The Washington Times, Friday, May 23, 2014, “BOOK REVIEW: Valor,” by David DesRosiers
Monday is Memorial Day. It’s natural that over time, a holiday starts to lose its soul and become something else. For some — particularly for military families — Memorial Day remains a day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice of life and limb in the defense of our country. They shed deep tears for lost husbands and wives, sons and daughters, and for fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who didn’t make it home. For these few, war and its human costs are very real and raw. For most, Memorial Day has become a long weekend that marks the beginning of the lazy, hazy days of summer. Rather than collectively tuning in and remembering the sacrifices made by some for our sake, we tune out and go to the beach.
Mark Lee Greenblatt’s “Valor: Unsung Heroes from Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front” could single-handedly save this important holiday. Mr. Greenblatt gives an accounting of nine profiles in valor, capturing the common character and soul that we all ought to thankfully, and tearfully, memorialize.
Our generation is unique in that we have been fighting a nearly 13-year multifront war without a draft. Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 6,700 troops have voluntarily given their lives, and thousands more have lost their limbs. This is a huge testament to the martial health and vigor of a free people. Some have argued that Americans are more prone to go to and stay at war, given that we have these noble 1 percenters willing to shoulder the human cost of our wars. There is a truth here, but reinstituting the draft is not the answer. Better to genuinely understand and appreciate those who are on the front lines defending our national interests and principles.
“Valor” ought to be required reading before taking the oath as commander in chief. Democrats and Republicans, doves and hawks alike would be made better for different reasons by confronting the realities so richly and beautifully captured by this book. “Valor” speaks in a way that no folded flag can to anyone who has lost someone to the ravages of war and needs help understanding for what end their loved one died.
Who is this Thucydides of valor? Mr. Greenblatt is not a soldier or a war correspondent, but a lawyer, whose day job is investigating bad guys. Instead of teasing out guilt, Mr. Greenblatt allows these very modest men to share the truth of their heroism. This civilian has given the soldier’s courage its due, and non-soldiers an opportunity to grasp the reality of martial courage. “It is no exaggeration to say that interacting with these men has changed my life profoundly and made me, I hope, a better person,” writes the author. “Valor” is civic soulcraft at its best. When you read the stories of selflessness, you are changed for the better.
Churchill compared the reality of courage to acting. The valorous soldier plays his role so perfectly in the theater of war that we don’t see that he is acting. Mr. Greenblatt’s contribution is that he captures how our military creates valorous troops en masse. All of those whom Mr. Greenblatt deposed point to the same explanations for their behavior: rigorous training and brotherhood. The American soldier is well trained. When under live fire, the soldier leans on his muscle memory — the product of daily tactical drilling. When these soldiers are in battle, they are all brothers in arms. The very idea that one wouldn’t put his life on the line for a brother is abhorrent to their sense of self. “I’d rather die helping those guys out than have a coward’s conscience for the rest of my life.”
Mr. Greenblatt’s deposition of the valorous is not a boring, “just the facts” read. Each profile reads like a movie treatment, and I couldn’t help seeing these valorous acts being played out by Mark Wahlberg. The John Rambo of “Valor” is Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL sniper with the highest number of confirmed kills. Interestingly, Kyle was singled out not for what he did on a roof or mountaintop but for street-level, point-blank heroism. He went down an alley dodging a belt-fed machine gun post while dragging a wounded Marine and wiping out the bad guys. Kyle captured the difference between the American soldier and our committed enemy: “He should have hosed us all down. He may not have killed us all, but at least but he should have hit us. If we would have been fighting any military at all — even the Iraqi military — he would have had us dead to rights.” Their faith makes them foolhardy and dangerous, but their lack of training fortunately makes them killable.
My only criticism of the book is that the “Unsung Heroes” subtitle is misleading. All the acts of valor captured received the highest honors of their respective branches, so they are far from “unsung.” What’s unsung is just how healthy the American military is at developing the talent it and our nation needs. Compare our armed forces to a system of higher education where veritas has given way to diversitas, the pursuit of truth for Orwellian social justice, and you’ll see just how much the military is deserving of our collective respect and praise. We owe our troops and the institutions and culture that continue to produce them our thanks. “Valor” is a worthy title to read on your Kindle at the beach and will prompt reflection on what makes our country great. From “Valor,” here is what a hero emailed his family after the firefight from hell for which he was awarded the Silver Star:
“My dear loved ones, I have seen the [worst] that God has put on this planet. I am grateful to have been loved by you, cared by you, and most of all, part of a family I can call home. I know you are praying for me every night and trying to think of great things about me so you won’t have to be troubled. I am doing OK here, and I am trying my best to keep your prayers in good use.”
David DesRosiers is president of Revere Advisors.
Criminal and ethics investigative attorney Greenblatt provides nine compelling tales of the bravery of U.S. military personnel facing extreme duress and mortal danger. The author uses insightful interviews with each subject to supply details of the background and motivation that enabled these marines, sailors, and soldiers to prevail in grave life-and-death situations. Voices range from a hard-hitting marine who volunteered to piggyback an injured ‘brother’ through an Iraqi insurgent shoot-out to an inexperienced army specialist in Afghanistan whose determination and quick thinking prevented an ambush on his base—even after he sustained a devastating injury. Many of these stories have received relatively little publicity. The author explains that it was his desire to demonstrate that the men and women of today’s armed forces possess courage and selfless character comparable to military heroes of the past. VERDICT There are other collections of the daring exploits of the U.S. military in the Middle East, but for the mature reader interested in gripping and often intensely violent narratives of perilous military action, this collection proves riveting. (Library Journal)
Book Review Diary, August 28, 2014
The bland title “VALOR” could be overlooked by the casual bookstore browser, but pick up the book and it’ll be hard to put down.
File it in the category of “Profiles in Courage,” where you go for an hour or two of breathtaking adventure and the even more satisfying feeling of inspiration…
… All the quotes [on the back] come from military men, including Sergeant Fist Class Sammy L. Davis, who enthuses, “It’s obvious from these incredible stories that we certainly do still have the spirit of Audie Murphy in our military.”
But what makes this book worth anyone’s time and attention is that while much of the narrative echoes scenes in the war movies that Audie Murphy (or John Wayne) made, the stories aren’t just glorifications of combat triumph. The author here doesn’t present boastful soldiers happy to tell their stories…many here are modest, glad to have made it out alive, and traumatized by the fate of those who didn’t.
Cottage Country Reflections, July 8, 2014
This is a new book, published just recently (July 1st) and I was sent an uncorrected proof for review. Written by Mark Lee Greenblatt, a lawyer in Washington, D.C., I was quite curious about the way he would treat these subjects. I was hopeful that he would have done his homework, and it appears so.
The issues with ‘unsung heroes’ is first finding them, and secondly, corroborating their stories, thirdly writing a good tale. Greenblat has done all three.
These guys seem humble, but fierce, and well-trained, and all seemed awfully good guys. I was wondering how unbiased the book would be, but he seemed to genuinely admire these men, and also talked to their buddies who confirmed their stories.
What I find sad, now that we know more about such issues as PTSD and the impact of war on a soldier, is that two of the nine did not live to see the publication of the book. Good soldiers, all, this is a fine testament to the men with principles, ethics, and humanity.
For those who have never been to war, it is a frightening read, Goldblat writes well about these nine men and the situations which faced them.
Greenblatt writes of their influences, the reasons they became soldiers, and I was fascinated, despite being a dove. I truthfully cannot understand how fighting in Afghanistan means fighting for the US, and I’m glad they’ve brought both US and Canadian troops home. As one soldier says, being in the navy or fighting from the air may be old-style war, and boots on the ground are terribly dangerous with IEDs and terrorists intent on killing both foreigner, citizens and themselves.
I fervently hope that we can prevent terrorism with technology, rather than risking our young men and women’s lives. It is a good job, good training for young people to join this type of group where looking out for one another is as important as looking out for oneself. Thankfully, we’ve learned more about PTSD since the Vietnam War, unfortunately, both of our countries do little to treat the condition and support our returning wounded soldiers.
An excellent read, one that kept me intrigued, even while I mourned lives lost.
Jenn’s Review Blog, June 1, 2014
This was an amazing book. We all sit safe at home while our military put their lives on the line every single day. This book brings that home in a very poignant and heart wrenching way. These stories are scary, funny and moving and they really bring home the bravery and selflessness of our soldiers. The author does an amazing job of making you feel like you are right there experiencing what the soldiers are. This is an emotional and inspiring read that I would recommend to anyone who’s looking for a great read.
The Character Building Project, June 12, 2014
Mark Lee Greenblatt asks and answers the right questions, such as explaining performance in combat by telling true stories of brave Americans. In my opinion, Greenblatt’s research is on solid ground not only by citing the work of the ancients like Plato and Aristotle but also was guided by the more contemporary work of Mike Matthews, a prominent military psychologist at West Point. Matthews recent book Head Strong provides a psychological construct to performance in combat and an insightful presentation for enhancing military leadership.
As to the answers of functioning well in life-threatening environment like combat, the author of Valor by telling the stories of American heroes and weaves into their stories key themes like: maintaining focus on the mission in the face of dire consequences, humility and selfless service , the paradox of risk-seeking behavior, and the automatic response imbued by countless drills.
This book should be required reading for students who enjoy the comforts of civilian life in America yet remain unaware of the sacrifices made by soldiers, sailors and Marines who risked their lives for their country, fellow servicemen and yes… civilians who do not even know who Audie Murphy was in the greatest generation. Thanks to Mark Lee Greenblatt for letting this generation know there are plenty of Audie Murphy’s in our midst.
Mary’s Cup of Tea, June 12, 2014
I really enjoyed reading this book because I am a military brat, Dad was in the Army for 22 years, so I always pay special attention to anything that goes on in the military, especially our veterans. This book is so powerful and I was a little dismayed to learn that a few of the men included in the book are no longer with us, but not because they were killed in action, but here at home, except for a few.
It really gives you an upfront and personal view of battles that these brave men fought and mostly survived. It is a rare glimpse into what is going through their minds right before a battle and during. It was really unbelievable what some of them did, even in the face of danger, which by some counts, several of them willingly went into harms way to protect a fallen soldier.
I would have been shaking in my boots and not sure really what I would have done because I have never been in that situation, so I am doubly grateful to these young men who went in my place. I had at one time considered the notion of falling into my father’s footsteps but becoming a mother at a young age, that was not an option, but I always wondered what if?
If you love reading about our heroes or are in some way attached to the military through family or a friend, this book is a must read for you. It will lift you up to know that we really do still have heroes to truly look up to and that they are not a forgotten species like some would have us believe.
Bookviews by Alan Caruba, July 2014
The scandal at the Veterans Administration puts the lie to all the talk we hear from politicians about the value they put on the lives of those who put their lives on the line to defend our nation. The VA management problems have been known for years and the current administration is only one among others who have not addressed them. When a government agency gets too big, it is the individual veteran that too often pays the price. That’s why, in part, Mark Lee Greenblatt’s Valor: Unsung Heroes from Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front ($22.95/$11.99, Rowman & Littlefield, hardcover and ebook) is so timely and so needed at a time the Middle East is in turmoil to remind us of those who volunteered to serve their nation. This book takes you to the battlefield as seen through the eyes of individual soldiers, sailors, and Marines as they faced fearful decisions and overcame enormous odds. They all heroes and we duly honored, but unknown to the public. America has always been blessed with men of this stature and courage. It’s good to read about them.
Senior Outlook Today
As the Season of Giving approaches, we should make a concerted effort to say “thank you” to the brave men and women who serve in our nation’s military.
In his new book, VALOR (Taylor Trade), Mark Lee Greenblatt explores some of these heroes, telling the thrilling stories of nine brave Americans who risked their lives to accomplish a mission or to save the lives of others.
Readers of VALOR will be transported to a variety of settings and look through the eyes of the individual soldiers, sailors, and Marines as they face gut-wrenching decisions and overcome enormous odds. A few sample highlights from the book, which Greenblatt modeled after John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage, include:
- An Army pilot who landed his helicopter in hostile territory to rescue two downed pilots, lugged them 100 yards across an insurgent-held field, and due to lack of space in the aircraft, strapped himself to the outside of the helicopter for the flight to the hospital.
- A Navy SEAL who singlehandedly liberated a group of Marines trapped in a house in Fallujah and dragged one injured Marine 50 yards to safety as insurgents chased them down a dusty alley.
- An Army Special Forces commander who fought back against a point-blank insurgent ambush (of at least two machine guns) with a pistol, and after diving for cover, ran back through the kill-zone multiple times to attempt to save a colleague’s life and recover valuable equipment.
VALOR is an amazing illustration of the bravery shown by true American heroes under the most harrowing of circumstances. It is a classic portrayal of their love and dedication to the country they serve and the service men and woman who stand by their side.