views updated

Philpott, Tom 1951-

PERSONAL:

Born October 7, 1951, in Pittsburgh, PA; son of James T. (an attorney) and Mary Barbara (an archivist) Philpott; married November 2, 1974; wife's name Barbara J. (a registered nurse); Paul, Bradley. Ethnicity: "Caucasian." Education: St. Vincent College, Latrobe, PA, B.A., 1973. Politics: "Independent." Religion: Roman Catholic. Hobbies and other interests: Skiing, cycling, golf.

ADDRESSES:

Office—P.O. Box 23111, Centreville, VA 20120-1111. Agent—Ethan Ellenberg, Ethan Ellenberg Agency, 548 Broadway, Ste. 5-E, New York, NY 10012. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Army Times Publishing Co., Springfield, VA, journalist for Army Times, 1977-78, Defense Department correspondent, 1978-85, news bureau chief, 1985-86, editor of Navy Times, 1986-92, senior writer for special projects, 1991-92; author of nationally syndicated news column "Military Update," 1994—. Military service: U.S. Coast Guard, public information officer, 1973-77; became lieutenant; received Coast Guard Achievement Medal.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Awards for excellence in local journalism, Washington chapter, Society of Professional Journalists, 1998, 2002; Frank Knox Media Medal, New York council, Navy League of the United States, 2000.

WRITINGS:

Glory Denied: The Saga of Jim Thompson, America's Longest-held Prisoner of War, W.W. Norton and Co. (New York, NY), 2001.

Columnist for Air Force, 2004—. Contributor to books, including The Almanac of Seapower, 1995-2001. Contributor to magazines such as New Yorker, Retired Officer's, Kiplinger's, Washingtonian, and Reader's Digest. Associate editor of U.S. Navy section, Jane's Fighting Ships, 1998—.

ADAPTATIONS:

An opera based on Philpott's book was composed by Tom Cipullo and performed in Brooklyn, NY, at the Brooklyn College Conservatory of Music in 2007.

SIDELIGHTS:

In Glory Denied: The Saga of Jim Thompson, America's Longest-held Prisoner of War, biographer Tom Philpott tells the story of an American serviceman's nine years of brutal captivity in Vietnam. Special Forces Colonel Floyd "Jim" Thompson was captured by the Vietcong in March 1964, suffering nine years of physical and emotional torture—four of them in solitary confinement—until his release in March 1973. But the story, and the book, does not stop with a happy ending at his release. It continues describing the effects not only on Thompson, but on his wife and family during and after his years of captivity. "Glory Denied is a sad, moving book about the havoc the Vietnam War wrought with one American soldier and his family," wrote Anthony Day in Los Angeles Times.

"Thompson's story is written as an oral history, drawing on interviews with Thompson, his family, and fellow soldiers," wrote Day. In all, Philpott "interviewed 160 people over 15 years" for the book, wrote a reviewer in Publishers Weekly, telling Thompson's story "mainly through the verbatim testimony he gathered from Thompson's family, friends, and colleagues, along with various newspaper articles and other ephemera that have collected around Thompson." The choice of oral history style "adds to the poignancy of the story," Day observed, "allowing people to speak directly to the reader." Philpott's influence is felt most directly "through his choices in montage," the reviewer in Publishers Weekly wrote, "and his refusal to comment directly gives this work real dignity."

In March 1964, Thompson, then a young and relatively inexperienced captain, accompanied his pilot on a mission scouting the Vietnamese jungle for signs of the enemy. They were shot down. The pilot was killed, and Thompson, badly wounded, was captured by the Viet Cong. Tortured and starved, he was held in solitary confinement for four years. In 1967, withered away to less than one hundred pounds and near death, Thompson was taken to North Vietnam. Two years later, he was finally integrated with other prisoners, the first time he had seen other Americans since his capture. He was released in March 1973 after the signing of the Paris Agreement.

As his Special Forces training taught him to do, Thompson attempted to escape five times during his captivity, but was always quickly recaptured. He was beaten and forced to sign a statement and make a radio address in which he said he was being treated well. "For one six-month period," wrote Richard Bernstein in the New York Times Book Review, "he was held in a cage too small for him to either stretch out or sit upright." When fellow prisoner Mike O'Connor first saw Thompson in a North Vietnamese prison, Bernstein wrote, O'Connor thought that Thompson was dead, a corpse propped against the prisoners' door as part of a cruel joke by the Viet Cong. "He looked like something out of Auschwitz," O'Connor said.

Even Thompson himself could not say for sure how he managed to survive his interminable, inhuman captivity, except that he did it "one day at a time," as he told Bernstein. "Every morning I closed my eyes and said, ‘one day at a time.’"

Unknown to Thompson during his captivity, his disappearance brought on profound changes to his family at home. "After he was captured," Day wrote, "his wife, hearing nothing beyond news of the plane crash, came to believe he was dead. Alyce and her children moved to Massachusetts with another man. They were all evidently happy and stable—until Thompson returned nine years later." Alyce took her children and moved back with Thompson, but little by little, Thompson's marriage and family fell apart. He struggled with alcoholism; Alyce left and they divorced shortly after; the children went wild, with their son convicted of second-degree murder; Thompson attempted suicide, and suffered a serious stroke "that left him shouting incoherently in the courtroom during his son's trial," Day wrote.

Thompson's "stalwartness under barely imaginable conditions of pain and terror one can only look on with awe," Day said. "Philpott makes that case plainly in Glory Denied, and plainly, too, the terrible cost for this soldier and his family of the Vietnam war."

Thompson has gone on record as saying he does not like Glory Denied, Bernstein wrote, claiming that Philpott took too much "poetic license" and relied too much on interviews conducted after Thompson's stroke, when he said he "couldn't talk right." "Clearly, though, a great deal of his dissatisfaction has to do with his former wife and the inclusion of her side of the story, but not, because of his speech impairment, his side," Bernstein wrote.

Still, the reviewers of Glory Denied afforded it high praise. Bernstein commented that the book "promises to be a major contribution to the Vietnam War literature." Reviewer William J. Duiker, writing in the Washington Post, said: "In Glory Denied, the author has performed a distinct service in demonstrating that although captivity can often ennoble a man, it can also exacerbate emotional difficulties and lay the groundwork for severe personal problems after release from prison." Gerald R. Costa, in Library Journal, called it a "well-researched biography" and "a remarkable story of survival that will take its place among the testimonies of other POWs."

Tom Philpott told CA: "My weekly ‘Military Update’ column is hard news and thoughtful analysis for the military community—including active duty members, retirees, reservists and their families—on the most important issues affecting their pay, benefits, promotions, assignments and careers."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, May 15, 2001, Marlene Chamberlain, review of Glory Denied: The Saga of Jim Thompson, America's Longest-held Prisoner of War, p. 1728.

Library Journal, June 1, 2001, Gerald R. Costa, review of Glory Denied, p. 176.

Los Angeles Times, June 29, 2001, Anthony Day, "A Soldier's Life, and Faith Lost, in an Unpopular War," p. E4.

New York Times Book Review, August 2, 2001, Richard Bernstein, "The Glory and Tragedy of a P.O.W. Scorned," p. E1.

Publishers Weekly, April 9, 2001, review of Glory Denied, p. 58.

Washington Post, May 27, 2001, William J. Duiker, "To Hell and Back," p. T04.

Philpott, Tom 1951-

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article