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Just a few days before Veterans Day, the Military Appreciation Club welcomed to campus an accomplished author who gave an insightful lesson about the torture that prisoners of war endured during the Vietnam War.

Alvin Townley was the special guest on November 7. Mr. Townley has written several books, including the recently released Captured: An American Prisoner of War in North Vietnam. That book highlights the horrors Jeremiah Denton suffered through while in captivity between 1965 and 1973. Mr. Denton spent part of his life in Virginia Beach and had a grandson graduate from Norfolk Academy.

Students listened attentively as Mr. Townley painted a picture of POW life during that time. Their meals were awful. They were physically tortured as the enemy tried to coerce them into signing confessions of wrongdoing. Their small cells were so hot in summer that they would put their noses to a tiny space under the door just to breathe.

Beyond that physical suffering was the mental torture. They were kept by themselves in those cells, hour after hour and day after day.

Still, Mr. Townley said, the group bonded together so that they would one day return home with honor. They kept their wits using tap code, a system of knocking on walls, to communicate and share stories.

Back in America, the women in their lives also bonded together. They formed an organization known as the National League of POW-MIA Families, which helped unite the country around the idea of bringing their loved ones home. 

Finally, in 1973, Mr. Denton returned. His message: “We are proud to have served our country under difficult circumstances. We are profoundly grateful to our commander-in-chief and to our nation for this day. God bless America."

Mr. Denton became U.S. Senator Denton a few years later, serving the state of Alabama in Washington, DC. 

He and the others in captivity had returned with honor, with the help of their wives, Mr. Townley said.

That story should provide valuable lessons, he added:

  • Remember how quickly life can change.
  • When things go bad, never lose faith.
  • Find the right people to support you.

After Mr. Townley spoke, Headmaster Dennis Manning offered him appreciation for collecting and sharing the extraordinary stories. 

“They are a valuable reminder how fortunate we are to be born in the United States," Mr. Manning said. “Thank you for reminding us of that."

 

  

Additional Photos

From left, Headmaster Dennis Manning, author Alvin Townley, and Neil Duffy, faculty advisor to NAMAC. 

From left, Headmaster Dennis Manning, author Alvin Townley, and Neil Duffy, faculty advisor to NAMAC. 

Author Alvin Townley with Norfolk Academy's Military Appreciation Club.

Author Alvin Townley with Norfolk Academy's Military Appreciation Club.

Author Alvin Townley teaches tap code.

Author Alvin Townley teaches tap code.

Students learn the small size of cells for POWs.

Students learn the small size of cells for POWs.

Raegan Fitzgerald '20, co-President for NAMAC this year, introduces Alvin Townley. Ethan Thurmond.

Raegan Fitzgerald '20, co-President for NAMAC this year, introduces Alvin Townley. Ethan Thurmond '20, the other co-President, also spoke. 

Headmaster Dennis Manning, left, and author Alvin Townley, have been friends for several years. 

Headmaster Dennis Manning, left, and author Alvin Townley, have been friends for several years.