Lone Survivor: A Tribute, and Analysis
Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10 is a non-fiction book written by novelist Patrick Robinson and former SEAL Marcus Luttrell, the only survivor of a mission in Afghanistan in 2005. Seal Team 10 was tasked with three other SEAL members to kill a high-profile Taliban commander . His story eventually became the basis of his book, which has now turned into a movie.
The book starts with Luttrell describing his childhood in Texas training to become a Navy SEAL, with Billy Shelton, a neighbor and former Green Beret. After joining the U.S. Navy, and finishing BUD/S training to become a SEAL, Luttrell heads to Afghanistan, undergoing several operations around the country before heading to the Hindu Kush mountains of the Kunar province for Operation Red Wings. He and his team, consisting of Lieutenant Michael “Mikey” Murphy, Gunner’s Mate Second Class Danny Dietz, and Sonar Technician Second Class Matthew “Axe” Axelson, were tasked to gather reconnaissance on a village and capture or kill a head Taliban member, who was said to be affiliated with Osama Bin Laden and the 9/11 attack.
On a night during their mission, while hiding out, the team was discovered by three sheepherders, including a boy. The team debated killing the shepherds silently and hiding the bodies, which was the most millitary sound way to not compromise their mission. However, after considering the rules of engagement, they decided to let them go (the shepherds were unarmed and not posing a threat currently). However, the shepherds notified their presence to the Taliban, and about an hour later, SEAL Team 10 was surrounded by dozens of armed warriors under heavy fire. Three of the four men were killed, leaving Luttrell the only one to survive the firefight, but not after one of his attempts to contact the SEAL combat operation centers succeeded. A quick-reaction rescue team consisting of 16 special forces soldiers were sent to extract SDV-1; however, their Chinook helicopter was shot down by the Taliban with a RPG-7 rocket propelled grenade to the chopper’s rear rotor assembly, leaving no survivors. Luttrell was left unconscious and sustained a number of fractures and other serious wounds. After he regained consciousness, he was rescued by local Pashtun villagers, who treated his wounds and ultimately saved his life.
One of the main motifs shown in this book is Luttrell’s frustration at the rules of engagement (RoE) which, indirectly, resulted in the death of 19 American lives. These rules state that no force should be used against unarmed civilians, if they are not presently posing a threat to your safety. When SDV-1 was discovered by the sheepherders, Team Leader Mike Murphy decided to hold a vote in which SDV-1 decided to let them go, since the team may have been considered violating the RoE and possibly being sentenced to life in prison for their actions. If the team did kill the shepherds, then at the very least they would have been ridiculed and criticized by the media, even in the circumstances they had. When describing the situation and his vote, he states, “I had turned into a f-----g liberal, a half-a----d, no-logic nitwit, all heart, no brain, and the judgement of a jackrabbit… At least, that’s how I look back on those moments now. Probably not then, but for nearly every waking hour of my life since.”
Marcus Luttrell’s story also shows that war is not glorious but evil, no matter which way you put it, and people will die on both sides of the conflict. He also makes a point that when you try to make war “clean,” and “civilized,” you won’t win. Terrorists will stop at nothing to achieve their cause, we can see that everywhere from the acts of ISIL to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Were it so easy to make that decision, for SDV-1 to be sure with the fact that the most militarily sound option was also the “right” option, this book would have been very different. Luttrell believes that if there was no fear of what may happen to them back home in the United States, SEAL Team 10 would have made it out alive, mission accomplished. However, nothing can change the fact that his team is gone, and so, deeply rooted in this book is his deep sorrow for his friends and his guilt as the sole survivor. Going on a long journey across America, Luttrell visited every family whose son, and in some cases, father, died to honor him and tell them of his last moments. The book closes with a word from Luttrell, saying, “I will never give up on the memory of those nineteen men who lost their lives on the mountain that day, because they never gave up on me.”
Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10, is a stirring tribute to Axe, Mikey, Danny, and the rest of the fallen soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, and I would recommend this book to anyone who has relatives in the military services, or is aspiring to join the military. It’s very well-written, yet easy to read, and is very powerful. The only problem some people have with the book is regarding the actual numbers of Taliban forces (it’s disputed whether there were actually 120 to 200 Taliban, or if that was an exaggeration. Nevertheless, Lone Survivor is an amazing and riveting book. Hospital Corpsman Marcus Luttrell went back into the tour of duty in Afghanistan after he recovered from his wounds until he was medically discharged from the Navy in 2007. Mohammed Ismail, the target of Operation Red Wings, was killed during a firefight in 2008.