Since we began this 33-city odyssey on Nov. 20, thousands of our fellow citizens have walked up and asked me to sign their copies of "Heroes Proved." They have made my latest book a New York Times bestseller. It is at once a gratifying, humbling and moving experience. At every book signing, people produce photographs of me standing beside them or one of their loved ones. In nearly every picture, we are wearing camouflage clothing, flak jackets and helmets.
There are faded photos taken decades ago during a faraway, long-ago war called Vietnam. Others were shot in dusty encampments in Central America and Mesopotamia. Many are from the margins of gunfights in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines and Somalia. A good number are from vessels large and small in the Gulf of Aden, the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. Some of these pictures were taken just weeks ago by the young Americans I was accompanying in the shadows of the Hindu Kush -- and emailed to the parent, sibling, relative or friend standing before me.
Pictures aren't the only things book buyers bring to these events. Writers are storytellers. So are readers. They ask questions, share their concerns and offer brief narratives on what's important in their lives. Herewith a brief summary of some I have heard:
Eight days of Israeli airstrikes, in response to Iranian-built rockets killing Jewish civilians, finally pushed the Petraeus sex scandal off the front pages. By the time we arrived in Dayton and Cincinnati - not far from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base - people asked about the Obama administration and Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government in bringing about a ceasefire between Israel and the Hamas-Islamic Jihad terrorists in Gaza. Some wanted to know if it would endanger our upcoming Holy Land trip. My response: "Americans are safer in Israel than Washington, D.C.!"
As we head to San Antonio, my birthplace, I'm increasingly asked about eerie parallels between "Heroes Proved" and current events: a deadly terror attack and a White House cover-up aimed at deceiving the American people. When I say, "It really is a novel," or "I started writing it more than a year before Benghazi," the response is usually: "Yeah right."
Our book signings at Fort Campbell and Fort Benning were packed with family members of deployed Soldiers. At Benning, a seven-year old girl handed me a drawing she had made of her father, a U.S. Army sergeant now in Afghanistan. Her carefully penned caption: "My Daddy is my hero." She asked me to inscribe a copy of "Heroes Proved:" "Merry Christmas. Lauren misses you."
At the Eglin Air Force Base Exchange, a U.S. Air Force staff sergeant handed me a pair of mangled sunglasses and said, "I think you dropped these on the "ex-fil" (exfiltration) during a DEA-SEAL Team raid in Afghanistan. I was the JTAC (Joint Tactical Air Controller) on that operation. I'll trade you these for an autograph." The lenses were scratched and the frames bent beyond repair.
"Where did you find them?" I asked.
"Well, sir," he replied, "I was the last one off the LZ after we blew up that opium lab. I guess they fell off your flak jacket when you were running for the helo." It's embarrassingly true. He got the autograph. I told him to keep the glasses.
In Orlando, the father of U.S. Marine hero Sgt. Ken Conde, Jr. met us at a Barnes & Noble. In 2004, our Fox News team was embedded with Sgt. Conde's unit when he was wounded in Ramadi, Iraq. A little over two months after he told our audience that he refused medical evacuation because "that's what Marine sergeants are supposed to do," he was killed leading another patrol through the deadly city.
In Panama City, a DEA special agent, with whom I spent some very exciting days in Afghanistan, came to a bookstore with his wife and two young daughters. I told them, "Your daddy is a hero." The youngest girl smiled, snuggled up against him and said, "Yes. And he's going to be home for Christmas."
Reviewers constantly ask where I get the inspiration for books like "Heroes Proved." It's easy when you keep company with real heroes like these.