A Thought for Every Word


September 2003

Hialita, Panama

The steady stream of people appeared content to stand and wait their turn to ascend the hill. Some of them had traveled hundreds of miles to see the monument. Others came from as far as the United States of America. They wore hip packs or backpacks; carried bottles of water, bouquets of flowers, some carried candles. They talked to each other, comparing pictures and other treasures. And all of them held little slips of paper, folded and unfolded to the point where the paper creases had worn thin. Slips of paper stained with lipstick kisses; more often than not they were stained with tears.

Jane Carlsen, a reporter for the Washington Post, watched the stream of people and wondered if she could tell the story while managing to keep these simple people from the strain of publicity. Would she be able to keep them from being exploited by the outpouring of well-wishers? Or keep them from being tracked down by those with long memories bent on erasing all who fought against them?

It was a story that might change lives for better—or for worse. As the car she rode in passed the long line of people, Jane looked up at the hill and the monument. All those people silently paying their respects at the monument to a small group of freedom fighters whom most had never met. Never met except in the stories their parents or grandparents told them, she thought. Jane doubted her ability to tell the story as it should be told. Second-guessing if her words would adequately portray a dedicated team and those who followed them from Honduras to Colombia; driving out the monsters who trafficked in drugs, guns, and humans. They were a source of myth and legend in the deep jungles and primal forest regions of Central America.

Nevertheless, someone needed to tell the story. A story of six people chosen to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom—an honor not lightly bestowed. To let the moment pass without a single sentence from her would be a loss. To tell the story of this team and how they became a legend in a country not their own. Worlds away from the streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts where they first met; forming a bond strong enough to take them from one life to the next. Where to find the words, she thought, and where to begin?

This is the story of six Americans. Government agents sent on a mission that begins in the dusty offices of the Panama Canal Zone Closure committee in Panama City, Panama, in 1979. Knowing all along that their cover as administrators for the committee was a thinly veiled attempt to keep tabs on the birth pangs of the Colombian drug cartels. The agents find themselves neck-deep in intrigue and espionage. One woman and three men infiltrate a small group of Panamanians intent on saving the Darien Province, between Panama and Colombia, from being overrun by the drug labs. They rally with the Freedom Fighters, and a legend is born.

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