Book Review: FROM BEAVER CREEK TO HANOI by Cheryl Grant Gillespie

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In a literary world that turns its roving eye to the big, the glittery, the famous–and more recently the furious–we sometimes miss out on smaller, quieter nonfiction books that fill an important niche in our cultural and social history. One such book is Cheryl Grant Gillespie’s FROM BEAVER CREEK TO HANOI: A Mother’s Quest to Rescue Her Son. 

Written in collaboration with Markam and Marcia Gartley, BEAVER CREEK tells the story of Minnie Lee Gartley, an ordinary woman who accomplished extraordinary things while seeking to rescue her son, Mark, a U.S. Navy pilot and a North Vietnamese prisoner of war from 1968 to 1972. 

Minnie Lee lived and worked at Beaver Creek Camps on Moosehead Lake in Maine. She and her husband, Gerry, ran the fishing camp in the summers. During the school months, Minnie Lee taught history in Dunedin, Florida. One son, Jim, lived with them. The other, Mark, had graduated from college and joined the Navy where he trained to be a pilot. In the summer of 1968, the Vietnam War was dragging on with Nixon promising an end soon but making no real headway. That August, pilot Mark Gartley and his navigator, William Mayhew were shot down north of Vinh in Nghe An Province and taken captive. 

When Minnie Lee received news that he was alive and in a POW camp, she became involved with activist groups calling attention to the POW/MIA issue. Through letter-writing campaigns, marches in Washington, D.C., testifying at Congressional hearings, and giving interviews with journalists, Minnie Lee asked the American public to be aware of the issue and to speak out in favor of bringing the men home. Through her activism, Minnie Lee Gartley became a recognizable personality, and Gillespie’s book gives the account of her experiences in the public eye as well as glimpses into her life behind the scenes. 

After Mark was released in 1972, Minnie Lee continued to be a political and environmental activist for the rest of her life. Gillespie’s book highlights the complexities of the Vietnam War years and give readers an inside look at how decisions at the highest levels of government affected everyday Americans while the politicians strove for power, position, and yes, to a large extent, American interests on the world stage. 

As someone born in that strife-filled year of 1968, I remember little of that time, and unfortunately our history textbooks didn’t get that far when I was in school. While reading BEAVER CREEK TO HANOI, I found myself wishing for a bit more historical context. I think this book would be an excellent accompaniment to a high school or college American history class studying the Vietnam War years–or for anyone reading on their own about that roiled-up time period. 

Read the book Dru’s Book Musings calls, “…delightfully entertaining.

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