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BEACON Senior News

America's longest-held POW's story comes to life in Glory Denied opera

Three of Colorado’s finest arts organizations are teaming up on April 21 to tell the story of America’s longest-held prisoner of war (POW). “Glory Denied” follows Col. Floyd “Jim” Thompson through 9 years of captivity in the jungles of southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. Through it all, he finds strength in the memories of his family to help him survive. Upon returning home, however, Jim found that his wife began a new relationship with another man, she told their children their father died and the country he thought he knew is forever changed.

The upcoming performance is produced by Art Song Colorado, the Chamber Orchestra of the Springs and Opera Theatre of the Rockies, in collaboration with the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA). 

“We really view this as an enormous responsibility,” said Jacob Pope, executive director of the Chamber Orchestra. “As word has spread, we’ve been contacted by friends and classmates of Col. Thompson’s, and even a former roommate of Col. Thompson’s pilot, Capt. Richard L. Whitesides. This is lived history for so many, and we want to do justice to all their experiences.”

“Glory Denied,” the opera, was written by Tom Cipullo, and began as a book of the same name by Tom Philpott, with a foreword by Senator John McCain. Premiered in 2007 by the Brooklyn College Opera Theatre, it has since become one of the most widely performed modern operas, with performances by Atlanta, Fort Worth, Pittsburgh and Houston Grand Operas, and more.

Cadets at the USAFA are studying the book, according to Pope, and the companies expect hundreds of cadets in attendance at the performance. “We also have a wonderful team of cadets in a senior capstone consulting course who are assisting with fundraising and publicity,” said Pope, “so it’s truly a city-wide or maybe state-wide effort to get this off the ground.”

Pope cited Colorado Springs’ large veteran population as a reason for staging this opera. Approximately 17% of the city’s population are veterans, compared to a national average of 7%.

“Modern performing arts organizations are coming to the realization that they need to produce art that looks like the communities they serve,” he said. “In the case of Colorado Springs, representative music-making means representing our military veterans on our stages.” 

The opera’s decision to focus on both Col. Jim Thompson and his wife, Alyce, also played a part. The production requires just four singers: a young Jim, an older Jim, and a younger Alyce and older Alyce. 

“The opera is unquestionably a tragedy,” Pope said, and warned the production may not be appropriate for young children. “The trauma of these events led directly into the turbulence of the 1960s. Jim didn’t just come back to a changed family, he came back to a changed country. This show explores that in a very raw way.” 

According to Philpott’s book, the day after Jim was shot down, the youngest of his four children with Alyce was born. By the time of his release, the three youngest children had almost no recollection of their father, whom they assumed dead. When Jim was repatriated, Alyce had already begun a relationship with another man—named Harold in the opera—and due to Alyce’s desire to protect her family’s privacy, she had refused to let the Army release Jim’s name on POW/MIA lists, leading the military to initially name a Navy pilot who had been captured months after Jim as the longest-held POW.

“We felt that, with increasing awareness of post-traumatic stress syndrome and our having just passed the 50th anniversary of Operation Homecoming, which negotiated the release of Vietnam War POWs, it was an apt time to shine a light on this story,” Pope said. “We are honored to have the trust of so many valued partners, and we look forward to the deep discussion and soul-searching that we know this production will bring to our city.”

Although tickets are free, please reserve your seat online (and donate, if you wish) at the Chamber Orchestra’s website, The performance is from 3-5 p.m. on April 21, held in the USAFA’s Arnold Hall at 2308 Cadet Drive. For more information, call 719-633-3649.