The mystery of J.C. Pollock

Correction:

See the updates at the end of this post. If you don’t think you’ll make it that far, at least see the August, 2013 Update and Correction to this post! It explains how the “Pollock in SOG” story got started, and what the real facts are– Pollock himself never made such a claim. -Eds.

In the 1980s, if there was one fiction writer the guys in 10th Special Forces Group were reading, it was J.C. Pollock. After all, he was one of our own: jacket copy indicated he was former SF and a SOG veteran of Vietnam, and a member of the Special Operations Association. He surged on to the scene in 1981 with Mission: MIA, a book that addressed the then-common belief that the US had abandoned prisoners to the inhumane North Vietnamese. This belief supported dozens of movies — ranging from well-acted to dreadful — and hundreds of books, both nonfiction and fiction.

In the end, DNA technology, which replaced the haphazard “morphological estimation” (translated to Anglo-Saxon, “shape guessing”) used by the inept 1980s’ crew at the Central Identification Laboratory — Hawaii, has resolved and continues to resolve problematical MIA cases from Vietnam (and from earlier wars). The discrepancy cases are fewer and fewer. Meanwhile, declassified cable traffic seems to indicate that if Kissinger didn’t abandon POWs, it’s not because it would have bothered him to do so. The cynical acceptance of a “decent interval” promise doomed the free men of Vietnam.

Perhaps they were doomed anyway.

Anyway, Mission: MIA, which some say was the underpinning for the similarly-themed Gene Hackman/Robert Stack film Uncommon Valor (IMDB disagrees, crediting the screenplay to Joe Gayton and story to Wings Hauser, who was not credited in the film), rocketed to bestseller status and led to Pollock’s white-hot run of bestselling novels, most of which featured SF or former-SF characters. One author’s appreciation of Mission:MIA is interesting, because he clearly has little sympathy with the author or characters, but he liked the book and notes that, as fantastical as it appears now, was arguably the most realistic of the “MIA Rescue” subgenre. We agree.

Pollock’s Crossfire was uncannily close to the actual experience of a 10th Group team that was dropped inadvertently in the wrong country due to a navigational error (disclaimer: this author wrote a novel on a similar theme at the same time) in the 1980s. The names of the SF men who fight, and mostly die, in the climactic battle, were an in-joke: most of them were the recycled names of fellow SOA members and recon legends of the Vietnam War. If you weren’t in the in-group, that went over your head. But we noticed it: some of those guys were our senior sergeants at the time. His other books Payback and Centrifuge were also highly successful.

Then the bottom fell out. Our memory is shaky, but as we recall it from those pre-Internet days, the veterans community discovered that Pollock was not a SOG veteran at all. He was a legitimate Marine combat vet of Vietnam, but not a SOGgie. (The members of SOG recon teams were exclusively Army members as far as we’ve been able to document, although there were a few who were second-tour LRRPs who had not gone to SF school… as we understand it, they and some similar Vietnam guys who were at A-camps or on other projects are the only SF men to have earned the qualification in combat). Pollock’s reputation took a napalm strike.

Pollock’s excuse was that he hadn’t added those claims, a publisher’s employee, publicist, or some similar flunky, had done so. (That’s a very common blowfish’s dodge on exposure; John Giduck says the same thing about his decades of SF/Ranger/Officer speaker bios). And he faded back into the shadows. Again, this is from memory: we thought about getting a Nexis subscription just to track down the 1990s news stories on him, but the price deterred us (over $1500 a year).

It doesn’t change the fact that he was a great writer, and some years later, a curious blogger tracked him down and determined that he was now working in Hollywood (where everyone’s backstory is hogwash anyway). His credits there include the direct-t0-DVD 2006 Cuba Gooding film, End Game. The blogger followed up later with news of other books Pollock has written under the name James Elliott.

We don’t wish Pollock ill. He is a great writer, and even though he was not a member of the Regiment, he wrote about us with care and credibility. We have no idea why men with honorable, good records choose to exaggerate them (or, if his word is to be believed, allow others to exaggerate them, which is the same crime in the same degree in our book). It’s a mystery, if a tragic one.

Mission: MIA like all its genre has not stood the test of time very well, but as a period piece it is a good read, and it is the best single entertainment on the “MIA Rescue” theme. All of his books are worthwhile adventures. Pollock’s suspenseful situations and (usually) doomed heroes make for good reading.

Updates

1. There is erroneous information in this post. There’s an extensive Update and Correction that was posted 2 August 2013, but wasn’t initially linked at this post. So people have been linking and thinking that that this is not just the right story but the whole story. So click that link to see the solution to the Mystery of JC Pollock!

2. See also our review, sort of, of Centrifuge, which review is mostly a war story about what we were doing while Jim was researching the book Crossfire.

3. We regret having created an impression that Jim Pollock is in any way comparable to the award-winning phony John Giduck. Read the update for the facts about Jim’s military career, and a little more about his publishing career (which is still ongoing).

4. We hear a rumor that the out-of-print Pollock books are soon going to be back in print, which is great news for adventure readers.