COURAGE UNDER FIRE by Patrick Sheane Duncan


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An Army wunderkind whose upwardly mobile career has been stalled by a friendly-fire incident during the Gulf War redeems himself in the course of an investigation. Lieutenant Colonel Nat Serling has been in an alcoholic funk since his tank squadron killed fellow Americans in the fog of battle. Though he was cleared of blame for the deaths, Serling's inability to forget makes life miserable for his colleagues and family. Stuck with meaningless duties at the Pentagon, the hard-drinking Serling is handed a politically sensitive assignment by a sympathetic general that could help him regain the confidence of his superiors. His task is to determine whether there are any eleventh-hour obstacles to making the late Captain Karen Emma Walden the first woman to earn the Medal of Honor for valor in combat. The pilot of a medevac helicopter that had been shot down on a rescue mission behind enemy lines during the Desert Storm campaign, she helped hold off scores of heavily armed Iraqis (at the cost of her life) during a nightlong firefight; her courageous stand permitted the recovery of a dozen wounded soldiers. While conducting his cross-country inquiry, however, Serling gets conflicting testimony from surviving eyewitnesses. Dogged by a White House aide whose masters scent a photo op, the world-weary colonel unearths evidence of a possible coverup and sorts through confessions as well as statements that oblige him to reflect on the nature of duty, heroism, and cowardice. In the wake of a violent climactic confrontation, Serling is able to reach an accommodation with himself and recommend that appropriate honor be paid the memory of Captain Walden. Serling's whiny self-pity can reach truly tiresome heights on occasion, but first-novelist/screenwriter Duncan delivers an engrossing twist on the dilemma of a devil's advocate in a military milieu.

Pub Date: Feb. 7th, 1996
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Putnam