“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
― Nelson Mandela
Courage… I think the first time we’re exposed to it is watching The Wizard of Oz as a child. The Cowardly Lion showed us both sides of having courage and conquering your fears. While meant to be funny (especially as played by Bert Lahar) it was also quite educational, especially for a child. As we get older, courage takes a different form, like Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird or watching and To Hell and Back and learning about Audie Murphy. Even today, the heroics of people like Navy Lt. Michael Murphy, or the heroes of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting inspire writers like me to exemplify what it means to have the courage to stand up to evil.
Courage has been demonstrated throughout history in stories, myths and legends: The 300 Spartans who held back the Persian Army, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the march to Selma, or Perseus killing Medusa. These stories inspire all of us to have the courage within ourselves.
However, there are trends to write about heroes that confuse courage with “having the balls” to fight, and that doesn’t work for me. There is a difference between them. A person high on PCP would “have the balls” to confront the police, head-on. Some would call that courage, others might consider it insanity (hand raised high). To some, climbing a mountain in the face of insurmountable odds would call that courageous, while others might consider it stupid. There are so many sides of what to consider as courage.
“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”
― Mark Twain
Who can say what truly lies inside someone, whether its courage or cowardice. Some people put on the face of a hero, but when confronted, that courage disappears. Others seem timid to most people, yet they are the ones to step up in times of crisis. With the 24 hour news cycle in today’s society, we can see both sides of this on a daily basis. From the heroes who rush into the fire to save lives, to the Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines who charge into battle without question, these are the examples I want to emulate in my stories.
That’s why the main protagonist in the Forever Avalon series, Lord Bryan MoonDrake, the Gil-Gamesh of Avalon, was a U.S. Navy Sailor. You see, I come from a military family and served in the Navy myself. I not only met and worked with many brave men and women, but I also learned the personal history of many of them.
The best example I can give is Chief Gerald Farrier. On July 29, 1967, the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal was off the coast of Vietnam, readying to launch airstrikes against targets in North Vietnam. Before the first airplane catapulted off the flight deck, an electronic circuit misfired, launching a Zuni rocket off the wing of an F-4B Phantom into other aircraft. Full of fuel and loaded with ordnance, this caused a chain reaction that ruptured fuel tanks and detonated ordnance.
In all the confusion, Chief Farrier ran out on the flight deck with a PkP bottle (a fire suppressant similar to a fire extinguisher but used for fuel fires). Ignoring his own safety, he rushed in to push back the flames so the trapped pilots could escape. He rescued as many as he could before another bomb exploded, killing him and most of the flight deck firefighting team. His courage had an impact on me, as a young Sailor, that I used him as a model for the protagonist in my own novel. Here is an excerpt from The Dark Tides that shows how the courage of one man can save many.
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Inside Flight Deck Control, Bryan rushed into a flurry of activity. McGregory was on the phone with the “Air Boss”—the officer in charge of air operations on Enterprise—while others peered out of the small windows to get a peek at what’s happening on deck.
“Clear away from the window,” Bryan shouted to the sailors. “If you don’t have any business in control, get out now!”
The sailor’s groaned and filed out as the Handler hung up the phone. His mustache twitched—a sign Bryan came to learn as trouble. “Chief, the Boss doesn’t want that aircraft damaging any others,” he said to Bryan. “It’s already clipped another helo and a Hawkeye. Think you can secure it?”
Bryan looked at the Handler, tense and nervous. He’s always relied on Bryan for the tough jobs, and he knew it had to be done. “Yes sir. Just give me Georgie, Bartman and a couple blue shirts and we’ll lock it down.”
The Handler picked up the sound-powered phone while Bryan grabbed a flight deck vest and helmet off a hook on the wall. He’d need the safety gear out on the flight deck, especially in this weather. George, Petty Officer Mike Bartman and two blue shirts—sailors who chain the aircraft down to the deck—arrived in Flight Deck Control. Bryan finished buckling his helmet as he relayed orders to his crew.
“Georgie, you drive the tractor. I want that bird hooked up and holding steady. Bartman, you guide him into the helo. Once that’s done, you two lock it down tight. Ready?”
They all chimed in at the same time. “Yes Chief!” Bryan opened the hatch to the flight deck, the wind and rain blowing them down almost immediately. Once everyone is outside, Bryan moved his crew toward the swinging helicopter.
Its rear wheel remained chained to the flight deck but its front wheels broke free, causing the aircraft to swing like a pendulum. Georgie and Bartman go around the island and start up a tractor while the two blue shirts stayed close to Bryan. The ship was listing heavily to right as huge waves crashed over the flight deck. The wind and rain added to the problem, making it hard for them to get good footing.
Complicating things even more was the multiple aircraft around them, strained against their chains by the storm. Georgie backed the tractor on the helo’s rear wheel and, with Bartman’s help, locked the helo down. Once steady, Bartman signaled a thumbs’ up to Bryan to send the two blue shirts in. Heavy chains hung on their shoulders, chocks in their hands, Bryan ordered the two sailors to get to work. He watched as the chocks were placed under the wheels and the chains are hooked on to tie the aircraft down.
Bryan was pleased with his team. He had a great group of sailors working for him. The blue shirts gave the thumbs up and they all started to celebrate, fists pumping and cheering, until without warning, things went from bad to worse.
The ship hit a big swell that caused the carrier to drop fast and list heavy to starboard. Bryan can only watch as Bartman slipped and started to tumble backwards toward the edge of the flight deck.
He acted quickly to save his shipmate; without regard for his own life or safety, he dove after Bartman. The momentum of the listing deck flung him through the air. He reached Batman and knocked him into the catwalk, saving his life, but his life saving gesture propelled him over the side of the ship into the water.
He hit the water hard and momentarily blacked out. His safety gear kicked in, though, and his vest auto-inflated. He rose to the surface and regained consciousness. The waves, wind and rain battered him around. He saw the ship in the distance. The sound of “Man Overboard” can be heard, even with the storm.
The ship started to turn around, but to Bryan it seemed to be getting further and further away from him, as if he was being pulled away from the carrier. The waves continued to beat him about, practically drowning him in its fury.
Bryan became disoriented and fear started to grip him … The fear of dying. He thought about Stephanie and the kids. He remembered birthdays, anniversaries and holidays as images flooded his mind.
Suddenly, he saw a glow in the sky. Bryan thought it was the light from a rescue helicopter, but the ship couldn’t have launched one in this weather. “Is this it? Is this the end?” he thought as the light grew brighter and brighter until it enveloped him. Bryan closed his eyes and accepted his fate.
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Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a book/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides is available for purchase as a book/ebook at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverse publishing. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is coming soon.