Edited by Roy Scranton and Matt Gallagher. Da Capo Press. 234 pages. $15.99
Reviewed by Richard Raymond III
RICHARD RAYMOND III is a former Marine who also served as historian for the 116th Infantry, Virginia Army National Guard.
A truism that has become cliched and tattered with overuse states that only those who have, in the Civil War phrase, “seen the elephant” can write combat stories with the authenticity of veterans. It is only a bit less true that it is rare for such veterans to write their stories, either as actual history or fiction, in any compelling fashion.
“Fire and Forget” is a collection of fifteen tales by a diverse group of authors, all but one of whom served either in the streets of Iraq or the hills of Afghanistan. The lone exception is an Army wife, who knows too well the stress of maintaining a brave front during her husband’s deployment, and the even greater battering of the soul upon his return.
The stories, gritty with realism, do not make for cheerful reading.
One thread that ties many of these authors together is their proximity to such institutions as Columbia University, New York University or Hunter College, all schools where overt love of military service has, until recently, not been in high favor. But either through masterly editing or polished technical skill, the tales are exceedingly well told. Fiction it may be, but none can deny the ring of truth or outpouring of blood. And if there is a discernible political agenda — which is seldom far in the background — there is also the drumbeat theme: War is a pretty rotten thing, and no decent person should be required to engage in it. Even as a volunteer.
The young men, and now young women, who volunteer for service in the combat arms — infantry, artillery, cavalry/armor, aviation or Special Forces, Marines or SEALs — know, or should know, what they are getting into. And if after their deployment(s) they choose to unburden themselves by recounting the gruesome sights, sounds and smells, who but another veteran is entitled to comment?
As the wife puts it, quoting the (fictional?) starchy Army manual Battle Spouses’ Tips for a Smooth Transition, “All soldiers are affected by combat. It is normal for soldiers to experience symptoms due to their deployment experiences.” Amen to that, but for the casual reader, “Fire and Forget” may prove to be as forgettable as it is fiery.