Through the Valley

Through the Valley

My Captivity in Vietnam

William Reeder Jr.

Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 2016, 238 pages

Book Review published on: March 30, 2017

I have known the author of this book for some time; we served together on the faculty at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, before he moved to the Pacific Northwest. I was aware that we had been in Vietnam at the same time; I knew that he had been shot down and captured. Because Bill Reeder is a humble man, he did not share the full nature of his harrowing experience in Vietnam. With the publication of Through the Valley, he finally tells his inspirational and uplifting story.

In 1972, on Good Friday, North Vietnam launched a massive invasion of South Vietnam that included fourteen divisions and twenty-six separate regiments. What became known as the Easter Offensive focused on seizing Quang Tri in Military Region I, Kontum in the Central Highlands, and An Loc in Military Region III. The bitter fighting was protracted and intense at a level seldom seen before in the Vietnam War.

When the Easter Offensive began, Reeder was a senior Army captain on his second tour of duty. He flew Mohawks during his first tour, but on his second tour, he was flying Cobra gunships in support of South Vietnamese forces in the Central Highlands. On 9 May, while providing support to a besieged base at Ben Het, Reeder’s helicopter was shot down. His copilot died in the crash. Reeder survived but sustained a broken back and several other serious wounds. Managing to pull himself from the burning wreckage, Reeder who was crippled by his injuries, evaded the North Vietnamese for three days in the surrounding jungle, but was eventually captured. In severe pain, he was held in a jungle prison camp in South Vietnam for several weeks. Then, his captors gathered Reeder and twenty-seven other American and South Vietnamese prisoners of war and set out on a grueling forced march of nearly four hundred miles up the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos and into North Vietnam, during which seven prisoners died. Along the way, Reeder contracted malaria and endured a number of festering wounds. Despite everything, Reeder managed to survive the journey, only to be interred in the infamous Hanoi Hilton.

Reeder shares his recollections of the crash, his subsequent capture, the tortured march up the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and his eventual imprisonment in North Vietnam in straight-forward, but moving terms. He relates the torment and pain of his experience, but clearly demonstrates that he never lost faith, despite all the trials and tribulations that confronted him. He ultimately survived the ordeal and was released with other U.S. POWs after the Paris Peace Accords were signed in 1973.

Reeder’s inspirational story is one of sacrifice and triumph of the human spirit, in the face of almost indescribable pain and suffering. This is a powerful book and strongly recommended for readers who want a riveting account of survival against the odds.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. James H. Willbanks, PhD, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas