Vets defend, question book

Veterans Maurice Reed (left) and Steve Driscoll, at the American Legion post on James Island, don’t like the idea of a former Navy SEAL revealing possibly classified information in a book he wrote about the killing of Osama bin Laden.

The guys at the American Legion post on James Island don’t have a lot of nice things to say about the SEAL who helped snare Osama bin Laden, then wrote a tell-all book about it.

“It’s commercial,” retired Marine Steve Driscoll, of Johns Island, said after “No Easy Day” went on sale.

“I don’t know if he betrayed them,” Driscoll added, pointing to the other SEAL team raiders who risked their lives. “But he certainly cheapened what they did.”

A day after its release, Charleston-area sales of the book that ranked No. 1 on the Pentagon’s hit list were mixed. At the Books-A-Million in North Charleston — not far from the region’s two major military installations — clerks reported only about three copies had been sold as of lunchtime Wednesday.

At the Barnes & Noble in West Ashley, a salesperson said the store sold out its allotment almost immediately and had to order more.

One of those eagerly buying a new copy was Summerville resident Margaret Todd, an Air Force veteran and nurse who served in the 1960s. She walked a zig-zag path through the store until she found a stack of new arrivals from the initial run of 575,000.

Todd, who called the SEALs “great,” has read at least a dozen books about the covert group written by other former SEALs. She has no qualms about giving author Matt Bissonnette a sale.

“I think he has a right to tell his story,” she said. “I don’t think he’s leaking secrets about it. It’s over and done with.”

That’s not what the Pentagon says. Ranking officers contend that the insider account of the May 2011 raid in Pakistan that killed bin Laden contains “sensitive and classified” information that could provide valuable intelligence to America’s enemies.

Bissonnette, who wrote under the pseudonym Mark Owen, could face criminal prosecution for letting secrets leak and breaking his non-disclosure agreements.

That oath obliged him to “never divulge” classified information, the military contends, and stays in effect after active duty. Bissonnette reportedly left active duty around April 20, or nearly a year after the raid.

Since the start of U.S. history it has not been unheard of for military men who took part in daring raids or battles to quickly chronicle, or even capitalize, on their wartime acts.

One notable example is B-25 bomber pilot Capt. Ted Lawson, who published “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” about the 1942 Jimmy Doolittle air raid on Japan within a year of the attack. A year later, his story became a Hollywood movie.

Similar publicity is growing for the bin Laden raid. A film version of the event called “Zero Dark Thirty,” by Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow of “The Hurt Locker,” is coming as well.

Still, some of the vets at the James Island Legion Post 147 didn’t like the idea of one sailor, especially coming from such an elite level, telling things the Pentagon didn’t want disclosed.

“Hopefully it hasn’t hurt the SEALs, but it may have,” said Maurice Reed, of James Island, a 1950s veteran of the Canadian Air Force.

Book sellers aren’t the only ones locally making the account available. The Charleston County Library system has ordered 20 copies of “No Easy Day” and has a backlog of 34 people seeking to reserve one for checkout, even before the shipment has arrived from the publisher.

Rodger Smith, manager of library collections, said he made a decision long ago to order the book.

“As soon as the controversy arose,” he said.

The library has a responsibility to “supply what our community is interested in,” Smith said.

Meanwhile, Driscoll, the Marine vet who did a tour in Vietnam, said the issue hits two areas that could damage national interests — the continued safety of the SEALs and one individual potentially breaking an oath to safeguard secrets in exchange for money.

“Money talks,” he said, “and if confidence walks, what’s going to happen to us?”

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.