Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson
Marcus Luttrell has trained his entire life to arrive at the moment when he and three fellow members of Navy SEAL Team 10 creep along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in search of a top-level Al Qaeda warlord. But he could never have anticipated the firefight Team 10 would be involved in or the resulting loss of his three fellow SEALs.
As boys, Marcus and his brother live a country life. Their parents raise horses. The kids wrestle alligators. Marcus knows that he wants to serve his country, and he happens to live in a place where a local man, Billy Shelton, pre-trains young men to be ready for military service, including service in the Special Forces.
If Marcus thinks that Shelton’s grueling training schedule is tough, he has much to learn in Navy boot camp. He takes to heart the motto Honor, Courage, Commitment. After boot camp, Luttrell moves directly into Navy SEAL Indoctrination, which is its own bit of hell. The pain recruits experience is equally physical–from all of the swimming (near drowning), running, and climbing–emotional and psychological. Most guys quit. A few of the photos included in the book give the reader a general sense of why. (What it means to ‘get wet and sandy’ is one example.) Yet, the very detailed narrative of the ‘Indoc’ brings it all home.
Luttrell is trained as a sniper. He becomes “supremely confident, because we’re indoctrinated with a belief in victory at all costs. . . We’re invincible, right? Unstoppable. That’s what I believed to the depths of my spirit on the day they pinned the Trident on my chest. I still believe it. And I always will.”
Luttrell has many tests of his resolve, but, of course, the greatest is Operation Redwing. To say too much about what happens would be to ruin the intense suspense of the firefights. Suffice it to say that I never knew people could be shot so many times and continue to fight. For awhile, the four men do seem to be invincible–not as a Navy SEAL unit or mission, but on an individual, mortal level. But they are so outnumbered that, eventually, three fall. Luttrell feels strongly that several miracles–genuine acts of God–play into his survival. His being unreachable by the enemy and the fact that no matter how many times he has to leap down the side of a cliff, his gun always lands within his reach, are two.
Although Luttrell survives the firefights, he is wounded. Bleeding profusely and tormented by thirst, he tries to crawl to safety. He is met by friendly Afghans, and here another chapter of his survival begins. He tells the reader that he didn’t know whether these Afghans were going to help him or kill him–and they can’t communicate their intentions because of the language barrier. But Luttrell is so badly injured and near death that he has no choice but to be carried away. Fortunately, he learns of Lokhay, a tribal law that demands that the entire village will risk all lives–is honor-bound–to save the individual they have invited to share their hospitality.This promise leads to its own suspense as the Taliban leans on the village and its leaders to give Luttrell up.
In general, the narration of the memoir is exciting and the reader feels deep compassion as well as genuine respect for Luttrell and all Navy SEALs. At times, I found myself in tears and had to put the book down for a bit. Exceptions to the overall power of the narrative were the digressions on Texans being the best people on the planet and on then-sitting President George W. Bush being a near God. Luttrell also blasts the ‘liberal media’ at any opportunity, and, in fact, blames it (and I believe liberal thinkers in general) for the deaths of his fellow warriors. I’m a fairly liberal thinker, so I’ve ruminated on this a lot since I’ve read the book. It might be too much of a spoiler to give details on the event that leads to the later firefights. But Luttrell feels that a critical decision SEAL Team 10 made that day was based on how their actions would be reported in the liberal media. He is sure that this choice led to the deaths of the men. He’s right–it did. It seems to me that any choice would have led to the same end. They were in a situation that was impossible to get out of. Fate handed them a no-win moment. No matter what they action they decided on, the Taliban would have been alerted and found them.
High school housekeeping: This memoir is highly engaging and deeply suspenseful despite the fact that the reader knows the outcome from the title. Teens will be engrossed by the narrative and by the smart-mouthed folksy humor that dots the story. Anyone thinking of going into military service should read it. Perhaps it should be required reading for anyone who wants to be a member of Special Forces. As an adult working with teens, I infrequently come across those who aren’t doing their work,but seem to be lounging their way through school. When I ask them to sit up straight and start working, they reply, “I don’t need to do this. I’m going to be a –(fill in the blank here–Marine, Navy SEAL, etc.)” Yeah–right. Read Lone Survivor and see what it really means to have that sort of dedication, will and the determination to never give up.