By: Jean Kayitsinga

This is a great history book that reminds us about America’s Vietnam War era.  The author, Juan David Coronado, uses a social-historical lens to focus on the less told stories and experiences of Mexican American Vietnam War prisoners of war (POWs) in Southeast Asia.  What is both great and unique about this book is that Coronado details the experiences of forgotten and overlooked Mexican American POWs in Vietnam and places them within the historical contexts of both the U.S. and the War itself.  Methodologically, Coronado relies on the oral histories of ten former Mexican American Vietnam War POWs and on analysis of secondary information from various sources, including archival material, government documents, recorded materials, books, journals, and newspapers.  
The men in his study share similar backgrounds:  they all grew up in the barrios and farming communities of the Southwestern United States between the 1930s and 1960s.  They experienced poverty, hunger, discrimination, and through those experiences developed survival skills that were later found useful when coping with captivity in Vietnam.  In their youth, the men had to work long hours as laborers in commercial agriculture.  All ten men began working at young ages to help provide for their families.  In addition, they had to deal with segregation in the barrios and with open discrimination from law enforcement officials who treated them as criminals.  
The Vietnam War (1954-1973) was controversial as Americans were deeply divided by it.  According to Coronado, there also were clear divisions about the Vietnam War within the Chicano community, especially by generation.  The older generation wanted to address social inequality and worked closely with President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration to bring improvement to their communities and would not challenge him and his military strategy in Vietnam.  In contrast, the younger generation was vocal, embraced demonstrations, and considered the war in Vietnam as unjust and a showcase for American imperialist goals.
According to Coronado, the Cold War, patriotism, religion, heritage, pro-war propaganda, camaraderie, the thrill of adventure, and a dreadful draft influenced these men to serve in Vietnam.  Gender, ethnicity, financial need for their families, and military family traditions also played key roles in inspiring Mexican Americans to serve in Vietnam.  Mexican American POWs served gallantly and, in many cases, without reservations.  Toward the end of their captivity, two men became increasingly vocal in calling for an end to U.S. intervention in Vietnam.  Older and career-oriented POWs, on the other hand, expressed their loyalty to the war effort.  
In this book, Coronado examines the experiences of Mexican American POWs in Vietnam and contextualizes their unique accounts within the larger POW narrative.  Mexican American POWs were interrogated, tortured, and made to attend indoctrination sessions that exposed them to socialist and communist propaganda.  Cuban interrogators assisted the North Vietnamese in the cross-examination of Mexican American POWs.  In addition to psychological and physical torture, POWs were fed disgusting meals at near-starvation levels, and they became sick from malnutrition, malaria, hepatitis, and beriberi.
The goal of the North Vietnamese was to use POWs’ statements to convince the world, including the U.S., that Americans should withdrawal from a war they considered inhumane and imperialistic, and which wrought widespread violence and brutality upon the Vietnamese.  The POWs’ experiences took a dramatic shift as their captors intensified indoctrination efforts.  Because of these efforts, Americans POWs would continue to suffer as they stood together, resisting, enduring, and surviving.
In 1967, the U.S. was fully engaged in the war effort, and by 1968, it had suffered the most deaths in that military campaign.  Between 1967 and 1973, 160 American POWs were held by the North Vietnamese.  In the U.S., civil unrest and the antiwar movement grew as the war intensified.  With the assassination of Martin Luther King in April and Senator Robert F. Kennedy in June, the country found itself in deep turmoil and more and more people were opposed to the war in Vietnam.
According to Coronado, the experiences that helped Mexican POWs cope with captivity started long before their capture.  The qualities, skills, discipline, and characteristics that pushed Mexican American POWs to survive in Vietnam had been ingrained in them in rural communities, border towns, and barrios of the Southwest.  The persistence and resolve developed by hard labor during their youth produced a capacity for tolerance that allowed them to survive in captivity.  The cultural influence of machismo also sustained them as they sought to endure the many survival challenges of captivity.
The War ended in 1973 and American POWs were repatriated through Operation Homecoming.  The return home presented new challenges for the former POWs, in addition to the physical, mental, and emotional wounds they had experienced; they now had to adjust to a changed society. As he concludes the book, Coronado indicates that the Mexican American former POWs served under extraordinary circumstances and must be remembered.  Those still alive lead quiet lives and remain bonded to each other through the physical and mental anguish they experienced in Vietnam.
This book brings back old memories about the Vietnam War era.  By focusing on Mexican American POWs and their experiences before, during, and after their captivity, Coronado brings to life the Mexican American perspectives within the history and complexity of the Vietnam War.  
As Coronado acknowledges, there remain more stories to be told of the Mexican American POWs in Vietnam.
More oral history cases regarding the Vietnam POWs are needed to complete the accounts of the vast and complex experiences of these heroes.  This book will be useful to historians, especially those interested in the history of military wars, POWs, and Mexican American participation in American wars.