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Five Years to Freedom: The True Story of a Vietnam POW
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Five Years to Freedom: The True Story of a Vietnam POW

4.37  ·  Rating details ·  828 Ratings  ·  74 Reviews
When Green Beret Lieutenant James N. Rowe was captured in 1963 in Vietnam, his life became more than a matter of staying alive.

In a Vietcong POW camp, Rowe endured beri-beri, dysentery, and tropical fungus diseases. He suffered grueling psychological and physical torment. He experienced the loneliness and frustration of watching his friends die. And he struggled every day
ebook, 480 pages
Published March 9th 2011 by Presidio Press (first published June 1st 1971)
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Nov 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I will start off by highly recommending this book. I bought the book off the shelf in a truck stop. I was hoping it wasn't about John McCain. I had never heard of James N. Rowe. After getting through the first chapter, and learning about the firefight and capture I was completely hooked. I ended up reading the book in 2 days.

After getting about halfway through, I thought that I would write Col. Rowe a letter telling my thoughts. I discovered that this book was in reprint from 1970's, and Col. R
A not to be forgotten account by James 'Nick' Rowe. A US Green Beret captured in Vietnam and held for 5 years under the toughest of conditions.
The reader will find that most of this book is designated to his ordeal with a small amount at the beginning on his training and his readying himself for the mission and subsequent capture, then at the end his escape and return to the US. The majority of the book is a very detailed retelling of his time with the Viet Cong as a prisoner of war.
Sometimes i
Dawn Michelle

It is tough to review this book and do it justice; how do you write a review about a book that describes in horrifying detail what one man went through at the hands of oppressors? How do you write about those horrors without sounding trite [as you sit in your warm house, enjoying the very things he went without for 5 years]? You don't.
Nick Rowe was a hero. He survived a horrific ordeal and never lost his faith in God and faith in his country; even while being barraged with lies being told to h
Jul 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: military
I don't know what to say about this book other than Read It! The experiences this man went through as a POW for five years, and the fact that he was able to keep surviving is a testament to his character and human resolve in the face of adversity. If you think you're going through hardships and life is so tough on you, this book will put things into perspective. I can imagine it was difficult for the author to put all these things on paper and relive the experiences while writing, but it is to t ...more
Sep 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An incredible story... there are many like this out there, but it was Rowe's account that got the Army to start training people in Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape. This is virtually a textbook in SERE training..
Jan 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
A riveting account of a man who went through hell and survived. This book chronicles the events leading up to and his eventual capture by the Viet Cong. It gives an account of his interactions with his captors, fellow prisoners, and how he was able to survive even when there was no reason to keep on hoping.

What made this book so captivating was that the author did not hold back in his account, and told the tale even when it was obviously painful to remember and recite the most horrible moments.
May 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
AWESOME book! I highly recommend this to anyone who has an interest in Vietnam or war stories or just stories of amazing survival. It is very readable and gives a lot of background into the Vietnam culture and the politics of the war. The man kept a diary throughout his captivity and it showed an interesting side to the indoctrination/policies of the Vietnam people.
Although at times a difficult read, both emotionally and just the amount of detail involved, it was also a harrowing account of Rowe's experience as a POW. It's hard to give a memoir of such personal disclosure and detail anything less than 5 stars. This man's courage, honor and determination were amazing.

(view spoiler)
Melissa T
Oct 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This one rivaled Unbroken for me. Though this prisoner-of-war was not "physically" tortured (technically), the mental anguish they put him through was horrifying. And that was added to the deplorable physical conditions they kept him in. I was amazed at how he managed to keep his sanity and sense of reasoning throughout those five years.

I must say, though, that if you're offended by language, this is not the book for you! The author does not censor the language he or other soldiers used, and th
Bob Mayer
May 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A classic story of true courage, especially poignant as tomorrow is Memorial Day. I remember when they brought Nick Rowe back on active duty to start up the SERE-- survival, evasion, resistance and escape course at Camp Mackall-- which would be renamed in his honor.
If you want to understand true bravery, read this book.
Aug 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Forget the history books - this is the way that we should learn history, from those who lived it. Anyone who reads this book will never forget it.
Tommy Stubblefield
Jul 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
Recommended to Tommy by: Bill O'rielly
Shelves: top-5
Another great read. LTC Rowe is an American hero. RIP
Robert F.
Jul 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I rarely give books five star ratings. Many of my reads have gotten 4 stars because they were well written and about subjects that I am interested in.

This book goes beyond being interesting. It is superbly written, much of it in first person. The author takes us back to 1962, he a young Army Officer, Special Forces. It is Vietnam. But this is not an action packed military thriller, nor an analysis of of how, why or should we have been there, though those issues are covered in some r
Christine Rothrock
This was a book that made me realize how much a human can go through physically, mentally, and emotionally. Captured by the Vietnamese in 1963, this solider was a POW for 5yrs. Even thought they never physically beat him, they would take away cloths, food, or his mosquito net as punishment. He spent 5yrs having dystentary and a fungus that covered him from neck to foot and made his fingernails and toenails fall off. He was severely malnourished, living on a diet of rice and salt with very little ...more
Jun 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I honestly don't know what to say after reading this book. If you want a glimpse of the sacrifice some have paid for us, give this a read. If you want some perspective on what is really important, give this a read. Not only was it interesting and enlightening to read how some POWs were treated (not really a surprise, but the details and repercussions of his treatment really make an impact), but his recall of what was running through his mind during his time in captivity and the perspective he of ...more
Al Lock
Jul 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book changed my life. It's been years since I read it, but Nick Rowe remains one of my heroes. This man and his actions demonstrate what a man who will not sacrifice himself, who retains his essential rights under the hardest conditions, can accomplish. I was fortunate enough to meet Nick Rowe at Fort Bragg, NC many years after his time as a POW and to hear him tell a bit of his story in his own words. Colonel Rowe was a man of great humility, great vision and great bravery. I strongly reco ...more
Diane Dickinson
Oct 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An amazing story.

This is a long story, but worth the reading, especially if you recall the times. As I read I marveled at the strength of spirit the author exhibited. It was almost unreal and seemed like a work of fiction, even then sending shivers down your spine. The reader comes away with a real understanding of what freedom truly means.
May 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very inspiring tale of a US Marine Lieutenant who was captured by the Viet Cong in 1963, and, after several unsuccessful attempts, manages to escape in 1968. His feelings as he resists the attempts to brain wash him, and as he sees fellow prisoners being released or dying are all told in extremely moving detail.
Sep 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent read. I little slow in the beginning, but more than made up for it later on.

Easy to read, and could almost put myself with James. Worth your time if you have any interest in the subject.
Michael Murphy
Mar 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Awesome read! Sad story of perilous trials. Survival spirit and watching your comrades backs. To be hailed a hero and criminal all in one breath...
Apr 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow, this was a great book to read. I've never read such an account of life as a prisoner of war, even more, someone who survived. James Rowe was someone who only comes along once in a lifetime. He never broke under the pressure of the VC, for 5 years, and held his honor and courage to survive. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the subject or wants to learn more about Vietnam. I learned a lot from reading this book, about Rowe and the war, even though I have read several ...more
Aug 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A harrowing story of Nick Rowe's POW experience in South Vietnam. It's a story of life with the Viet Cong and at once the relative freedom and extreme depravity the VC POWs were subjected to.

While I enjoyed the story and can appreciate the horrors that Rowe faced living with the VC, I also felt like only half the story was ever reported. Missing words or phrases in the text (it may be because I was reading the Kindle version? Sometimes that messes stuff up, man) obfuscated key elements of his ti
Cari Savage
Nov 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This ought to be required reading in every American university. Nick Rowe not only managed to survive 5 years as a POW in Vietnam, he did it without compromising his honor. Through the telling of his story, Nick Rowe not only manages to paint a very vivid picture of the twisted thoughts and ideas of his Communist captors, he also paints a picture of what true American resolve can accomplish. After reading this book, I was left wondering what shapes a person into a "Nick Rowe"? Primarily, I was l ...more
David Hambling
A story not so much of human endurance as stubbornness. Captured by the VC, Rowe resolutely refuses to say the things they want him to, and as a result spends five years in hell rather than being released for reasons he never explains. Luckily he doesn't die like some of his comrades, though the privations are truly appalling (as are the stupidity and incidental cruelty of his captors). In spite of all this--and the terrible destruction from the air he witnesses first-hand -- Rowe never loses hi ...more
Erin C. Healy
May 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Then-Lt. Nick Rowe's resilience is an incredible example for anyone facing a challenging time, be it SERE training or just a down time over some circumstance of life. You'll be a whole lot more grateful for the life you have after reading it. It is a five-star book, but I almost gave it four because I suspect he suffered much more that he was able to discuss because of future SERE students and because of POWs still in captivity at the time of the book's publication. I wish he'd updated it once t ...more
Jun 24, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wish that I could give a star or two more. The guy went through pure hell, for a long time. I couldn't understand why he didn't take the easy way out to get home (won't go into it any further, don't want to spoil it for anyone). But I wasn't there, I wasn't him. Its a pretty gritty story and its amazing that he didn't seem to suffer physically or mentally after his imprisonment. I just really didn't like his writing style. A good story, it just didn't grab me
Trevor McGuire
What is most intriguing about this story is what the author missed while a POW. In our modern age, it is nearly impossible to imagine a complete disconnection from everyone and everything you know. Of all the themes in this book, I found that to be the most interesting underlying feature. I think the author handled it very well, despite having written it long before the internet and cell phones tied us together so tightly.
Jul 16, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Incredibly difficult to read due to subject matter. It's hard to believe he was able to survive all that he went through. It also made me think about how disheartening it must have been to be held prisoner and stay true to your code and hear about how a vast majority of the country was no longer supporting you. I'm glad we have learned our lesson in that regardless of how we feel about being at war with a people or country we still remember to honor and support our troops.
Aug 10, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: military
When an ex-Army Special Forces veteran finds out you're interested in military history, and THIS is the book he gives you to read, it would be wise to read it. That's what happened to me, and I was not let down. Little did I know until after reading the book that my veteran friend actually KNEW Nick Rowe personally, bringing the reality of the horrors he faced even closer to home. The fortitude and faith that Rowe exhibits throughout five years of suffering is absolutely inspirational.
Brenda Rothert
Mar 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This may seem like a random pick for me given the rest of the books on my shelf, but it is probably the best book I've ever read. Rowe's true story of his Vietnam imprisonment is at once harrowing, sad and uplifting, strange as that may sound. His spirit, patriotism and will to live stayed with me long after I finished this book.
People thank veterans for their service, but if you really want to know what you are thanking them for, this is one of those books that will tell you.
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Rowe graduated from West Point in 1960 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Army. In 1963, First Lieutenant Rowe was sent to the Republic of Vietnam and assigned as Executive Officer of Detachment A-23, 5th Special Forces Group, a 12-man "A-team". Located at Tan Phu in An Xuyen Province, A-23 organized and advised a Civilian Irregular Defense Group camp in the Mekong De ...more
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“The world is not interested in the storms you encountered, but did you bring the ship in?” 0 likes
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