Strange Relic From a Day in Iraq

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I think about the angle of the wound and the entrance point. Bayardo was to my right, and the shots came from my left. Bayardo’s injury is smack in the middle of his neck. A nearly impossible shot.

I think about the crow with the bloodied beak. Could the bird, frightened by the shots, have flown into the back of Bayardo’s neck? Was Bayardo wounded by the crow’s beak?

That had to be it—a freak accident.

I tell the corpsman and Bayardo what I saw, and what I suspected. The corpsman agrees that that's what must have happened. As improbable as it seems, it's the only explanation that makes sense. He has a good laugh as he patches up Bayardo.

Spent bullet casings litter a street in Iraq.
Photo: James McCauley/Flickr/cc-by-2.0

They say that God answers many prayers, but whose does He answer, ours or the enemy's? Both sides are equally loved by Him. This is what makes God's role in war so difficult to fathom.

Bayardo and I laugh too, but it’s more of a nervous laugh. Like, thank God it was just a bird. We joke that Bayardo was wounded by the Iraqi air force. Later, our comrades jump in on the joke.

In the weeks after Bayardo's injury, we go out on a few more missions. But there are no major incidents. For us, the war is over for now. We head back to Kuwait and eventually return to the States.

The next year, I am back in Iraq with another driver. This time Bayardo stays behind. He gets married, has children and leaves the Marines. When we think of it, we both enjoy sharing our strange war story with family and friends.

Seven years later. Bayardo, now a civilian tank mechanic for the military, starts to feel his neck bother him. This goes on for a few days, maybe a week. It doesn’t go away. In fact, it gets worse.

Finally he decides to go to the VA hospital and get it checked out. After they take some X-rays, the doctor comes back and asks, “Have you ever been shot?”

“No,” he says.

“Well, there’s a bullet lodged into the back of your neck.”

When Bayardo calls to tell me the news, he asks me to write an incident report. I was the only other person present that day, and he really doesn't recall much of what happened. That's not unusual, trauma therapists say. People often forget moments of extreme stress.