Monday, September 29, 2014

Overcoming Odds

So over the past couple of years, I've been researching heroes. Not the fictional kind -- the actual kind. I re-read Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five and finally got around to The Things They Carried. Now, both of those are written by pacifists, so I had to balance that out with some hardcore fighter types, and I read Marcus Luttrell's Lone Survivor (and watched the movie), and Audie Murphy's To Hell and Back. I even read Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken, about a WWII bomber-sprinter (good book) who was sort of in-between warrior and pacifist. He simply did what needed doing. Hillenbrand wrote Seabiscuit, by the way, and she made a point to mention that in this other book, in a very nice cross-over. I read James Clavell's King Rat (he's the Shogun guy, which I also read). He was a POW in Japan, and Rat is pretty amazing.

And so on.

But of all these books I read, the one that's stuck with me the deepest is Mark Twain's Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. He considered it his crowning achievement, and his most significant work. It is an amazing book, if you're into that sort of thing, and is shamelessly researched and cross-referenced and accurate. Jeanne D'Arc, as is her proper name. Pronounced in French, it sounds like Shown Dark, which is appropriate for that poor beautiful creature. She fought her fellow countrymen, the church to whom she dedicated her life, and the invading English. She fought her troops, her family, her friends, and the king she crowned. They all watched her burn alive, and even afterward she fought on, death being no match for her, until the Catholic church finally repented and elevated her to Sainthood. God, what a story that girl is. Of all the stories in our verifiable and recent history, there is no other as magnificent as that of Jeanne D'Arc. She never faltered, never wavered, never gave up. Heck, she never even questioned her heroism.

Now consider Audie Murphy. He was refused by the Marines and the Paratroopers. If you saw Captain America, the recent movie, Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier in WWII, was the size of the Captain BEFORE they juiced him up on steroids. Murph didn't need that extra Marvel / Stan Lee meat -- all he needed was a target and Garand. Well, the Army finally took pity on this poor scrawny wimp and enlisted him. They tried to make him a cook and a clerk. He had none of it, and snuck out on patrol until they gave up trying to stop him and said, Fuck it. Murph, we're going to send you into battle until you're sick of it.

He got plenty sick of it, but he fought all the way through Italy, France, and Germany, leveling up as he went. I challenge you to read his book, and note how cold and determined he was, and compare it to the baby-face little boy he seemed to be. It's frightening.

The dude was frightening.

And he was 135lbs, 5' 6" tall. And a Texan from right here in North Dallas. I had dinner at one of his old houses, before it shut down. And he killed a hell of a lot of men.

Now don't get me started on Luttrell. He's from just north of Houston, where my son and I go hunting and camping. I know those woods, and although I've never wrestled gators, I've water-skied over plenty of them in the brackish waters of the Galveston Bay.

In all these stories, the hero never gives up. They never falter. They never feel sorry for themselves. There is no pity for themselves or for others. They never question their motives, because inside exists an indestructible sense of right-and-wrong, the very core of life-and-death, and to live is win, to die is to win. A true hero (or heroine) can never be beaten. Defeated and killed, yes, but never beaten. Re-read what I said about Jeanne. She kept fighting even after they burned her. She won. Look at Christ. He did the same thing.

Read Luttrell. Read Murphy. Read Unbroken. Read Things and Slaughterhouse, about guys who had no heart for war, but went anyway because it was their duty. Heroes. Write heroes like that.

Write people who do it because it needs doing, even though they ask the cup to be taken from them.

- Eric



Eric W. Trant is a published author of several short stories and the novels Out of the Great Black Nothing and Wink from WiDo Publishing, out now! See more of Eric's work here: Publications, or order directly from Amazon, or wherever books are sold.

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2 comments:

Raquel Byrnes said...

Solid advice, Eric. I find its sometimes hard to get into the headspace of someone so focused and one-track minded. Characters like that are so hard to forget though. :)
Edge of Your Seat Stories

Olivia J. Herrell said...

I'm definitely checking out the Twain book on Jeanne D'Arc and I'll never look at (nor pronounce) my middle name the same again. It's much better than the typical pronunciations of Jean or Jeannie. My dominate ancestry is Anglo-Norman, so it fits, too. Thank you, Eric for this intelligent, heartfelt comparative essay.

~ Olivia J. Herrell