cover image In the Company of Heroes

In the Company of Heroes

Michael Durant. Putnam Publishing Group, $24.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-399-15060-9

The 1993 battle in Mogadishu between American soldiers and Somali militiamen gets a human-scale retelling in this jaunty but harrowing memoir. Durant went down with the Black Hawk he piloted; after a terrifying crash in which his back and leg were broken and a violent fire-fight, he was held captive for ten days by Somali militiamen as a pawn in their stand-off with American peacekeeping forces. Frightened and in agony from his wounds, he called on his survival training to help him endure, but he also relied on the empathy of some of his Somali captors, especially the gruff but sympathetic guard who feeds, bathes and bonds with him. Durant is a gung-ho army honcho, not much given to introspection, and the book often takes leave of the captivity narrative to recount his exploits in conflicts from Panama to Iraq, and to celebrate the bravado and leave-no-man-behind esprit-de-corps of his elite""Night Stalkers"" helicopter unit. The writing is full of terse jargon, weapons specs, helicopter-assault procedural and special-ops swagger (""They were the kind of professionals who could pick off a rabbit from a roller-coaster with a BB gun""). But overall the story remains taut, and the prose evokes both the chaos of combat and the anxiety of confinement. Durant's perspective on the Somalia conflict is somewhat limited and jingoistic (""Mogadishu was Tombstone, and we were Wyatt Earp""), but his is a revealing portrait of the human face of war. 16 pages of b&w photos.