In Giving Back, Norman Norm Ebenstein writes about how Vietnam’s civil war affected him and his family. His firsthand accounts of war and his exposure to much of what occurred there make For Those Who Give What They Take a timely and rewarding read for those who have never experienced war or what it can do to people they care about. For those of us who have, Norm’s vivid account of the war and the aftermath provides a look into the lives of ordinary people in Vietnam during this time, rather than just the political leaders and government officials who were at the forefront of fighting this war.
In Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, Norm and his family lived in a rice paddied village called Ha Long Bay. Their small houseboat was used to bring water and food to relatives and friends from other villages. One evening, while the family was relaxing on the deck, they noticed strange men paddling along in a small boat that belonged to the military. They didn’t recognize it at first, but as the men wore their uniforms, they recognized the boat, which belonged to the US Sixth Fleet.
It was the US Navy, led by Rear Admiral Robert S.oker, that had stopped the attacks on Hanoi prior to the Tet Offensive. At first, it seemed that the Chinese were not taking the Americans seriously, but when word got out that American servicemen were being held prisoner in Vietnam, many Vietnamese citizens began to rescue US soldiers. Some were captured, while many simply ran away to safety. When word got out that Norm and his family were being held hostage, several organizations offered to help them. Among those offering their help were Norm’s old friend, Senator John Kerry and his wife, Anne Merritt.
A book about the Norm Ebenstein’s rescue and his book, “dropping out of the blue,” about his years in captivity and how his life after the war was almost erased from his mind, is an amazing tale of courage. Although Norm was framed by the enemy for fifteen years of his life, he never blamed anyone for his wrongful imprisonment. He always maintained that he would have gone into hiding if the US had not dropped leaflets over Hanoi advertising the release of all American prisoners.
The book is not just about his capture and imprisonment, although these were very important issues. There are also valuable discussions about his being held as a political prisoner, his time in Hanoi and his experience there. This lengthy account includes the many ebooks that he produced while incarcerated. These are very detailed, often quoting military and State Department officials.
Most of these are short stories and most are only about 20 pages long. It is interesting to see how deeply immersed Norman was in his writing even while in prison. One story is about him writing in a prison cell a poem about the death of his grandmother. Norman had a very close relationship with his grandmother, yet she was a staunch critic of the United States and her policies. This book portrays Norman’s frustration at never having been able to visit her in jail. While this book has some great one liners, it could be a little too depressing for some people.
Norman’s books not only contain well-developed stories of his imprisonment and his release, but he included biographies of some notable Americans. I particularly like “ounterspy,” a look at the infiltration of U.S. soldiers into enemy countries to photograph and collect information. This book is chock full of action and a terrific read. Another favorite is “The Best Laid Plans,” a look at how General George S. Patton’s famous “snap shot” strategy saved lives of some American soldiers during World War II. In this book, you learn what the general looked for when making this snap decision. Norman is not only an amazing author but an incredible interpreter of war and its many complexities.
While I think Norman is an amazing writer and author, I think in light of his lengthy incarceration and having just been released, he may have had second thoughts about giving back to the community and the world. After all, he had to face thirty years in prison on several occasions for his political views, but he refused to step back and take any blame. His courage is admirable, and while I think his writing is outstanding, I don’t think he would be able to relate to the experiences of people like me who are struggling to make ends meet and provide for their families. I certainly hope Norman Norm Ebenstein gives back to the community will continue. If not, at least we can be sure that his books will continue to be available for sale. You can find “Norman Norm Ebenstein – A Life Giving Back” by Norman Norm Ebenstein in bookstores, online, or on CDs.