A life of service
By Steven Martinovich
In these days of war there are plenty of ex-generals kind enough to appear as pundits on the nightly news and explain to us the complexities of battle in Afghanistan and Iraq. Few of them, however, were as well-placed as LTG (Ret.) William G. Boykin. After joining Delta Force in 1978, Boykin was present at nearly every major military engagement the United States entered into over the past three decades. From Desert One to the War in Iraq, Boykin has had a hand in defending American interests and delivering retribution to those who would destroy freedom.
Boykin, along with collaborator Lynn Vincent, explores his illustrious – and occasionally controversial – career in Never Surrender: A Soldier's Journey to the Crossroads of Faith and Freedom. A devout Christian and a supremely trained killer, Boykin has spent a lifetime reconciling his faith and the realities that his chosen career demands of him. It's difficult for many to square this circle but for Boykin his military service can easily be explained: Force must occasionally be used to defeat evil.
Never Surrender is divided into thirteen sections, each covering a major event in Boykin's life, with those sub-divided into fast moving short chapters. Beginning from a childhood where he was entranced by his father's military service, Boykin relates his efforts to be sent to Vietnam before being asked to join a new military unit called Delta Force. Eventually commanding them, Boykin's first mission was the failed effort to rescue American hostages in Tehran. From there he chronicles Delta's participation in the liberation of Grenada, where Boykin was hit by a .50 caliber shell, the invasion of Panama and Operation Restore Hope in Somalia, wounded once more during a mortar attack.
Though they did not participate in direct operations, Boykin also reveals the role Delta played in the killing of drug czar Pablo Escobar and the advice Delta gave in the attack on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. Though he addresses his later career with the hunt for war criminals in Bosnia and his time at the Pentagon – which briefly saw him become a controversial media figure, Boykin notably doesn't discuss Afghanistan or Iraq, possibly because of ongoing Delta operations in those two theatres.
For many readers the highlights of this book will likely be the mission to capture Farah Aided he commanded in Mogadishu which later became the basis for the movie Blackhawk Down – with Boykin's version differing somewhat from that effort, Delta's mission – which eventually ended up playing out on television – to capture Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, and Boykin's public battle with the media after several of his comments were taken out of context and made to appear he favoured a war with Islam itself. Boykin and Vincent successfully thrust readers into a first-person perspective on some of the most famous military American battles of the past two decades.
Most efforts like Never Surrender would pound the Christian message into the reader but Boykin handles the subject with thoughtfulness. He never apologies for his deep faith, rather he explains how it has sustained him during some extraordinarily trying times which included the horrors of Mogadishu in 1993 and the events surrounding and the grievous wound he suffered during Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada. Boykin has been portrayed in the media as a religious fanatic eager to do battle with Islam but it's clear he's really a man who simply draws strength from his faith to fight those who would harm the innocent, be they Christian or Muslim.
Never Surrender is an insightful book which reveals the secretive world of Delta Force and the many operations it has participated in during the past two decades. More interestingly, however, Boykin and Vincent have managed to give us a glimpse into the mind of a man who has managed to successfully bridge the gap between the modern soldier and Christianity and how that sort of man can make for positive change in the world. The media may have made William G. Boykin into a poster child for the worst of the American military but his own words reveal him the kind of man any soldier would be honoured to follow into the breech.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
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