Lost in the Cold War: The Story of Jack Downey, America’s Longest-Held POW
By Thomas Christensen, John T. Downey, and Jack Lee Downey
In 1952, John T. “Jack” Downey, a twenty-three-year-old CIA officer from Connecticut, was shot down over Manchuria during the Korean War. The pilots died in the crash, but Downey and his partner Richard “Dick” Fecteau were captured by the Chinese. For the next twenty years, they were harshly interrogated, put through show trials, held in solitary confinement, placed in reeducation camps, and toured around China as political pawns. Other prisoners of war came and went, but Downey and Fecteau’s release hinged on the United States acknowledging their status as CIA assets. Not until Nixon’s visit to China did Sino-American relations thaw enough to secure Fecteau’s release in 1971 and Downey’s in 1973.
Lost in the Cold War is the never-before-told story of Downey’s decades as a prisoner of war and the efforts to bring him home. Downey’s lively and gripping memoir—written in secret late in life—interweaves horrors and deprivation with humor and the absurdities of captivity. He recounts his prison experiences: fearful interrogations, pantomime communications with his guards, a 3,000-page overstuffed confession designed to confuse his captors, and posing for “show” photographs for propaganda purposes. Through the eyes of his captors and during his tours around China, Downey watched the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and the drastic transformations of the Mao era. In interspersed chapters, Thomas Christensen, an expert on Sino-American relations, explores the international politics of the Cold War and tells the story of how Downey and Fecteau’s families, the CIA, the U.S. State Department, and successive presidential administrations worked to secure their release.