Sometimes-trudging, sometimes-moving narrative of a combat mission gone terribly wrong and the layers of politics and memory surrounding it.
Roy Benavidez (1935-1998) was the first noncommissioned officer to be awarded a West Point saber and the first enlisted soldier to lend his name to a Navy ship. He was also extraordinarily valiant, knowingly putting himself in harm’s way to save his fellow fighters when their mission took them into a hornet’s nest of North Vietnamese soldiers. Unfortunately for all concerned, their battle took place in supposedly neutral Cambodia, where Americans weren’t supposed to be. As Blehm (Fearless: The Undaunted Courage and Ultimate Sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team SIX Operator Adam Brown, 2012, etc.) divines, it was probably that geographical detail that kept Benavidez from winning a Medal of Honor, something corrected a dozen years after the fact. The author’s long-held fascination with all things Green Beret continues apace here, and his thorough reconstruction of the ill-fated battle is reminiscent of C.D.B. Bryan’s much differently intended exposé Friendly Fire (1976). At spots, the narrative is too portentous and detail-caressing, in the way of civilians when writing of battle: “He flipped a switch, and Roy heard the discord of battle from a little speaker that buzzed with static: the sharp, repeated crack of rifle fire, the muffled impact of explosions, and, most unnerving, the cursing and urgent calls for air support and extraction.” Or, “he was going to fight the red tide of communism before it crossed the oceans and crashed onto the shores of America.” A little goes a long way, especially when a single firefight stretches for pages. Overall, the narrative seems a good magazine article pulled into book length, with some slipshod moments (e.g., one doesn’t get a master’s degree in Shakespeare) and too many draggy stretches.
In the hands of a Junger or Krakauer, this story might have taken more memorable form. Still, Vietnam War completists will be interested.