Book Review: Fighting Blind: A Green Beret's Story of Extraordinary Courage
A Review by Bob Seals.
Fighting Blind: A Green Beret's Story of Extraordinary Courage
By Ivan Castro and Jim DeFelice.
The human cost of war has always been staggering. Our most recent conflicts, whether described as an all-encompassing Global War on Terror, or the seemingly more politically correct Overseas Contingency Operations, are no exception to this truth. Of all services, the U.S. Army has paid the heaviest price since 911 with almost 42,000 active, guard and reserve soldiers, killed or wounded while serving overseas, according to Department of Defense figures. Amidst all this blood and carnage of war, some individuals arise who are seemingly able to overcome all the pain and horror that combat inflicts upon them. Ivan Castro is one such man.
Fighting Blind: A Green Beret's Story of Extraordinary Courage is the extraordinary account of a soldier who lost his vision forever in 2006 to an enemy mortar round during fighting in Iraq. A first person, “as told to” narrative, the book is the life story of a fun loving young American soldier who served his nation well, paid a high price for that service, and overcame his wounds against the darkness that now surrounds him.
The book is written and laid out in a rather unique manner. Each chapter begins with the author's flashbacks from the South Pole, skiing some two hundred miles across frozen wastelands with Prince Harry, and the Walking with the Wounded British charity, before recounting his story chronologically. The authors organized their material into six logical sections; that is, Early Days, War and the Ugly, Not Worth Living, Blind Man Running, Living is the Only Revenge, and Gone Dark. The book has within those sections some 25 chapters, some as short as only one or two pages of text. Each chapter gives the reader a sincerely unvarnished Ivan Castro, faults and all. We see a young man, born in New Jersey to Puerto Rican parents, move back to the island with his mother after the pain of a divorce, growing into manhood and the challenges of life.
Attracted to the military from an early age, the author attended the Antilles Military Prep School, before winning a scholarship to the University of Puerto Rico at San Juan for his athletic speed walking skills. Dual enrollment in Army ROTC and the National Guard followed, but the enjoyable tropical island lifestyle was too strong of an allure for Castro and his studies. After attending Jump school as a cadet, the author dropped out of school to enlist and serve on active duty with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). Castro enjoyed the Army, was promoted to Staff Sergeant and served in a wide variety of assignments, to include the 3rd Ranger Battalion, with hazardous service in Desert Shield / Storm and Bosnia. He was less successful at home and was divorced, before service with Special Forces in South America, a second marriage, and OCS at Fort Benning, Georgia.
But this background just sets the scene for the real focus of the work, that day in September 2006 when Castro was blinded as a Lieutenant in the 82nd Airborne Division, and the traumatic aftermath. The term trauma does not begin to describe the multiple life threatening wounds Castro had sustained, “shattered nose, broken arm, collapsed lung, amputated finger, enucleated eye…pulmonary embolism, torn nerves, muscles, you name it.” The reader gets a look at what it is like to be a severely wounded casualty on the battlefield today from the shock of a wound, initial care, a MEDEVAC back to a medical treatment facility, follow-on theater evacuation back to the States, more extensive care and eventual rehabilitation.
This is a particular strength of the book, an honest account of the gut-wrenching process the author suffered and endured as he fought back against the darkness. The work is also an honest account of highs and lows, those who supported, and those who did not, during Castro's greatest time of need. One is disappointed to learn of a wife who can leave her blind husband and commanders who do not seem to care. But, thankfully, many did take an interest, to include two SF medical liaisons Castro called “the Thompson Twins,” the 7th SFGA he previously served with, and old team members. He soon decided that he was going to run a marathon and remain on active duty with Special Forces in order to continue his active service. However, after discharge from numerous hospitals, Castro now faced the additional challenge of demonstrating his fitness for duty.
Running marathons, ultra-marathons, biking across the country, skiing across the South Pole, Castro did indeed demonstrate his fitness and courage in spades to the Army. Promoted to Major, he has retired from active duty, but continues to challenge himself, inspire others and living life to the fullest. The work is not ponderous military history but rather a compelling autobiography written for the general public. Readers without extensive military or Special Forces experience will appreciate the author's explanations and keeping service-specific jargon to a minimum; however, an appendix and a few maps would have been useful for the reader.
That stated, this book is highly recommended and will appeal to military historians and all those who enjoy a great autobiography. Fighting Blind: A Green Beret's Story of Extraordinary Courage is a celebration of life and man's ability to overcome darkness. “Fail or succeed, win or lose, I have to push on,” Castro has indeed, and may he continue do so for many decades to come.
About the author:
Bob Seals is a Command Historian at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. A retired Special Forces officer, he proudly wore the crossed arrow insignia while on active duty. He is married to a retired Army Veterinary Corps officer and their son is a U.S. Military Academy graduate currently serving with the 7th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division, in Texas.
* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MilitaryHistoryOnline.com.