Many times in fiction, we watch heroes go on great adventures, fight villains, and save the day. As much as we admire and enjoy this, we tend to think of these things as fictional, false, fake.
I’m here to tell you it’s real. I’m here to tell you about Peter Grant, who blogs at Bayou Renaissance Man. He’s like the real-life version of an action movie hero or cartoon character.
Peter Grant was born and raised in South Africa during the dark days of Apartheid. He served in the South African Defence Force, which put him in the thick of Africa’s many wars. Here’s one small example of what he experienced:
We hit a well-set ambush in thick African bush, the classic L-formation along a trail. Those of you who are combat veterans will know how it went: the sudden explosion of noise as weapons opened up on us, the frozen split-second of shocked disbelief and the instant orders from the Lieutenant to charge down the ambush and take the fight to the insurgents…if you’ve been there, you know.
There are a lot of other stories like that. But he had plenty of hard fights right in South Africa, going toe-to-toe with the forces of Apartheid and the conflict and suffering that they unleashed upon innocent people:
For well over a decade we worked to get the victims of violence out of the nightmare situations in which they found themselves. Sometimes we’d go into the thick of a fight to get the people out. At other times we couldn’t do that (it was, for example, illegal for people of one race to be in an area designated for another, particularly during an “emergency”, and many of us ended up in police detention at one time or another), and we had to wait for the worst of the violence to pass before we could do our work. By rough count, we assisted, evacuated, fed, sheltered and got medical attention for several thousand people during those years. We didn’t bother to keep an exact tally.
Like any good action series, his life had comedy…
During the small hours of the morning, a person or persons unknown proceeded to booby-trap the officers’ latrines. Each of the five stalls received a flash-bang (a training grenade making a very loud bang and a big flash) concealed in the thatch roof above it. All five were wired together in a ring-main and connected to a pressure switch. (The latter is something that looks like the letter U turned on its side. When the two prongs are pressed together they complete an electrical circuit, which fires a detonator). The pressure switch was concealed beneath the plastic toilet seat in the center cubicle.
Next morning reveille was sounded at 05h45. The Sergeant-Major (unusually, up and already dressed at so early an hour) somehow managed to detain the Major and a Captain in conversation as the eager-beaver Second Lieutenants headed for the latrine. As good fortune would have it, they’d occupied three of the stalls before a fourth entered the center cubicle and sat down.
…but also tragedy, where he had gazed into the face of evil.
An Army patrol from another nation arrived at the village a day later. They wouldn’t normally have gone there, but they’d seen the smoke of burning huts the day before, and cautiously came to investigate. They were in the area because their country had become involved in the conflict, supporting pro-Western forces (as did the United States, during those years). The patrol was aghast beyond speech at what they found. Those villagers still alive were hanging on their stakes, moaning, crying out, begging for help. All around them lay the bodies of those fortunate enough to have been killed before they could be impaled. Women, adolescents, even small children wriggled, screamed and begged for mercy atop their stakes. Right next to them, the vultures and jackals feasted on the dead – even, sometimes, on those still alive, who were too weak to defend themselves.
(This snippet does NOT do it justice.)
In his struggle against evil, he had formed many friendships and lost several comrades, but one that stands out is his bond with the Zulu chief Inyati.
I first met Inyati in 1984. He was working on a gold mine near Johannesburg, South Africa, and had risen to the status of induna (roughly translated as ‘head-man’ on the mines, or, in tribal context, ‘war leader’ of an impi or regimental-size battle unit). I was trying to provide some assistance to members of a nearby community, disrupted by violence…[he] used his influence to help me get to local leaders, mediate a truce between opposing factions, and help those ‘caught in the middle’, who didn’t care two hoots about politics, but cared greatly about staying alive and healthy.
When all was said and done and Apartheid had fallen, he moved to the United States and married an Alaskan pilot. Today, he is an author of science fiction novels.
He lived through the stuff we only watch on TV or read about in books. If you’re looking for a real-life example of those fantasy heroes, Peter Grant is the closest you’ll ever get.
If his life were an anime, this would be the ending song, except the beginning lyrics would be in Afrikaans, not Japanese.