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A True Story of Heroism on the Edge of the World

by Bob Drury

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-684-86479-7
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

An action-packed tribute to the parajumpers (PJs) of the US Special Command Forces.

Having spent several months with the 210th Alaska Pararescue Squadron, Drury (Mafia Cop, 1992) covers a lot of ground here, documenting the PJs’ heroic deeds and their place in military history. Although PJs have run combat missions overseas and stand on Global Alert during NASA space missions, the Anchorage-based squadron devotes the greater part of its time to rescuing civilian climbing fanatics from the area’s most formidable peak, Mt. McKinley. The author does a fine job of detailing the climbers’ weather and equipment obstacles, allowing us to watch foolhardy jocks head straight for storms and hidden crevasses. These chilling accounts, which typically conclude with amputations, seem like scare tactics aimed at amateur mountaineers. Although the rescue anecdotes give the story a quick-moving feel, Drury occasionally detours into the PJs’ and climbers’ prosaic personal lives, revealing how their wives and children deal with daredevil daddies. He also slows the pace to render portraits of the men he has met, although the women are mostly faceless. Extensive coverage of weather conditions and Mt. McKinley’s intimidating characteristics inform us of avalanches and icefalls, elucidating humans’ odds of withstanding nature. There is a strong sense of macho camaraderie among the PJs and, while some come across as self-sacrificial patriots, others strike us as self-righteous rebels who look forward to breaking the rules.

Although this aims to be the next Perfect Storm or Into Thin Air, it lacks the smooth narration and intense drama that appeals to mainstream audiences. Still, it’s a worthwhile read for aspiring military heroes or sportsmen obsessed with Alaska.