Under the Cover of Light by Carole Engle Avriett

Carole Engel Avriett’s Under the Cover of Light: The Extraordinary Story of USAF COL Thomas “Jerry” Curtis’s 7 1/2 -Year Captivity in North Vietnam (Tyndale House, 320 pp. $24.99, hardcover; $15.99 paper; $11.99, Kindle) is, as the subtitle notes, the story of Cpt. Curtis’s POW experience in North Vietnam after the rescue helicopter he was piloting was shot down on September 20, 1965.

During that long period, Curtis was moved thirteen times. He was released on February, 12, 1973, a member of the first group of POWs to ride home in a C-141 Starlifter, AKA the “Hanoi Taxi.” He was a member of the group known in the camps as the “old heads,” the men who’d been there the longest.

Avriett, a journalist who specializes in religious themes, has constructed a very interesting book, detailing the saga of Curtis’ capture and imprisonment by the North Vietnamese. The story appears to have been developed entirely from Curtis’s memory and memorabilia, as there are no references, resources, or any other research items listed in the book. If that’s the case, Curtis has a prodigious memory.

We are taken into the solitary and communal cells and into the darkness that pervaded most of the places Curtis was held. Avriett explains the famed 25-position matrix tap-code—how it was initially developed in World War I, and it was used to communicate clandestinely in POW camps ever since.

The title of the book refers to Curtis’ deeply held religious faith. Frequently, prayer was the only thing he had available to turn to for solace and to muster the courage and strength to carry on.

Avriett details some of Curtis’ prayers and his conversations with God about his predicament. We see him asking for answers and strength and praying for the comfort of his fellow prisoners. Upon his repatriation, Curtis retired from the Air Force as a colonel.

This is a straightforward story without political rants or agendas. Curtis also speaks candidly, through the author, about conversations and disagreements with his wife about his re-entry into his family, including matters of child discipline, household chores, and things his wife had to do to keep the family going in his absence.

This is a good read; a well-constructed and edited presentation book.                                    

–Tom Werzyn