“We were also starting to see a slow trickle of body bags and wounded. I don’t really believe that even our training personnel had any idea about what we were walking into.” – Roy Benavidez on Vietnam, Legend, Eric Blehm
When Eric Blehm’s book, Legend, arrived in the mail, I had never heard of U.S. Army Master Sergeant Roy Benavidez. In fact, much of the Vietnam War was something of a mystery to me. Growing up, the Vietnam vets that I knew were pretty tight-lipped about the war and I suppose it always seemed to me a touchy topic. WWII, however, had all of the grandeur of a world conflict, a real and certain evil to be vanquished, and the splendid heroism and patriotism which draws so many into that time. In short, I had neglected Vietnam and had begun to realize this. Perhaps, this is one of the reasons I was excited to dig in to Legend: A Harrowing Story from the Vietnam War of One Green Beret’s Heroic Mission to Rescue a Special Forces Team Caught Behind Enemy Lines. It is also one of the reasons the book made such an impact on me, seeing what I had left out of my historical studies, and encouraged me to speak to Eric Blehm to find out more about how he put this incredible work together.
Details on the Signed Copy Giveaway are at the bottom of the article!
A Chat with Author Eric Blehm
You can always tell a good book by how much you think about it after you read it. The story of Roy Benavidez’s life impressed something upon me while at the same time drew something from me. I was both struck at his heroism — and the many other men mentioned in the book — and saddened by the thought of good men being cut down so far from home. It sobered and encouraged me.
I reached out to Mr. Blehm, not knowing if I would get a response back, but just to say that I loved the book. We ended up talking on the phone for 20 minutes. I got a chance to hear a little of his story and ask a few questions about his approach to writing. This was sort of impromptu, so it isn’t like a typical interview, but let me say this: Eric Blehm gets it! Here’s a bit of the conversation.
How did you get into writing, particularly about military heroes?
Blehm: “I was a journalist before 9/11, working for Transworld and doing stories on Snowboarding and such, and afterwards just thought ‘What can I do? I need to do something.’ I never served in the military but wanted to tell the story of these heroes from a journalistic approach.”
That’s interesting that you mention being a journalist. When reading Legend I thought, “ This guy writes like a journalist rather than a guts-and-glory kind of author“
Blehm: “I really try not to write from any political bent. When the story is good enough why should we add anything to it? I want to stay true to the characters and be honest with the readers.”
Legend has a ton of details about the Vietnam war and perspectives from so many people. How do you go about putting together a story like this?
Blehm: “A lot of this comes from my experience as a journalist; I am very meticulous about my research. There is no quote in the book that did not come from someone…I don’t add any of the usual dramatizations. When you have a story like this with multiple eye-witnesses and letters, all of this information and memories from 50 years ago, there are going to be differences in the accounts on what happened. Where the accounts coincide is usually where the truth is.”
Eric went on to say that he recognized all to well the lack of heroic and positive influences on men today. Certain events in his life made it clear that our most admirable heroes often rise out of dark places, so he is drawn to those type of transformative characters that are often overlooked.
Legend Book Review
The amount of manliness in this book can’t be understated. The lessons which can be gleaned come not only from Roy Benavidez’s life, but also the men of the Special Forces team, pinned behind enemy lines, and their rescuers. The fierceness of the war, the brutality of the enemy, and the raw tactics of jungle-warfare are all present. What we also have is the story of men changing the lives of other men, from boyhood to the impossible fields.
The Importance of Mentors and Uncles
“De Oppresso Liber — To Free the Oppressed” – Motto of the U.S. Special Forces
Roy Benavidez is an embodiment of the American Spirit. Coming from a family of sharecroppers, his lot in life was likely to be the same. The racism, poverty, and the death of his mother at a young age, embittered him towards the world. However, there seemed to be one thing that would not quit him: his fists! He poured his anger into fighting, and he was good at it, though it was sending him down a bad road.
Blehm does an excellent job of not overlooking the impact of the men in Roy’s life, particularly that of his Grandfather Salvador, Uncle Nicolas and shopkeeper and mentor, Mr. Haddock; his Grandfather pouring out the stories of Roy’s ancestors, Uncle Nicolas teaching what it meant to be a man, and Mr. Haddock building-up and admonishing a young Roy through the authority and wisdom of the scriptures. As this imparting of manly wisdom begins to take root, Roy finds some direction in his life which leads him into the Army. It is there that he is tested, broken and bandaged up, and tested again. It is there that these lessons will make the difference between life and death.
Things I Liked
“There are only two types of warrior in this world. Those who serve tyrants and those who serve free men…and if we as warriors serve free men, we must love freedom more than we love our own lives.” – SFC Stephan “Pappy” Mazak, Legend
There is one thing I really liked about the book that I can’t talk about – spoilers. However, if you’ve read the book you know exactly what it is!
Blehm’s Writing Style
The pace of the story is really good. The right amount of time is spend on Roy’s childhood, military career, and ultimate battle. Blehm’s writing style, as already mentioned, is much more like that of a journalist for a magazine rather than someone trying to mythologize truth into more sellable material. If you have ever been entranced in an article in a magazine and walked away thinking, “ That was cool. I wish I could know more about that.” this is what you get with Legend. Blehm arranges the story in such a way that it reads like a book, but presents the material in such a plain and matter of fact way that it doesn’t drain the senses with diatribes to prove his literary prowess.
The Birth of Modern Military Tactics
One thing I really thought was excellent about the book, was that we had a peek into the birth of modern military tactics. In one section, Blehm recounts how the Spec Ops team had only a single pair of night-vision goggles. In fact, the idea of night-warfare was fairly new as were many of the tactics being used.
Illustrations of the Conflict
Several illustrations of the final conflict are included in the book. This was incredibly helpful as the field of battle and strategy changed quite a bit during the conflict.
Things I Didn’t Like
In some ways this is a difficult story to tell. Because it involves a team of Special Ops stuck behind enemy lines, being littered with enemy bullets, it is necessary to part the story and get into the operational details and character of those men. This is actually done very well and my dislike of it has more to do with my own mode of thinking and less to do with the author. Blehm does an excellent job of maintaining a focus on the technical and introspection of the emotional. My not being familiar with Vietnam and some of the aspects of the war, I had a tendency to gloss over the more detailed sections of the book. Now, knowing the direction he was taking with the story, it would be good for me to go back and re-read those pieces.
Much like Lone Survivor, what stood out in this book is the incredible determination to live and fight to the last breath. Roy’s struggles in life prepared him to face even greater challenges but the wisdom gained from those struggles had roots in his desire to be a virtuous man. Where many would curse life and become bitter, Roy looked for hope and purpose and fought until he found it. Had he not been up for the fight, this story would have turned out very differently and a number of men would not have lived to tell the tale.
If you are looking for an inspirational, get knocked-down and get back-up again story, this is one to read! Roy Benavidez is an absolute American hero of the highest caliber. I am glad to call him one of our own.
Did you read the book?
If you read the book I would love to get your feedback! Respond in the comments below (no spoilers).
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