Competent collection relating the experiences of soldiers in America’s current wars.
Larson, who served in Iraq as a legal advisor, searched out 29 men decorated for valor and persuaded them to record their stories. Most begin with a short, lucid autobiography, followed by an account of their medal-winning deeds. All behaved valiantly, many receiving crippling injuries. Most of these stories appear to have been told repeatedly; details are more coherent on the page than they likely were on the battlefield, though a few accounts remain as confusing to the reader as they probably were to the participants. Several chapters recount Special Forces heroism in Afghanistan as soldiers rescued trapped colleagues or faced off against al-Qaeda in freezing winter atop the country’s daunting mountainous terrain. Half a dozen men fought valiantly against overwhelming odds during the March 2003 invasion of Iraq—invariably, it seems, against the “elite Republican Guard.” A medic achieved near-miracles of lifesaving in the midst of an ambush. A dozen medal-winners performed magnificently in brutal city battles or under ambush. Aware that the tape is running, these soldiers work hard to remain modest and share credit with their units. The author’s good judgment in sticking to oral history is confirmed by accounts of two Medal of Honor recipients who died under fire. Larson tells their stories through interviews with fellow soldiers and family members, whose avalanche of unrelenting praise makes these the least successful chapters. Readers searching for deeper understanding of these wars have picked the wrong book. The soldiers are quick to declare they are fighting for freedom. They love America. They also love the people of Iraq and Afghanistan and insist the feeling is mutual. American soldiers are “brave,” and the enemy is “fanatic,” generally made up of suicidal maniacs from outside the country.
Will appeal to military buffs and readers who enjoy precise, nuts-and-bolts description of battle action.