Vince Flynn never served in the military but he had great respect for those who did. When his own dream of serving as a Marine pilot was thwarted by a history of concussions, he found a different way to serve. He used his platform as an internationally acclaimed author to shine a light on the unsung heroes of the military and clandestine services.
September would have been a big month for the Minnesota man who lost his battle with prostate cancer four years ago at age 47. This week the character he created, counterterrorism agent Mitch Rapp, makes his debut on the big screen in “American Assassin,” the motion picture based on the origin story. And last week the 16th book in the Rapp series, “Enemy of the State,” hit bookstores.
The woman who knew Vince best, Lysa Flynn, says her late husband wanted audiences to see how he viewed a hero and patriot. But the slow pace of negotiations with Hollywood meant Vince didn’t live to see his dream fulfilled. Lysa says Vince would be as pleased as she is with the film that features Dylan O’Brien in the role of Rapp, the CIA recruit, and Michael Keaton in the role of Stan Hurley, the man tasked with training him.
Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura was determined to remain true to the story and the vision he and Vince discussed. Lorenzo tries to add content to his films that either provokes a debate or sinks into somebody on a subconscious level. Many of Vince’s stories involve justice, retribution, and revenge, providing fodder for great debate, he says.
Lorenzo says Vince was skilled at presenting a worldview that encompasses the complexities of good and bad and with introducing bureaucratic characters readers love to hate, particularly the government officials who privately endorse Mitch Rapp’s missions but publicly condemn them.
Off the page Vince supported the troops and first responders. A mutual friend introduced him to founder JB Ball just as Tee It Up for the Troops was getting its sea legs. Read in on TIUFTT’s mission to “honor, respect, remember and support” military veterans and their families, Vince signed on. Over the years he was a generous donor. His father played in golf tournaments. His mother donated her paintings to silent auctions.
This week, Lysa Flynn will host military and first responders at showings of “American Assassin.” It was Lysa who encouraged me to reach out to JB for a few words about the author. But JB had more than a few words to say about the man who shared his passion for helping the troops.
“Some people demand respect, some earn it, some hope to get it,” JB says. “With Vince it was a natural. People respected him for just the individual that he was.
“When we had events we had celebrities, athletes, politicians, business leaders, media, veterans, first responders, and just every day citizens. Vince didn’t carry himself any differently being a successful writer than when he was a bartender. He talked to everybody and if he was talking to you he was in that moment with you.”
The son, father, brother, and friend of soldiers, JB never served in the military, something he spoke of with Vince. “We often talked about not being able to enter that bubble and have that conversation with those who’ve actually raised their right hand and worn the uniform,” JB says.
Vince was interested and inquisitive, adept at soliciting background for his novels. “He often took aside some of the veterans (especially the combat-altered veterans) that met him and you would find him sitting alone with those individuals. To this day I don’t know what those conversations were about but he just wanted them to have somebody to vent to, to just talk to, to share the story with because people just wanted to talk to him.”
Vince was known for his tenacity and resilience. Diagnosed with dyslexia in grade school, he nevertheless published 14 bestselling novels in less than 20 years. But he counted on others to proofread manuscripts, as he couldn’t discern the difference between “red” and “read.”
Vince’s first manuscript, “Term Limits,” was rejected by more than 60 publishers. Undeterred, he found financial backers and self-published the books he stored in the trunk of his car.
When he’d sold several thousand books he landed first an agent then a book deal with Simon & Schuster. He was a regular on the New York Times bestseller list. After his unexpected death, Simon & Schuster retained author Kyle Mills to continue the series. Mills just published his third Mitch Rapp book, “Enemy of the State,” and is working on the next. Unlike Vince, Mills has a family history with the clandestine services to draw upon for sources and inspiration.
JB often visits military hospitals, Vince Flynn novels in hand. That he knew Vince gives him more street cred than that he was the father of a soldier, he says.
Mitch Rapp stories are cherished items in military care packages. JB hears about soldiers who tear pages from the books to take them along on missions. With others waiting for the next chapter it’s an additional incentive to return from the mission.
“A friend of my son’s once said that Vince created the character of Mitch Rapp and Mitch Rapp was who every man wanted to be and every woman wanted their man to be,” JB says. “I said that Vince may have created Mitch but they shared the same shadow.”