The Story behind ‘UNEXPECTED PRISONER: Memoir of a Vietnam Prisoner of War’ by Robert Wideman

I first tried to write this book after I came home from Vietnam in 1973. I knew nothing about writing then, since I only had two years of college at the University of Toledo, where I studied chemical engineering. In 1973, I came home after spending six years in a Prisoner of war camp in North Vietnam. The U. S. Navy sent me to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California where I met Bradwell Scott. He was a local journalist. He interviewed me for thirty hours and then wrote a book about my experience. We sent the book the U. S. Navy because I was still on active duty. The navy sent the book back and told me not to publish it. They allowed other POWs to publish their books, because those books supported what the government and senior POWs wanted to say about how bad the North Vietnamese communists treated us.

About six years ago I decided to sit down and write my own story about my POW experience, because I wanted something permanent on paper for my two sons and six grandchildren. I also wanted to tell the whole truth about the Vietnam POW situation and how it affected my family. I have always said that the Vietnam POW experience was harder on our families’ than it was on us. We knew we were getting our two slops and a flop every day. Our families knew nothing. When I came home my father looked one hundred years old. He was only fifty-seven. The POW experience destroyed him. My mother could not eat a steak for six years because she did not know if I got enough to eat.

After four years, I had only written one hundred pages. At that rate, I began to doubt that I would be able to finish the book before I died. I was seventy-one. I contacted Mark Graham in Denver Colorado, and he introduced me to Cara Lopez Lee. I had the thirty hours of interviews transcribed into seven hundred pages of transcripts. Cara took those transcripts and my one hundred pages and wrote this book for me. It took her two more years to finish the book, and she just did a terrific job.



Title: UNEXPECTED PRISONER: Memoir of a Vietnam Prisoner of War

Genre: Memoir

Author: Robert Wideman


Publisher: Graham Publishing Group

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About the Book:

When Unexpected Prisoner opens, it’s May 6, 1967 and 23-year-old Lieutenant Robert Wideman is flying a Navy A-4 Skyhawk over Vietnam.  At 23, Wideman had already served three and a half years in the Navy—and was only 27 combat days away from heading home to America. But on that cloudless day in May, on a routine bombing run, Wideman’s plane crashed and he fell into enemy hands. Captured and held for six years as a Prisoner of War in Vietnam, Wideman endured the kind of pain that makes people question humanity.  Physical torture, however, was not the biggest challenge he was forced to withstand.  In his candid memoir, Unexpected Prisoner, Wideman details the raw, unvarnished tale of how he came to understand the truth behind Jean-Paul Sartre’s words: “Hell is other people.”

A gripping, first-person account that chronicles the six-year period Wideman spent in captivity as a POW, Unexpected Prisoner plunges readers deep into the heart of one of the most protracted, deadliest conflicts in American history:  the Vietnam War. Wideman, along with acclaimed memoirist Cara Lopez Lee, has crafted a story that is exquisitely engaging, richly detailed, and wholly captivating. Unexpectedly candid and vibrantly vivid, this moving memoir chronicles a POW’s struggle with enemies and comrades, Vietnamese interrogators and American commanders, lost dreams, and ultimately, himself.

With its eye-opening look at a soldier’s life before, during and after captivity, Unexpected Prisoner presents a uniquely human perspective on war and on conflicts both external and internal. An exceptional story exceptionally well-told, Unexpected Prisoner is a powerful, poignant, often provocative tale about struggle, survival, hope, and redemption.


About the Author:

Robert Wideman was born in Montreal, grew up in East Aurora, New York, and has dual U.S./Canadian citizenship. During the Vietnam War, he flew 134 missions for the U.S. Navy and spent six years as a prisoner of war. Wideman earned a master’s degree in finance from the Naval Postgraduate School. After retiring from the Navy, he graduated from the University of Florida College of Law, practiced law in Florida and Mississippi, and became a flight instructor. Robert Wideman holds a commercial pilot’s license with an instrument rating, belongs to Veterans Plaza of Northern Colorado, and lives in Ft. Collins near his two sons and six grandchildren.

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