By Maj. Chuck Larson (USA)
NAL Columbia, $24.95, 334 pages
AMERICAN HEROES IN THE FIGHT AGAINST RADICAL ISLAM
By Col. Oliver North (USMC-RET)
B&H; Books, $22.99, 288 pages
REVIEWED BY JAMES C. ROBERTS
Maj. Chuck Larson’s book is titled “Heroes Among Us” but “Unknown Heroes Among Us” might be more apt because it is unlikely that one in 100 Americans has heard of any of the highly decorated young men profiled by the author.
Why is this? The American armed forces of today are perhaps the finest ever fielded in the history of our country and examples abound of heroism and sacrifice on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. In “Heroes Among Us,” Army Maj. Chuck Larson, himself a decorated Iraq veteran, provides profiles of 29 of his fellow veterans of action in Iraq and Afghanistan.
All are recipients of the Medal of Honor (the nation’s highest award for valor) the Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross or Air Force Cross (the second highest) or the Silver Star (the third highest). Except for Paul Ray Smith and Jason Dunham who received the Medal of Honor posthumously, all the accounts are based on edited interviews with the recipients.
“It’s hard getting these medals” Maj. Larson notes, adding, “It’s even harder to get the recipients to talk about themselves.”
The key, as the author discovered, was to get them to talk about their fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines with whom they had served in the actions described. The resulting accounts make for riveting reading.
Typical is the story of Army Staff Sgt. Eric Stebner. He and his four-man team were ordered on March 4, 2002 to rescue a downed helicopter crew located 12,000 feet up in the mountains of southern Afghanistan. Mistakenly dropped off well below their objective, Sgt. Stebner and his men had to climb 2,000 feet up steep terrain covered in three feet of snow while carrying 80 pounds of equipment. Nearly frozen and coughing blood because of the lack of oxygen.
Ret. Marine Col. Oliver North, the host of Fox News’ popular “War Stories” program, has long been a strong advocate for America’s active duty personnel. Col. North has made nine trips to Iraq and two to Afghanistan, venturing often in harm’s way because, as he puts it, “That’s where the heroes are.”