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Elijah Fire: RW Holmen

Saturday, June 4, 2011
A short story--a vignette of a LRRP team in the mountains of central Vietnam. "Elijah Fire" is the fifth installment of a series entitled "LRRP Rangers Vietnam".

A Bible verse about the prophet Elijah serves as the epigraph--"If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty." 2nd Kings 1:10--and introduces the theme of calling down hellfire when the meager firepower of a four-man LRRP team was insufficient. The short story includes brief episodes of calling for artillery rounds, Phantom jets, and Cobra gunships.

The LRRPs of Vietnam (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol) were the cavalry scouts of their war, traveling by helicopter rather than mustangs into remote and hostile territory. The mountainous jungles of the central highlands were especially inhospitable, filled with snakes and wild animals, and criss crossed with the tributaries of the Ho Chi Minh trail that lay hidden beneath the thick, triple-canopy jungle foliage. It was the job of small teams of LRRPs to penetrate the ridges and valleys of the rainforest to track and identify enemy activity. The LRRPs had little firepower and relied on wits and subterfuge to trespass into Charlie's domain.

This is not an action-adventure series nor is it a glorification of the Vietnam War experience. The short stories are less about patriotism and heroism than about the gut-wrenching reality for the Vietnam combat soldier. The mood of the stories is dark and somber rather than triumphalistic--a hauntingly honest and brutally truthful retelling in which combat soldiers are celebrated for simply doing their best to get by, not as supermen but as young recruits who often acted heroically but sometimes foolishly in circumstances not of their own choosing. One reviewer commented "the bond and the folly of immortal combat ring loud and clear from the page, and the story is told with all the realism, language and pathos of experience."

With the release of his piece of historical fiction in 2010 entitled "A Wretched Man, a novel of Paul the apostle", the author has acquired a reputation for evocative storytelling that "brought to life a distant time and place with such humanity and liveliness", in the words of one reviewer. Similarly, the author's series of LRRP short stories will transport the reader to the highlands of Viet Nam in 1969-70: riding on helicopters for an insertion into an LZ; trekking slowly and surreptiously through triple-canopy jungle; and disappearing into the safety of a clump of brush.

Volumes I, II, III, and IV have been published and may be purchased here. The opening installment is entitled "Eleven Bravo" and tells the story of a newbie grunt infantryman on a torturous twenty-three day hump through the jungle. "Here Comes Charlie" is the second installment of the series and begins with a helicopter insertion into remote territory and ends with a LRRP team encounter with NVA. "Cat Quiet" is the third installment. With striped face paint and tiger fatigues, four LRRPs creep through the jungle, but not everything is as it first appears. "Chasing After Wind", the fourth installment, explores twists of fate in the context of a barracks poker game, a wind that blows where it will, and a malevolent joker in the deck.

The author refers to the series as "autobiographical fiction". They are based on true incidents, but the stories are told with literary embellishment. The author served with K Company, 75th Infantry (Rangers) in the central highlands of Vietnam in 1969-70, and he was twice awarded a bronze star for valor in combat.

Good Reads Summary:

This novel is as straight-forward as the Good Reads summary suggests.  Their is no excess glorification of war or hate.  The story goes by very quickly and is very realistic.  The reader will enjoy getting to briefly know the main characters.  The quote from Elijah is very true to this book and a quality the reader will appreciate.  The reader will be impressed with Holmen's knowledge of this war and soldiers, the reader will realize and acknowledge that Holmen himself has extensive experience that shines through the novel.  This novel is a page-turner, the reader will not be left bored or yawning.  This book is terrific for adults readers who enjoy reading a few short stories on war.