Blaze of Light: The Inspiring True Story of Green Beret Medic Gary Beikirch, Medal of Honor Recipient by Marcus Brotherton is a book I couldn’t wait to read! I am an emeritus flight medic, and I love stories about special ops and Vietnam (especially helicopter pilots and medics). This book sounded right up my alley! I figured it would be one of those books that I couldn’t put down and finish in one day.
Unfortunately, I was wrong. The author managed to take a riveting story and make it drag. Still, I’m grateful I read it.
Gary Beikirch has a truly remarkable story to tell. He had an amazing experience in Vietnam among the indigenous Montagnard people. He was one of 12 special forces troops, along with 400 Montagnard fighters, tasked with defending 2,300 women and children inside the village of Dak Seang when it came under siege by 1000 enemy soldiers. This siege was brutal, protracted, and bloody.
Gary personifies the courage and fortitude of the special operations fighters trained by our military. Add to that his love for the Montagnard people he had lived among for many months, and you see a picture of a fierce fighter and a loyal man who would not quit when there were wounded to be tended to — even after his own grave injury!
One of the additional heroes of Blaze of Light was Gary’s Montagnard soldier bodyguard, Deo. Deo (pronounced “day-oh”), the Latin word for God and a name that can mean “god-like”, was a fitting name. Deo was 15 years old, but he had the loyalty and bravery that exceeds most mortals. He truly deserved a posthumous Medal of Honor (if that were possible for a foreign ally fighter). He literally dragged a partially paralyzed Gary around from patient to patient so that Gary could treat the wounded. Ultimately, Deo sacrificed his life shielding Gary from an enemy rocket. The loss of Deo was one of the most moving and heart-wrenching moments in the book for me. So young and so brave.
Gary’s adjustment to civilian life was not easy. Vietnam veterans were routinely harassed as ‘baby killers’ and vilified, especially among young people at colleges and universities (who had, ironically, in all likelihood, gotten out of being drafted by being privileged enough to be enrolled in a post-secondary school). He had PTSD (though they didn’t have that name for it back then). His marriage was marred by behaviors resulting from his PTSD (his wife deserves a medal for sticking with him through those ugly years).
God was truly with Gary throughout his life, and he has gone on to share the love he was shown.
The downside to the story isn’t the STORY — at all. It was the writing. The author managed to take a riveting story and make it dull in the telling. I’ve read many memoirs of special forces operators and this was by far the dullest and hardest to get through for me. This makes me very sad, because the story deserved to be told in such a way that the reader really got a sense of what Gary’s experiences were — like they were there witnessing it, or watching a movie. This didn’t give me that experience.
The author made stupid mistakes like saying “Gary heard the explosion, then saw a flash of light” (For those who might not understand why this bothered me…you see the flash long before you hear the boom. The speed of sound in air is ~ 343 m/s and the speed of light is 3×1010 m/s.). It may seem petty to point that out, but it jerked me out of the suspension of real life I had begun to achieve and planted me firmly back onto the page of a book (when a book is really good, I forget I’m reading…I’m in the story).
To Gary Beikirch I would say: Thank you, Sir, for your brave service to our country, and for the character that you have shown throughout your life. Your story is truly one of bravery and perseverance. May you be blessed.
***I was given a complimentary copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.***