Last night I attended a reading at the Macalester College chapel by Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Phillips from his new book The Gift of Valor. Phillips is the son of my friend, Minneapolis attorney Felix Phillips, the brother of novelist Arthur Phillips, and is himself an excellent reporter for the Wall Street Journal. Last year the Journal published Phillips’s riveting account of the service in Iraq of Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham: “In combat, Marines put theory to test, comrades believe.”
Phillips has expanded his Journal article on Cpl. Dunham into a book, published last month: The Gift of Valor. OpinionJournal posted excerpts in a column under the same title. The Journal prefaced the excerpts with the following editor’s note:
“The U.S. military announced that three American soldiers were killed . . . and one wounded in two separate attacks.” So read an AP report last week in phrases that are roughly familiar to anyone who has followed the battle with Iraq’s insurgency over the past months.
The facts, so stated, are as momentous as any facts can be, but stripped down to an almost clinical abstraction. One is left to wonder: What happened in those fateful, final minutes? Under what circumstances did death come–with what surprise, suffering, heroism or glory? Who exactly were these soldiers and how will they be remembered by their families and comrades in arms?
In “The Gift of Valor,” Journal reporter Michael M. Phillips attempts to answer such questions for the events of April 14, 2004, when a platoon of U.S. Marines in Iraq’s Anbar Province came under murderous assault.
Drawing on his experience as a reporter in Iraq–and on dozens of interviews–Mr. Phillips offers portraits of the young men in Kilo Company and reconstructs the action of that day: the takeover of an abandoned building, the shock and shrapnel of a hidden bomb suddenly exploding there, the rake of surrounding machine-gun fire, the wounds, the retreat; and later, more bloodily, an ambush, as another part of the platoon, in a convoy of Humvees, draws fire from insurgents armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, and a nearby Marine patrol sprints toward the sound of firing.
One member of this arriving contingent is Cpl. Jason Dunham, the main figure in Mr. Phillips’s account, a likable 22-year-old squad leader from Scio, N.Y., who suffers head wounds in the course of the day’s fighting and, despite the efforts of his fellow Marines and of doctors in Baghdad and elsewhere, loses his life.
On Sunday the St. Paul Pioneer Press ran an excellent feature on the book: “A soldier’s valor, a gripping story of Iraq war.” For more, check out the page on the book at the site of Marly Rusoff, Phillips’s agent and also a native of Minneapolis.
Phillips tumbled to Dunham’s story during one of his stints as an embedded reporter with Lima Company, Third Battalion, Seventh Marines. Rusoff notes that Cpl. Dunham became the first soldier in Iraq nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor. Were it not for the embed program, Cpl. Dunham’s story might not have been told. Please check out the book and this important story.