Ten years in the Army, counting reserve time, and another ten or so training for that ten years, I’ve known a lot of soldiers. None of them were like Dan Hill. There were resemblances. Many of them were suicidally brave, and many were smart. But none of them had his weird combination of implacable determination and natural talent.
I know Dan through Rick Rescorla, the hero of 9/11, and before that a hero of the Ia Drang campaign. It is Rick’s photo that graces the cover of We Were Soldiers Once… And Young, and it is Rick’s brains and guts that saved the lives of 2,700 Morgan Stanley employees in the World Trade Center. It was his effort to save the last eight that cost him his own life. And it was Dan’s intel work that gave him the knowledge to do so.
But I’m getting a bit ahead of the story. Dan’s dad was a hero of WWII and a virtual poster boy for PTSD from that conflict. When Dan was growing up, his dad was a prison guard for a military prison, and he grew up around rough men. Then he ran away and joined the circus. Then he started his own construction company at fifteen, and made a go of it. There’s more, and it’s fascinating, but it’s in the book and you should read it there. Dan’s mom was a bit scatterbrained, and his truck for his successful construction company was in her name. She sold it. Not one to cry over spilt milk, he forged her signature and joined the army at fifteen.
Did I mention that he spoke and wrote German? That and his sniper skills got him a gig with some, umm… people to go train snipers during the Hungarian revolt of 1956. He did well there, and that got him a gig with the same people running guns into Cuba. He did well there too, and when that slackened they asked him to go to the Congo and infiltrate the mercenaries there. He did that, and, not keeping the intended low profile, he ambushed a government convoy and dropped pretty much all of it into the river when he removed the bridge from under it.
Well, as rebel governments do, these rebels betrayed the mercs and didn’t pay them, so they knocked over some banks and hit the road. Dan went to Northern Rhodesia where he met Rescorla. Rick was a cop in Northern Rhodesia, actually a company commander in a paramilitary police company.
Rick was originally a Cornishman, and a football (soccer) star. But he didn’t go pro, as expected. He joined the British Army instead, and served in an “Airborne Intelligence Unit” on Cyprus. Later he was a London Bobby (“Most boring job I ever had…”), and from there went to Africa. When that folded, Dan convinced him to immigrate to the States and join the army. They both did.
Somewhere in there he led the recon platoon when the 11th Airborne jumped into Beirut and stopped a Syrian Invasion. That led to a fascination with Islam, which eventually led to conversion. That led to Dan fighting for the Muj against the Russians, and later to intelligence work among radical mosques in the U.S. Which is how Rick knew the 9/11 strike was coming.
A Life of Blood and Danger is a hell of a story. I’ve written five books about guerrilla warfare and edited a couple hundred of them. There is not another one like this. If you’re looking for thrills, they’re there. If you’re looking for historical knowledge and a unique perspective, oh baby, there it is.
If you’re looking to meet one hell of a soldier, this is probably the best chance you’re ever going to have.
(Editor’s Note: We recommend that you buy and read Dan Hills book A Life of Blood and Danger today.)