As with other audiences near and wide the past few months, the Atlanta author regaled the Buckhead Optimist Club last week with samplings from “Defiant,” a literary portrait of the Vietnam War as witnessed by under-tapped sources.
The work is fueled by the real-life accounts of a resilient group of American prisoners of war and their wives, who mounted a campaign stateside to bring their loved ones home after nearly a decade in captivity.
“It’s been great to be traveling around Georgia, travel around the country and see people react to this book and appreciate the stories of these men and women who endured this eight-year ordeal that no one else in U.S. military history has had to endure,” said Townley, a Virginia-Highland resident.
“Defiant,” released in February, debuted to critical acclaim from high-profile publications including the New York Times. It has also been endorsed by President Jimmy Carter and Sen. John McCain, a former POW himself.
A handful of Vietnam veterans were on hand at Friday’s Buckhead Optimist Club gathering — all engaged with the day’s featured guest during his time at the podium.
“[Townley] is a great speaker and certainly knows the subject,” said club president Tom LeVert. “We always try and put on something that’s motivational … it certainly [applies] here, when you talk about POWs and what they went through.
“And, there’s so many people here who are the same age and kind of can relate to what was going on.”
A central part of Townley’s book recalls the plight and perseverance of a group of 11 POWs through torture, near starvation and isolation at the hands of their captors.
“They were essentially the leaders of all the 500 POWs in North Vietnam,” said Townley. “These 11 guys were so obnoxious, uncooperative and subversive they actually got kicked out of the Hanoi Hilton POW camp because that was the only way the North Vietnamese could try and stifle their influence…but they never could.”
That includes U.S. Navy pilot Jeremiah Denton, whose aircraft was shot down behind enemy lines in the summer of 1965.
The future admiral, separated from his wife and seven children, was banished along with the other “troublemakers” to a remote facility locals called Alcatraz. There, the servicemen were confined to 4 x 9 foot cells for 23 hours, 50 minutes each day.
Meanwhile, 7,000 miles away, three of the 11 prisoners’ wives were founding the National League of POW/MIA Families and working to advance its cause.
“These guys may have never come back home if it were not for them,” Townley said.
Denton died in March, reducing the number of surviving members of the Vietnam War’s “band of brothers” to six. Townley, who said he views the vets and their wives as surrogate grandparents, has also set out to honor them in an even bigger way.
The Lakeside High graduate is working to one day bring “Defiant” to the big screen.
“The book is terrific. … I think the movie could be a blockbuster,” he said.