ShopAFA recently had the opportunity to work closely with former Air Force pilot and POW Lee Ellis. We are excited to offer the autographed copy of his book Captured by Love: Inspiring True Romance Stories from Vietnam POWS for sale on ShopAFA.org. ShopAFA is the first retailer to offer the book before its official release on May 30th, 2023.
We sat down with Lee to ask him a few questions about the book, and get an insider look at what it took to produce such an influential and moving work.
Read the Q&A with Lee Ellis
How did you come up with the idea to write this book?
Upon our return home from the Vietnam War, we stayed somewhat connected through military assignments but mostly through hanging out at our NamPOW reunions. It was during those events that I heard more and more of the guys telling stories about how they met their wives, and how great their marriages were. Many of these stories were so amazing that even Hollywood screenwriters could not dream up or dare make up such incredible examples of romance, love, and marriage success!
How ironic that the POWs’ physical and mental suffering and years of separation actually helped them create great romance and lasting love. There are so many life and relationship lessons that I heard from these couples that we had to share them with the world.
How did you collect the details of these stories from veterans? Was a lot of it written down, or purely told from memory?
There were a variety of methods to collect these stories, and co-author Greg Godek was masterful at collecting them. Some stories were created from scratch with audio interviews, writing them, and then a series of edits with the couples until they were complete. Some couples had already written previous books, so we collected some of that content and added new content.
Then other stories were written by the couples’ children who had grown up in a strong family environment and had heard their parents talk about their experiences. It’s truly been a labor of love and generosity that these couples were transparent and vulnerable to share their stories.
How would this book help and inspire other couples?
Firstly, with both fighter pilots, war, the POW experience and what the wives also endured, it’s quite a unique set of circumstances. Secondly, the idea of their romance pulls them into the stories. So, it’s likely to get most readers engaged.
For anyone in a committed relationship seeking to grow together, this book is a treasure trove of wisdom about having victory in difficult times. Each couple shares their unique love lessons that they believe strengthened their relationships, and then we compiled all of them into eight over-arching love lessons in the back of the book. While the stories are moving yet entertaining, the lessons within the stories are imminently practical.
I also believe that these stories will resonate with military couples in a special way. The amount of committed resilience that it takes for military couples to build lives together can be challenging, but the payoff is worth it.
Can you share a couple of the amazing romance encounters that brought these couples together?
These are just a couple of examples of the serendipitous circumstances that are shared.
Pan Am stewardess Suzy wore a bracelet for POW Bill Bailey, whom she did not know. But she prayed for him daily, and miraculously met and married him when he came home.
And then there’s grieving MIA widow, Carole who was sitting in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas in 1973 at the welcome home concert featuring Tony Orlando and Dawn. During the war, she had been instrumental in deciding not to “keep quiet” and began to speak out to raise awareness of the POW/MIA plight for her husband that she lost in the war.
When they began to sing their famous song, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” about a fellow coming home from prison and wanted his lady to tie a yellow ribbon on the old oak tree, she welled up with tears during the lyrics, “if she wanted to see him again.”
The newly returned POW sitting next to her, whom she did not know, leaned over and kissed her on the cheek to comfort her. After that, a friendship bloomed into love and marriage that has lasted more than 48 years.
When and how did you and your fellow POWs realize the full impact of the women and families’ contribution to your return home?
One thing that people don’t often consider is what our families and wives went through during that time. In many ways, they went through a much more difficult experience than we did as POWs. As POWs, we knew that we were alive and okay, but our families didn’t. My family knew that I was alive when I hit the ground in Vietnam, but they didn’t know whether I was alive or not for two years until they got their first letter from me. And it took two and half years before I got a letter from my family.
So, they were carrying on at home in our absence. And they were told to keep quiet, at first, by the government. Finally, wives and families pushed back and opened up, thereby allowing the POW-MIA support to come on strong in the U.S. That made a huge difference to us, because it did result in better treatment and eventually a life in the Hanoi Hilton that was more normal.
We came home in better condition mentally and physically, in large part, because of the strong support that we had back home as they took up our cause. And for that support we had during those years, I’ll forever be grateful.
What practical love lessons were common among these romance stories?
Several common principles emerged that have enabled these 20 couples to survive and thrive through more than 1,000 years of combined successful and happy relationships. The threads of similarity include companionship, common values/shared faith, respect, acknowledging each other’s personality strengths and struggles, trust, optimism, commitment, and striving to be healthy and authentic.
In romantic relationships, as it was in the POW camps, good humor always lifts the spirits and relieves stress. We go in-depth in the book about each of them along with powerful examples of how these couples lived them out.
What are your desired outcomes from publishing the book for today’s airmen and their families?
One important thing to remember is that these couples have been tested and proven in the crucible of war, and then through other personal challenges, triumphs, and tragedies—the most difficult circumstances that one can imagine.
Firstly, couples in marriage and romantic relationships will gain insights from these very vulnerable stories. Secondly, as today’s airmen and their families face some difficult challenges in both their peacekeeping missions around the world as well as their daily life at home, these stories will be encouraging.
Finally, with the rise in such areas as mental health counseling, suicide rates, and sexual abuse in the military, we need relationally healthy couples and families now more than ever. If we take care of them, they’ll take care of us as a nation. I hope that this book plays a part in that supportive process.
Captured by Love shares the real love stories of 20 Vietnam War POWs. Some had wives who started a movement that changed American foreign policy. Others came home and had to start over, while five single men met the loves of their lives. Despite their unique differences, all these couples have been happily married 40 to 65 years. Purchase your copy now.