THE BLOG

Writing Lone Survivor: The Honor and the Anguish

04/03/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

By Patrick Robinson, #1 New York Times bestselling author.

In the beginning, it was a long series of novels I had already written, involving the SEALs, which caused the United States Navy to choose me to ghost-write the story of Marcus Luttrell. I suppose they assumed I would not have to ask him a series of ridiculous questions since I plainly had a reasonable depth of knowledge about the front-line tigers of SPECWARCOM.

This proved to be a critical decision on their part, because Marcus was in a very fragile mental state, wracked with concern about the families of his lost colleagues, and quite often, almost overcome with grief about the deaths of Mikey, Danny and Axe, up there in the lawless Hindu Kush. He wasn't over it when I first met him, he's certainly not over it now, and personally I doubt he ever will be.

The sadness runs too deep, and Marcus will be ever-conscious of the unspoken guilt of the lone survivor. Could I have done more ? Could I have saved any one of them, or even two of them ? If I could live it again, could I have done better ?

Students of his story will perhaps themselves be haunted, as I most certainly am, by his account of that shocking moment in the aircraft when he walked to the casket which contained the body of his best friend, Mike Murphy, fell to his knees and just said ... I'm sorry, buddy. I'm just so sorry.

Certainly he had nothing to be sorry about. They were both iron men, and both had fought to the bitter end, with their courage high, against completely overwhelming odds. Marcus regards Mikey as the bravest officer with whom he ever fought, in that blood-brotherhood of the SEALs, where courage is such a common virtue.

Looking back, it was one of the more difficult parts of the book, a time when we both needed a break, and separated for a half-hour, Marcus to sit alone on the dock and stare at the water, me to type up our notes. These breaks happened often.

Because, just below the surface, Marcus had a thousand tears to spill, and as we proceeded I grew to know the moments when it was all too much for him, and the images of the lost Mikey, Danny and Axe stood starkly before him. Too starkly ... I'll be back in a while ... I just
need to think.
And weep alone. It's often that way with the bravest of men.

And yet, through all those heartfelt moments, I still think of Marcus as a warrior after witnessing his account of the stresses and demands the SEAL instructors put him through, and the levels of war-fighting efficiency expected of them all.

Their strength, their physical power, their refusal to quit -- no matter what -- their sense of pride, their sense of honor, their patriotism, their loyalty, their steely determination to carry out their given mission on behalf of the Government of the United States of America. I'm not sure any other nation has access to such men. Somehow, Navy SEALs are uniquely American.

"I must earn my Trident every day." Who else could possibly utter that phrase, except an American warrior? It's not a British sentence, too hard, too self-exposing. It's American, and I suppose it was inevitable that when I finally pulled myself together after the emotional sleigh-ride of Lone Survivor, that I would attempt to create such a character. Fictional, yet, for me, as stark and real as the memory of Mike Murphy is for Marcus.

The character I ultimately invented was a SEAL Lt. Commander named Mackenzie Bedford. Inevitably he had a lot of Marcus about him, because the character of Marcus Luttrell is the everlasting blueprint for the consummate Navy SEAL warrior. Mack Bedford is similarly strong, lethal, daring, wry, and, often, full of wit, uttering the unthinkable joke in the face of ensuing doom.

Returning for a moment to Lone Survivor, how could one ever forget the wounded Murphy's observation in the middle of the fire-fight, with the mountain littered with bodies, Danny shot, the escape route barred, Marcus with a nearly broken back. Said the Lieutenant from Long
Island, "Marcus, this really sucks !"

I've tried to gift that sense of deep irony to Mack Bedford in my latest hardback, "Diamondhead" in which I bring my new hero into being. And every time I read a bit, I think of my buddy Marcus.

The publishers were so pleased with the new character they insisted I write about him again -- and again. So this coming May there'll be a new one, "Intercept" with Mack Bedford front and center, tough as Marcus, smart as Matthew Axelson, brave as Danny, and funny as Mike Murphy. Oh, yes, and heroic as every one of them. He's a compilation, a man with the pedigree of an Emperor SEAL.

But, in a way, he's forever Marcus. And sometimes I'm almost taken up in reality, with his triumphs and heartbreaks. And sometimes I'm filled with a silent, overwhelming admiration all over again for the men of SEAL Team 10. And sometimes my own eyes merely fill with tears, at the thought of the everlasting anguish of Marcus Luttrell.

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