I met men like this a thousand times in the wilds and on the frontlines of the Bosnian war during the 1990s. I recall one sort of simple bearded Serb soldier in the town of Vlasenica. Dressed, and over-stuffed into a Serbian combat uniform, he evoked images of the Serbian Hajduk(Hi-dook) fighters who battled the Turks through the 19th and early 20th Century. Rough mountain man would only be a partial description. He was a towering and imposing figure, with intense green eyes, untrimmed black beard and scraggly uncombed black hair. Being the only American in those parts, he took an unexpected liking to me, and smiled a yellow-toothed grin at my terribly broken Serbo-croatian. As he departed the bus, the man laid his massive hand on my shoulder, almost knocking the breath from me at the sheer power.
I tell that story to set the stage for this one. This week in the southern Bosnian town of Gacko, a typical mountain halfway point on the road between Sarajevo and the Montenegrin capital of Niksic, a legend may have begun. Local shephard, Blazo Grkic, 48, was tending his flock of sheep on a mountain near the town. A female brown bear appeared and charged into the flock. Bosnian bears typically are smaller than Alaskan and Canadian Brown bears, but not significantly.
Grkic, from his hospital bed, who had only an axe for defense, claims that the bear then turned and charged him, swiping away the axe. Earlier reports said that the bear had entered a nearby village and carried away two other sheep.
“One minute one of my hands were held in the bear’s claws,” he told a local reporter, “the other hand was around the bear’s neck until she fell down.”
The bear was found dead in the field. Grkic, who reportedly had a reputation for fearlessness in the village, was seriously injured, with severe bite and claw marks to his hands and legs. Grkic is expected to make a complete recovery.
Take that, Chuck Norris.
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