On the 1st of April, 1970, the People’s Army of Vietnam (“PAVN”) numbering around twenty thousand attacked a camp called Dak Seang which was established by the US Army and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) northwest of Kon Tum in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. More than two thousand enemy rounds rained down upon the camp in the form of 82 millimeter mortars and 122 millimeter rockets. The siege of Dak Seang lasted until the 8th of May 1970 and required a monumental effort on the part of the American land and air forces before the dust could settle. A mind numbing conflation of 2,829 fighter sorties, 154 gunship sorties, 114 bombing sorties and 164 aerial resupply sorties were employed during which a total of 2,922 Viet Cong perished.
Sergeant Gary Burnell Beikirch an Army Green Beret and a combat medic found himself in the eye of the storm during the attack of Dak Seang. Despite being grievously injured during the shelling, he displayed exemplary courage and unparalleled nobility in tending to the wounded before himself passing out overcome by fatigue and loss of blood. This singularly stupendous act of bravery earned Beikirch, he United States military’s highest decoration, the Medal of Honor.
In his inspiring new book, ‘Blaze of Light’, Marcus Brotherington chronicles the life of Beikirch as he struggles to overcome the demons of Vietnam relentlessly plaguing him. He also faces an insurmountable hurdle in the form of non-acceptance as his own countrymen look at him with disdain and heap scorn on him for having participated in the Vietnam War. Fleeing friends, and family and desperately trying to flee from the enemies within, Mr. Beikirch resorts to an assortment of ameliorating measures ranging from the sublime to the silly. From sampling Aldous Huxley’s famous mescaline to finding refuge in a cave nestled amongst a group of boulders named Dome Rock in the Appalachian Mountain Range, Mr. Beikirch desperately tries to win an inner battle which every passing day garners strength and threatens to sap the last vestiges of his energy. Finally, by a quirk of incredible coincidence and fate, Mr. Beikirch seeks refuge in the teachings of Christ and finds solace. As the final shards of self-doubts assailing him are given a permanent burial, Mr. Beikirch ascends to a plateau of acceptance and peace.
Mr. Brotherton does a stellar job in assiduously bringing to his reader the triumphs, travails and tribulations of Mr. Beikirch. As Mr. Brotherton points out, Mr. Beikirch’ s battles with life seems to have been decided preternaturally for him. Falling twenty feet, headfirst from an open window when he was just a toddler of eighteen months, Mr. Beikirch needed more than 100 stitches and multiple medical interventions before he could be plucked away, literally, from the jaws of death. Later on in his teens, Mr. Beikirch is overcome by a desire to emulate one of his closest friends Don Jacques, who enlists himself for the combat in Vietnam before unfortunately losing his life in the battlefield. Mr. Beikirch after an incredulously exacting bout of rigorous physical and mental training, earns his stripes as a Green Beret. He is posted to Vietnam where he works as a medic in the camp of Dak Seang. Mr. Brotherton describes in a brilliantly poignant manner, the deep relationship and bonds forged by Mr. Beikirch in the camp with the indigenous Montagnard people. Mercilessly hunted down, discriminated and brutalized by the North Vietnamese, the Montagnard tribe look to the American forces to lend them the much sought after protection from being completely annihilated. A fifteen-year-old teenager named Deo is assigned to be his body guard. Mr. Biekirch is particularly struck by an inscription found on a plaque above a door in Camp Dak Seang:
“To really live, you must almost die,
To those who fight for it, life has a meaning the protected will never know.”
This quote gets etched indelibly in the heart of Mr. Beikirch and the profundity of it imprinted in his thoughts, words and deeds. Unfortunately for Mr. Biekirch, the true meaning of the inscription on the plaque plays out in agonizing detail in front of his own eyes when the siege of Dak Seang begins. Deo, in an act of incomparable selflessness and indescribable courage, sacrifices his own life when, in trying to protect Mr. Beikirch from the perils of a mortar assault, flings himself on top of Mr. Biekirch. This incident leaves a massive scar on the conscience of Mr. Beikirch and he is racked by a sense of deep and painful sense of guilt.
Mr. Biekirch’ s list of injuries itself resembles a litany of woes right out of hell. After being shot at least three times, before being blown up and thrown through the air, Mr. Beikirch gets hit by shrapnel near his spine. Jagged metal finds refuge in his insides, while the intestines are ripped out and hang in clusters outside his body. Even in this seemingly irredeemable condition, Mr. Beikirch continues dragging himself to the fallen nearest to him and treating their injuries.
“A Blaze of Light” is the unparalleled biography of a gallant soldier who valued altruism more than achievement, who placed more faith and trust in magnanimity over money and whose currency was brotherhood, bonding and blessing. Mr. Brotherton does an exemplary job in bringing the story of this heroic individual to millions across the globe. For this Mr. Brotherton receives our wholehearted appreciation.