I was the Chief of Awards and Decorations during the better part of my tour of duty in Vietnam. I led many panels of senior officers as they evaluated and passed judgment on recommendations for awards for valor. Although it is popular to refer to all service men and women as heroes these days, I learned that there are those who go above and beyond ordinary heroism. They act when others fear to act. To put a fine point on it, they do what is necessary to win the battle, to save the lives of others at great risk to their own, in spite of their fear. In other words, they share the same fear as the others around them, but act in spite of it while the others don't. Those Cub Scouts and I agreed, that is the definition of courage.
As I studied Audie Murphy's many awards, I discovered that he was often confused as the award citation was read. It was as though he was hearing a story for the first time and surprised to learn that it was his. It seems that he may have acted in a fugue state as when, for example, he attacked a German heavy tank with nothing but a pistol in one hand and a grenade in the other. Where was the fear? Without fear, can there be courage? Make no mistake. Audie Murphy earned every award and decoration he received, for the accomplishments if not the courage. Who cares how he dealt with fear? We celebrate his contributions to the defeat of our nation's enemies.
As I look back on my first novel, Rebels on the Mountain, I realize that it simply was not a made up story. It is, in fact, my fantasy. As a boy I had been chosen to pilot a yacht on a cruise to Cuba and denied the opportunity when my father withdrew his permission. In writing the novel, I made the trip in my imagination.
I made the story as historically accurate as possible to give substance to the fantasy. Did I include famous personalities such as Ernest Hemingway as part of that effort or to appease a self-serving motivation to fraternize with such a famous author? Was my treatment of Che Guevara in my novel fair, or was I abusing him as payback to another person, a boy from my youth, who stole my girlfriend and then threw her off, much as Che threw off wives and children? Did I include a romance with a mulata because I know that a relationship between a white and non-white would have driven my own father crazy? (I abhorred his prejudices, still do to this day.) Lastly, was the courage of my hero just a reflection of my own wish to be a little like Audie Murphy?
How could I have bared my soul to the world like that? Was it courage or, like Audie Murphy, was I completely unaware of what I was doing at the time I wrote the novel?
I suppose that if authors are to be successful, they must either be truly courageous or totally oblivious to what they are doing because, after all, all fiction is someone's fantasy.