Bruce Henderson has done it again: vividly portraying young men at war and showing us the stuff from which Homeric heroes are made. Absorbing and thrilling.
In Hero Found, Bruce Henderson’s writing is meticulous and compassionate, the kind of writing that comes from observing a moment in history up close, wondering about it for decades, and then returning to the scene to understand it once and for all.
Only a handful of Vietnam War POWs escaped captivity. One of those was Dieter Dengler, a German-born navy Skyraider pilot shot down on his first mission over Laos in 1966 and taken prisoner by the Pathet Lao in a remote jungle camp. Tortured and nearly starved to death, Dengler led his fellow prisoners in a daring escape, and he miraculously survived 23 days in the jungle before an inexperienced pilot spotted him frantically signaling from the dense jungle just over the border in North Vietnam. Dengler's harrowing and amazing story has been told before : in his 1978 memoir, Escape from Laos, and in two films, Werner Herzog's documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly and a feature film, Rescue Dawn. Henderson, who served as a navy weatherman aboard Dengler's aircraft carrier, has crafted a worthy narrative that adds new material based on interviews with Dengler (who died in 2001) and his navy comrades, friends. and family, along with newly unearthed archival records. These include the official 78-page military “Dengler Debriefing,” which Henderson (coauthor, And the Sea Will Tell) obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. This often riveting account sheds new light on an oft-told true story. (June)
Dengler’s actual POW experiences are the centerpiece of the book, and, thanks to Henderson’s storytelling skill, these scenes often read like a first-rate suspense novel...poignant in its details. An engaging tale of a harrowing POW experience.” — Kirkus Reviews
"Hero Found is a dramatic and powerful page-turner about the inspirational and action-packed story of U.S. Navy carrier pilot Dieter Dengler. Any American who has ever gone to war, or has known those who have, will be deeply moved by this unforgettable story of escape and survivalagainst all odds." — A.J. Jacobs, New York Times bestselling author of The Know-It-All
“In Hero Found, Bruce Henderson’s writing is meticulous and compassionate, the kind of writing that comes from observing a moment in history up close, wondering about it for decades, and then returning to the scene to understand it once and for all.” — Amanda Ripley, contributing writer at Time and author of The Unthinkable
“This account of one of the most remarkable and thrilling episodes of the Vietnam War has been written with the understanding and feel of a shipmate of Dengler’s aboard the carrier Ranger. But there is no gold plating or false heroics. In his tough and gritty narrative, Henderson has deftly captured the pungent environment of the navy’s carrier pilots at war. Among the very best of its genre.” — A.J. Jacobs, New York Times bestselling author of The Know-It-All
“Bruce Henderson has done it again: vividly portraying young men at war and showing us the stuff from which Homeric heroes are made. Absorbing and thrilling.” — Vincent Bugliosi, author of Reclaiming History and Helter Skelter
Vietnam veteran Henderson (Down to the Sea: An Epic Story of Naval Disaster and Heroism in World War II, 2007, etc.) tells the story of Navy pilot Dieter Dengler and his escape from a Laos prison camp during the war. When Dengler's plane was shot down in February 1966, his chances for survival were slim. Quickly captured, he endured torture, starvation and beatings from Pathet Lao guerrillas and North Vietnamese soldiers before eventually escaping from a POW camp. Dengler's story has been told before, most notably in the 2007 film Rescue Dawn, a fictionalized account by Werner Herzog, who also directed a 1997 documentary, Little Dieter Needs to Fly. But Henderson has his own connection to the material. He and Dengler both served on the aircraft carrier USS Ranger during the war, and the author personally conducted interviews with Dengler in 1997 and 1998. (Dengler died in 2001.) Henderson provides an account of the German-born Dengler's prewar years, including a memorable moment when a very young Dengler was enthralled by the sight of a low-flying American fighter plane during World War II, and vowed that he would one day fly such planes. During his Navy training, he escaped a simulated POW camp-twice-experiences that served him well in Laos. Dengler's actual POW experiences are the centerpiece of the book, and, thanks to Henderson's storytelling skill, these scenes often read like a first-rate suspense novel, particularly after Dengler meets a group of other POWs and they formulate plans for a daring escape. The author's portrayal of Dengler's post-rescue life, though brief, is poignant in its details. He bought his own restaurant in San Francisco, following through on a desire to "never be hungry again" after the starvation he had endured. Later, suffering from Lou Gehrig's Disease, he e-mailed a friend, "I have looked death in the eye, so it is easier for me to handle."A short but engaging tale of a harrowing POW experience.