Paul Rifenberg adds "author" to his resume with his first book "Missing in Action: Escape from Laos." (Daily Star photo/JESSICA SIEFF)
Paul Rifenberg adds "author" to his resume with his first book "Missing in Action: Escape from Laos." (Daily Star photo/JESSICA SIEFF)

Archived Story

Niles author’s first book rooted in passion for POWs

Published 6:00am Saturday, January 2, 2010

By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star

As the year begins, many of the military’s servicemen and women will be spending their time far away from home, as they serve their country on foreign soil.

For many, however, the memory of their loved ones is all they have left as those who were taken as prisoners of war (POW) or classified as missing in action (MIA) – who never came home.

It is an issue that still resonates today and an issue that became a passion for Niles’ Paul Rifenberg and as it happens, a plot for his new book, “Missing in Action: Escape from Laos.”

“I always had an interest in and a passion for the POW/MIA issue,” Rifenberg said while sitting in his office Wednesday.

As a college student during one of the must tumultuous war eras in American history, from 1969-1973, Rifenberg said he “escaped going to Vietnam strictly on my student deferment.”

Still, the young man gleamed a unique perspective to both sides of the issue.

In those days, he said, people would wear POW or MIA bracelets.

“It was kind of a passive form of involvement,” he said. “You were supposed to wear it until your guy came home. My guy came home.”

The bracelet went into a drawer.

Later a national issue, the story of Vietnam POW Bobby Garwood, who returned home and was later accused of deserting his county, also caught Rifenberg’s attention.
“It just started that way,” he said.

He became more and more interested and well versed in the subject and also, more involved.

“Missing in Action” is a fiction novel, but its subject matter is something Rifenberg said he researched carefully.

He’s been working on the novel for 15 years.

“It’s been off and on, mostly off,” he said.

In the beginning, he describes his process as basically “journaling” through research and he said he’d describe the book as “a fictional documentary.”

“You write about what you know,” Rifenberg said, acknowledging that there will be some who recognize certain similarities between he and his characters.

“Missing in Action” is the story of Trevor McIntyre, who is compelled after learning of how many POW’s and MIA’s are left behind in the countries where they were captured, to try and rescue a POW found to be alive in Laos. McIntyre isn’t alone in his quest, with help from former POWs and government officials, but the story takes its share of twists and turns with a mysterious murder.

Over the last 15 years, Rifenberg developed his characters and struggled with the mission he set before them. Because he took time off from writing, every so often he said he had to go back and revise his work, making sure certain elements would coincide.

“When I did finish,” he said. “I spent some time looking for a literary agent.”

Rifenberg sent out inquiries and tried to find someone willing to represent his work. He received rejections, told “we’re not taking on any new authors,” and ultimately decided to self publish.

The book, with a cover designed by local artist John Lidecker is available through www.xlibris.com.

Sue Majerek, owner of Majerek’s newsstand said she had placed an order for numerous copies for the store – an arrival date was unavailable.

The book is also expected to be available online in the future at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com

Finished with his 15-year odyssey, Rifenberg said he may have another book in him, having always enjoyed the writing process, but that a second book would likely come during his retirement – and he’s telling friends and readers “don’t hold your breath for a sequel.”

His passion for those who have been left behind, however, remains strong. And he hopes if readers take anything from the book, its an interest in the issue at hand.

“It would be nice,” he said. “If people would occasionally write their congressmen and senators an ask about the issue. I actually do believe there are some (POWs) that are still alive.”

For more information about Rifenberg’s book, visit www.mia- escapefromlaos.com

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