Corps Stories Loves 'Blood Stripes'!
By former Marine Captain David Danelo
(Interview with the author, August 2006)
pick this book up if you're interested in Iraq war strategy, armchair theory,
who's winning, who's losing. This read is about genuine American warriors
- via fact, not imagination.
"His heroes are regular American guys from Iowa and New Hampshire, Kentucky and South Dakota. Not captains and generals, but NCO's." Steven Pressfield, author of "Gates of Fire" (required reading for all great Marines) writes of "Blood Stripes" author Marine David Danelo.
In this nonfiction read, Capt. Danelo follows five young enlisted Marines on that mysterious journey in which Marines display acts of courage - which most of us will never display - then back to ordinary life at home.
He focuses on the part of this war which history will most examine: conflicts in Fallujah, Ramadi and the on Syrian border in 2004.
Readers become a fly on the gear of these Marines, observing them from the most innocuous events to absolutely harrowing warfare.
CS: First, Captain, how did you come to these particular Marines?
DD: One of the common cliches from the Iraq War is that "everybody's Iraq is different." I wanted to capture what distinguished the Al Anbar Province and the cities of Fallujah, Ramadi, and Husaybah from the rest of the country. As far as the five main characters, I had either worked with them at different times, or somebody I trusted linked me up with them.
CS: In this work you reveal - like few other books have - the secrets, nuances and politics of the enlisted infantry Marine. Doing so made a huge difference for this reader's understanding. Was that a tough call?
DD: Not at all. That was the whole point of the book: to illuminate the world of enlisted Marines in Iraq for a broad readership, both military and civilian. From "The Sands of Iwo Jima" to "Jarhead," popular views of Marine culture are often sculpted inaccurately. I wanted to portray their world as they saw it: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
CS: Despite the extremes of conditions that your book covers, from human waste disposal to the complex thinking of a platoon leader while in heavy combat, this book moves fast. How were you able to keep the pages flying by?
DD: I studied story structure. Like building a house or attacking a fortified position, there are certain dos and don'ts for the science and art of storytelling. For me, a helpful book was "Story" by Robert McKee. It is actually about screenwriting, but I found it useful for any writer in the craft.
Also, I had some great mentors and advisors. Steven Pressfield, who is one of the finest writers in America, had many helpful words of wisdom. Nathaniel Fick, who wrote "One Bullet Away," offered several brilliant tips. Agent. Editors. My wife. Like competitive running or cycling, writing is solitary work, but also a team effort. Many came in at just the right time to coach or share the important tidbit.
CS: In the first chapter you describe an aspect of the United States Marine which I have never read so aptly put: In "Culture of Order...Culture of Disorder" the heart and mind of Marines for past and future centuries is defined. Tell about that writing.
DD: I wanted to frame the duality of Marine life. On the one hand, Marines are pretty much expected to be perfect. But we also wink at a kid when he can "just make it happen," often regardless of how far the rules are bent. I believe that both of those elements are part of the Corps...always have and always will be.
As a narrative device, I got the idea of capitalization from Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff." At several points in his book, Wolfe refers to the culture of naval aviation as "Flying & Drinking and Drinking & Driving." Whether accurate or not, it worked well for the themes he was weaving throughout his book. Wolfe's use of the technique made me think it might be effective for Blood Stripes.
CS: Two officers are described in detail in this book, both of whom are intriguing, Capt. Bill Anderson (a pseudonym) and MajGen James Mattis. Tell why these two in particular stood out in your research.
DD: Mattis, who is now a LtGen, is the Marine grunt's hero in this war. Capturing him and his effect on these young Marines was essential to telling their story. Most of these guys will tell "I served with Mad Dog Mattis" stories to their kids the way that old WWII vets talk about MacArthur or Patton. Explaining the underpinnings of that respect was important.
Captain Anderson? Well, I'm afraid I can't say much about him. He felt pretty strongly about staying out of the limelight. I do know that he left active duty. He also stayed in touch with Shady, his driver. Both of them are content with their current civilian life.
Finally, your exploration of the Marines and their relationships with
familiy members and other loved ones gives a clear picture of true sacrifice
from both ends. Tell about that research.
DD: That was both the most painful and the most rewarding. I can't thank David & Kacey Carpenter and Nina Schrage enough. They deal each day with the tragedy and agony of having lost a son. To share that with the world took courage and generosity of spirit. They placed a lot of trust in me to handle their stories, and I felt very honored that they did so.
In terms of the writing, those were some of the most difficult scenes to approach. Brian Zmudzinski and I are pretty close, but I had to spend two days with him at his house before he was ready to open up and talk about Dan Amaya's death. Craig Atkins was the same way.
CS: This is a true Corps Stories Noteworthy Book. You have revealed rhe ordinary Marine and his extraordinary life. I as founder, and my readers, are very grateful. Semper Fi.