Michael Yon is one of those unusual Americans who emerge in wartime to do the jobs that need to be done. The job he is doing is covering combat in Iraq at the gritty, confusing and valiant level of close combat, and doing so with honesty, passion and professional expertise. His new book, "Moment of Truth in Iraq," testifies to that.
Yon isn't World War II's Ernie Pyle, he's the Global War on Terror's Michael Yon. This is a different war with a very different media environment. Yon "self-embedded" with U.S. combat units in 2005 -- paying his own way and getting donations through his Website michaelyon-online.com. Given the Internet and digital technology, it isn't really surprising that emails and Web logs (blogs) have been the richest sources of detailed, day-to-day combat reporting. Yon is part of this new media environment.
His technique, however, is Pyle's -- be there with the troops, with the Iraqis, in the vehicles, on foot patrols, in the alleys and in the homes, then tell what happened and tell it well. Yon writes: "I prefer to write what I see with my own eyes in the streets and on the battlefield, to paint a picture as intimate and rich in detail as I can, and then ... let the reader come to his own understanding."
Twice already I've read out loud the following passage from "Moment of Truth" in its entirety, and both times my small audience asked, "Why don't we hear more stories like this?"
Yon titles this vignette "Gates of Fire: Mosul 2005." Eleven compelling photos Yon took during the dirty, intimate battle complement the prose.
Here's the situation: Yon was accompanying the commander of the 1-24 Infantry, Lt. Col. Erik Kurilla. A terrorist had shot a young sergeant in downtown Mosul. Kurilla spotted a black Opel and -- playing a professional's hunch -- the chase was on. The three men in the Opel abandoned the car and ran. Kurilla, his command section and Yon (with a camera) left their personnel carrier and gave chase on foot.
Yon picks up the story:
"There were shops, alleys, doorways, windows. Shots were fired behind us, but around a corner to the left LTC Kurilla began running in the direction of the shooting. He passed by me and I chased, Kurilla leading the way. There was a quick and heavy volume of fire. And then LTC Kurilla was shot.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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