How Much Grit Does It Take?

A Review of Saved: A War Reporter’s Mission to Make it Home by Benjamin Hall

“You got to have a dream. If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna make a dream come true?”*

So, no dream = no passion = no reason to move= marking time = stagnation = failure. So, we start with a dream.

I just finished reading Saved: A War Reporter’s Mission to Make it Home by Benjamin Hall and WOW this book is worth reading. Hall is all about having a dream. His life illustrates where having a dream can lead and the importance of having a dream.

Hall is one of those rare creatures who repeatedly put himself in harm’s way. From the beginning of his career, he wanted to witness wars from the frontlines. The first part of the book describes, as best has he can, what it was in Hall’s upbringing that caused his passion for covering wars. First, Hall’s father spent years of his childhood during World War II in Manila, Philippines in a Japanese internment camp for civilians. His father conveyed to Hall his amazing respect for the U.S. military because the U.S. military rescued him and his siblings from the special hell they had endured under the Japanese occupation. Hall’s father went on to serve in the U.S. military. From his mother, Hall gained a sense of adventure and quest to travel. Put all that together and for reasons that are still amazing Hall decided that he wanted to cover wars from the frontlines as a journalist.

The first sections of the book are about the struggles Hall and a friend had to get to the frontlines of various wars, the incredible destruction, both human and physical infrastructure, the lack of any sponsors for their reporting (i.e., doing all the reporting and photographing while placing themselves at risk without an audience to share their journalistic endeavors or even a paycheck for their troubles). Then Hall got married. He was hired by Fox News and assigned to its London news bureau. Hall and his wife had three daughters. All was going swimmingly. He had a wonderful family, a paycheck and an interesting job. Then, on February 24, 2022, Russian invaded Ukraine.

When Hall was called upon by Fox News to cover the war in Ukraine the author and his wife had to think about the potential ramifications. Since Hall had that calling to cover news from the frontlines and his wife understood that calling, they jointly agreed Hall should go to Ukraine.

The second section of the book is about what Hall and the Fox News crew saw in Ukraine after the Russian invasion and about the bombing of March 14, 2022.

On March 14, 2022, while touring a “safe zone” near the front around Kyiv, the car carrying Hall, the Fox News photographer, Pierre Zakrewski, Oleksandra (Sasha) Kuvshinova, their Ukrainian media handler, and two Ukrainian security force participants, was hit by a bomb, most likely from a Russian drone. Hall, the sole survivor of the bombing, was severely injured.

Hall survived the attacks only by the miraculous conjoining of multiple events and forces but initially because while he lay in the burning car, he was roused out of his bomb-damaged stupor when he distinctly heard his young daughter telling him, “Daddy, you’ve got to get out of the car.” He did and after a while was able to wave down the sole vehicle that would be passing the area for hours or, perhaps, for days. From rescue on the roadside to exit from Ukraine, there were multiple miracles that occurred. Each of those miracles made it clear that Hall was meant to get out of that car and out of Kyiv and out of Ukraine.

But the point of this article is about the third part of the book – getting Hall from hospital to home. Hall’s wounds were egregious: skull fracture; retinal detachment, lost iris, lens and cornea, left thumb metacarpal almost completely shattered and partially missing, right leg amputated below the knee; left leg missing calf muscle, a severely damaged left hand, and left foot in tatters Then there also were burns on his left leg and left hand.

Assigned to a military hospital in San Antonio, TX (quite the story there too), Hall was told he should expect to spend two years before he would leave the hospital – that period included about four months of reconstruction, surgical endeavors, the prosthetic learning process and unplanned hiccoughs.

Hall describes the extensive work he had to go through: “What made it tolerable for me was the sense of mission: I had to get out of the hospital and back to London as soon as humanly possible. “ As to the news that it could take him two years to get home, he writes: “What I was thinking, however, was No way, that’s not happening. I am going home way before then. I’m thinking months, not years. It did not matter to me if that was realistic or not; I needed to believe it was possible and I needed to have it as a goal I could work relentlessly toward.”

The book describes the various steps taken by members of the team to deal with Hall’s multiple issues. What is overwhelmingly transparent and awe-inspiring in Hall’s odyssey is the pure grit he displayed. Hall worked with one physical therapist, Kelly, Wednesdays to Saturdays for up to six hours a day.

Hall reports about his physical therapy: “It was often extremely painful, and Kelly would always ask me about the pain, and I’d always tell him I was fine, though he could surely tell from my grimace that I wasn’t.”

He goes on: “But I loved it all. I didn’t shy away from any of it. I never once begged out of a gym session, or any other procedure or treatment. I tried to approach every exercise, every surgery, every IV tube insertion with energy and enthusiasm. Kelly told me he was going to steal my blood and bottle it and give it to other patients.”

Reading about the horrors of war, the nightmarish bombing of Hall and his colleagues, his miraculous survival and escape from Ukraine; the medical and surgical procedures he went through, his physical therapy and ultimate return to London by August 29 [about five and one-half months after the bombing!], in time for his daughter’s birthday, and writing a book within a year of the bombing is both inspiring and humbling. All this makes Saved a book well worth reading both for the story and to try to glean what makes people like Hall tick.

Additionally, maybe the reader can get some notion as to how to motivate him or herself too. What gives certain people the ability to fight so hard; to be so determined? Is this determination in everyone or just some? Is it about Benjamin Hall uniquely? I don’t think so – Hall’s life was spent pursuing his dream job and ultimately it was a dream that inspired him – to get home to his family after what could have been an injury that caused him to withdraw from his family and his life.

What would give each of US the grit needed in similar circumstances? What would be sufficiently powerful to force each of us to work so hard to make our dream come true?

Now, we’re back where we started: Dream creates passion creates reason to advance and reason to make progress and reason to achieve success.

“Happy talk, keep talking’ happy talk,

Talk about things you’d like to do.

You got to have a dream,

If you don’t have a dream,

How you gonna have a dream come true?

“If you don’t talk happy,

And you never have dream,

Then you’ll never have a dream come true!”*

*Excerpts from “Happy Talk” by Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers from the movie South Pacific.