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Book Review: War and afterward, in words

May. 16, 2013 - 08:30PM   |  
Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War, edited by Roy Scranton and Matt Gallagher, DaCapo, 234 pages, $15.99
Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War, edited by Roy Scranton and Matt Gallagher, DaCapo, 234 pages, $15.99 ()
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Undaunted: The Real Story of America’s Servicewomen in Today’s Military by Tanya Biank, NAL Caliber, 350 pages, $26.95

Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War, edited by Roy Scranton and Matt Gallagher, DaCapo, 234 pages, $15.99 ()

After Action: The True Story of a Cobra Pilot’s Journey by Dan Sheehan, CreateSpace, 354 pages, $18.95

Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War, edited by Roy Scranton and Matt Gallagher, DaCapo, 234 pages, $15.99 ()

The Things They Cannot Say: Stories Soldiers Won’t Tell You About What They’ve Seen, Done or Failed to Do in Warby Kevin Sites, Harper Perennial, 336 pages, $15.99

Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War, edited by Roy Scranton and Matt Gallagher, DaCapo, 234 pages, $15.99 ()

Back in the Fight: The Explosive Memoir of a Special Operator Who Never Gave Up by Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Kapacziewski and Charles W. Sasser, St. Martin’s Press, 320 pages plus photographs, $25.99

Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War, edited by Roy Scranton and Matt Gallagher, DaCapo, 234 pages, $15.99 ()

Five new books offer five ways to understand the relationship between service and self, and how to survive both without self-destruction.

* They say truth is stranger than fiction. But fiction is often the stronger, and you are unlikely to forget the quality of the work — by 14 veterans and a spouse — in this collection. The 15 stories are all over the map, figuratively and literally, but the theme is constant. “Tips for a Smooth Transition” and “When Engaging Targets, Remember” counter military jargon with human emotion. Poet Brian Turner describes sand that buries moonlight. David Abrams, author of the satirical novel “Fobbit,” knows pathos, too. Former Sgt. Mariette Kalinowski’s “The Train” is a haunting story about a Marine veteran: “She wasn’t always like this, lost and hurt and wanting nothing else.” She makes you want to read more.

* The models on the jacket — one in an Army Combat Uniform, two in Marine cammies — have perfect skin. Inside, the segments that chronicle four careers also show no blemishes. The dramatic stories of Marine Maj. Gen. Angela Salinas and Sgt. Amy Stokley, and Army Capt. Bergan Flannigan and Lt. Col. Candice Frost O’Brien, include the wounds of war, which pummel O’Brien’s marriage to a fellow officer. Flannigan and her officer husband celebrate an anniversary at a Pizza Hut in Kandahar. Five months and one chapter later, a bomb takes Flannigan’s right leg.

* Sheehan’s “adult life had been spent developing my Marine persona, impervious to pain or stress,” and his “internal pep talks were always profane.” When “that b---- unease would slip in and spoil everything,” Sheehan tries to live in a conundrum. “I didn’t want to process any of the events in Iraq. I wanted to move on with my life ... but I still wanted others to comprehend the immensity of what I’d been though.” The former major is candid about his shortcomings, and his memoir deserves a wide audience.

* The title is a stretch. Troops are talking, and the reviews on this page are evidence. Sites reports these 11 stories in the “hope that we may eventually see through the smoky glass of myth, parable and revisionism” to genuine accounts. He learns that humanity’s capacity for doing good and doing evil “can destroy us if we do not honestly share its full and complete narrative.” Fully sharing is a Marine who “lost 20 friends” in Iraq. “I am only 24 and have lived a life I wish on no one.” Sites, the freelancer who videotaped a Marine shooting an Iraqi lying on a mosque floor in 2004, knows the peril of ignoring stress. “My answer to the war within myself was to spend more time at war.”

* Army Ranger Kapacziewski is not “much with words.” His wife, Kimberly, fills 41 pages and says “a girl had to look behind the wallflower to see the truly remarkable man” he is. He is persistent, too. A Ranger, he says, prefers Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone and John Wayne to a “sensitive, compassionate wimp or dolt enslaved to feminist values,” such as Leonardo DiCaprio. After a grenade shatters his right leg below the knee in Iraq in 2005, Kap worries that if he loses half a leg, he will be less of a man — and no longer a Ranger. To him, “man and Ranger were the same thing.” He suffers for two years until he agrees to amputation. He wants back in the fight, meets standards and “has rotated into combat five times” since the loss of his leg. His stamina is inspiring despite the subtitle’s unfortunate play on words.

J. Ford Huffman is a Military Times book reviewer.

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