Eagle Scout Alvin Townley’s new book Defiant tells of the 11 American prisoners of war who were shipped from the Hanoi Hilton to an even worse prison in North Vietnam they nicknamed Alcatraz.
These “ringleaders, diehard resistors and escape artists” endured torture, loneliness and suffering in cells that measured 3 feet by 9 feet and had always-on lightbulbs making sleep difficult.
Their defiance and survival became a legend that Townley explores through all-new interviews and page-turning, breathtaking stories.
Defiant goes on sale today for $28 at your favorite bookseller.
The New York Times gave Defiant a glowing review, calling it “a gripping account” that takes a “fresh and vivid” look at a story some may think they already know.
And the book’s not just for mom or dad. Defiant, the Times writes, “is an excellent book for younger readers with little knowledge of this searing chapter in American history.”
BSA Chief Scout Executive Wayne Brock wrote on his blog that “Defiant is certainly a tribute to the many men and women who have devoted their lives to an important cause — just like the volunteers and staff who share the value and importance of making Scouting part of young peoples’ lives.”
Chief Brock sees Defiant as a powerful tool for Scout leaders who can share with their members stories of “courage, devotion and faith in even the darkest of times.” Think Scoutmaster’s minute material multiplied by a thousand.
The book isn’t just by an Eagle Scout; it’s also about Eagle Scouts. Two of the 11 members of the “Alcatraz Gang” — James Mulligan and George Coker — are Eagle Scouts, and several others had Scouting backgrounds.
Townley, meanwhile, continues to publish incredible, true-life stories. As such, it’s no surprise Scouting and Eagles’ Call magazines have reviewed and covered Townley’s books before.
In 2009’s Spirit of Adventure, Townley tracked down fellow Eagle Scouts who are “serving in the military, the Peace Corps, and Teach for America. They’re conserving natural resources, healing the sick and competing for Super Bowl titles. They’re everywhere, and they’re serving others.” (Read an excerpt here.)
Townley’s 2007 book Legacy of Honor explores the impact of men who have earned Scouting’s highest rank from World War II to the present and beyond. The book’s enduring message has helped it become a favorite congratulatory gift for new Eagle Scouts. (Read more about that book here.)
Though he spends his time writing about interesting and accomplished people, Townley’s own story is compelling. In reviewing Legacy of Honor, Mark Ray (another Eagle Scout) writes that Townley was so committed to finding interesting stories that he “quit his job, sold his house and spent a year as a self-described ‘homeless vagabond,’ crisscrossing America in search of Eagle Scouts.”
More recently, Townley visited the 2013 National Jamboree and met with Eagle Scouts and soon-to-be Eagle Scouts at the National Eagle Scout Association tent. I enjoyed catching up with him there and hearing about Defiant, which he was just finishing at the time.
And knowing Alvin, chances are a few stories he found at the jamboree will make it into a future book.