Anyone who has ever visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers at Arlington Cemetery, Virginia, can’t help but have been impressed at the lone sentinel who marches a vigil before the tombs, taking 21 precise steps in each direction, movements crisp and definite, regardless of the time of day or night or the weather. 21 Steps of Courage by Sarah Bates is a fictionalized account of a young soldier, Ramrod ‘Rod’ Strong, who is determined to follow in the footsteps of his warrior father and become one of the Sentinels of the Old Guard, the unit based at Fort Myer, Virginia, who mount the 24/7 guard duty at the site.
The story begins with Rod on a deployment in Afghanistan where he learns that his older brother, Mike, also a soldier, is missing and thought to be in his area. Too impatient to wait for rescue forces to arrive, Rod and some of his comrades go out on their own. In a harrowing operation, Mike is rescued, but Rod is severely injured. We than flash back to his journey to become a sentinel, which is successful, but like every other soldier, he must do his part in the country’s longest war.
Mike doesn’t survive his wounds, and Rod’s injuries are so severe one of his legs must be amputated below the knee, and that is when the story actually begins. The author takes you on an emotional journey as Rod struggles with his handicap and then determines not only to recover, but to regain his position as a sentinel.
A well written and meticulously researched story—except for a couple of passages where the Purple Heart, an award for wounds received in combat action, not for heroism, is mentioned as being awarded to Rod for his heroic actions in his brother’s rescue. Except for this one small glitch, this story rings true, and I say this as a 20—year army veteran with two wartime tours of my own and having served both as enlisted an officer in my career.
Kudos to the author for presenting soldiers and war in such a realistic manner. This is a book well worth reading. I received an advance review copy of this book.
I give it three and a half stars.