This past weekend, we celebrated Memorial Day in the U.S., honoring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation. As a veteran myself, I try to honor my fellow military service members in my writing.
The main character in the Forever Avalon series, Lord Bryan MoonDrake, the Gil-Gamesh, was a U.S. Navy Sailor, lost at sea. His friend and mentor, Sir Charles Taylor, is based on Navy pilot, Lt. Charles Taylor, flight leader of Flight 19, who disappeared with his squadron at sea.
In reality, the Gil-Gamesh is also based on a real-life Navy hero. His name was Chief Gerald Farrier, an Aviation Boatswain’s Mate who died aboard the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal during the Vietnam War.
On July 29, 1967, while the ship was preparing for flight operations, a Zuni rocket misfired and exploded on the carrier’s flight deck. The deck was full of aircraft, loaded with fuel and bombs. The fire engulfed the aft deck, trapping pilots inside their planes. Farrier, without regard for his own life, ran towards the fire with a PkP fire extinguisher in an attempt to help the pilots escape. Within minutes, the bombs started to explode and Farrier was killed instantly.
The USS Forrestal was the first ship I reported to when I joined the Navy in 1983. I became very familiar with the story of the Forrestal fire and Farrier’s heroism. You can find his name enscribed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., along with his shipmates who perished that day.
It was that selfless devotion to duty and the protection of others that I tried to instill in my character of the Gil-Gamesh. Writers take inspiration from a elements and experiences in their life, and I can’t think of a better inspiration than a true hero like Chief Farrier.
Here is an excerpt from The Dark Tides which recalls the event that brought Chief Bryan Drake from the real world to the mystical island of Avalon and into the role of the Gil-Gamesh.
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.
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.