. I was expecting to see some venom but there was none. He doesn't demonize Garwood although some readers have perceived it that way.
The most compelling section of the book, is in the last pages where Anton and Denton present the case for the existence of live POWs in SE Asia today. Those passages are certain to make the authors persona non grata in the minds of some bureaucrats who wish the POW/MIA issue would die a natural death.
The book has a very distinctive voice...down home yet compelling. That voice worked for Will Rodgers and it works equally well here. Many decide to write an autobiographical book and present themselves as a stereotype. As the book progresses, they start to believe their own press and as they weave themselves into the cloak of the hero, they become arrogant, cocky and boring.
"Why Didn't You Get Me Out?" is refreshingly different. At different times as the story evolves, Anton is angry, reflective, humble and occasionally weary, but always credible and sincere. Anton is presented as just another guy who wound up as a POW. The chapters flow well, one into the next without stalls or lost motion. The emphasis is on a series of shared ordeals with substantial credit given to others who might otherwise have gone unrecognized (McMillan for example). The one consistent quality which kept coming through was sincerity.
I would caution any reader to avoid being distracted by the Garwood pages. This book was not intended to be about Bobby Garwood. It is about the reality of the POW camps. The message of this book is too important to be lost in the controversy over who did what and to whom in the camps. While the assertions on both sides deserve close examination, the judgements must be left to those who were there. Garwood and Anton are both in agreement on that, just as they are in agreement that men were left behind and may survive today.