CARDIFF-BY-THE-SEA — For best-selling local author Eric Blehm, the story that eventually became his new book, “The Only Thing Worth Dying For: How Eleven Green Berets Forged A New Afghanistan,” was his way of paying homage to the men and women in the armed forces. “I wanted to give something back with a military-type story,” Blehm said.
Blehm, 41, begins a whirlwind tour in Washington, D.C., to promote the book out this week, but his journey to create a focused narrative about the Global War on Terror has its roots in his childhood. Taking a cue from his mother’s scrapbook of World War II information — including rationing coupons and seeds from her “Victory Garden” — Blehm began a time capsule shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. “All of these things my mom kept from the war were captivating to me,” he said.
Included in his clippings was a vague story about a Special Forces unit that helped a relatively unknown tribal leader, Hamid Karzai — now serving his second term as president of Afghanistan — position a successful southern rebellion against the Taliban. Within three weeks of hitting the ground all of the men of Operational Detachment Alpha 574 were either dead or wounded. But the circumstances surrounding their fate remained a mystery until Blehm began researching the story three and a half years ago.
Riding on the successful coattails of his first best-seller, “The Last Season,” Blehm again threw himself into his work. “This story had all of the elements of a true war story,” he said. With only the objective of finding the truth of what happened to the soldiers in ODA 574, Blehm wanted to give the reader a basic understanding of the early days of the war in Afghanistan through the narrow lens of the lives of 11 men. “I relied upon interviews with eyewitness accounts from those who were there,” Blehm said.
After speaking with the families of the men who died and those soldiers who were part of the team, Blehm said he was encouraged to get to the bottom of the story and in the process shed some light on one unit’s heroism.
Absent the typical hearsay of full scope accounts of the war, Blehm’s narrative is a serious journalistic account of the unit’s three weeks in Afghanistan and the milestones they accomplished in such a short period of time despite overwhelming obstacles. “These were the first people who died in the Global War on Terror,” Blehm said. “I want to remind people not to forget, we’ve taken very little time to remember the people involved in this war,” he added.
As Linda Davis sat in her Watauga, Tenn., living room she said she could never imagine outliving one of her children. She recounted her middle child’s characteristic loving and respectful manner. It’s hard to imagine that the ODA 574 Green Beret died nine years ago in rugged terrain somewhere in southern Afghanistan. “All we ever wanted was the truth about how he died,” she said in a phone interview.
“When Eric talked to me about writing the book I thought ‘Well it’s about time somebody came out and told the story.’”
Davis said the military gave them a briefing after her son’s death that left the family with more questions than answers. After reading an early draft of the book Davis said her mind was put at ease. “When I read the book, I was so satisfied, all I wanted was for someone to tell the truth so we could move on,” she said.
Blehm, a Cardiff-by-the-Sea resident, has logged several thousand miles in his travels as a freelance writer and editor of TransWorld SNOWboarding. As an avid surfer, hiker and snowboarder, Blehm is at home on land and sea. His brand of adventure journalism has taken him to the mountains of Iran, the Colorado Rockies, Italy and beyond to find and participate in stories about people and places that defy the imagination.
His meticulous research and attention to detail transform an otherwise broad topic into a precise narrative. In fact, his new book has been hailed by the likes of ABC News Correspondent Bob Woodruff and former Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson whose early involvement in Afghanistan was chronicled in “Charlie Wilson’s War.”
Blehm said he hopes to achieve a few goals with the new book. “I hope to set the history straight, I hope to tell a story the way it happened and I want to honor the men who served in this unit.”
A discussion and book signing will be held Jan. 30 at 2 p.m. at Barnes & Noble, Encinitas Town Center, 1040 N. El Camino Real Drive.
For more information, visit www.onlythingworthdyingfor.com.