Strange Relic From a Day in Iraq

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But I remember it clearly. Bayardo's phone call triggered the same fear and panic that had sickened me that day. Even now, I sometimes relive the moment in my head. I feel guilty knowing that my interpretation of events probably kept my friend from getting further treatment at the time. Instead of being medevaced to Germany, he got bandaged up and finished his time in theater.

X-ray photo showing the bullet still lodged in the neck of the author's tank driver.

The VA's X-ray shows the bullet (upper left corner) still lodged in the neck of Adolfo Bayardo (used by permission).

But in another sense, I’m glad it went down the way it did. Bayardo was able to calm down and deal with just how narrowly he escaped death when he was ready. He now says that he'd always thought that he'd been shot, not wounded by a bird, but that he was afraid to ask for another medical exam. I guess when you think you're going to die, and someone tells you it's only a scratch, you don't want to argue the point.

I now wonder if I had a role to play that day. Maybe I was there to calm Bayardo and give him some peace. Is that why I saw the crow? Is that why the crow was there? Some people might think that I envisioned it. Bayardo didn't see it, and nobody else was around. But I swear to God that I saw that bird.

Or did I have another purpose? When I first deployed to Iraq, I had a hard time reconciling my faith with my mission. I was a U.S. Marine, so it was my job to seek out and destroy the enemy. I could never call on God to strike down another person. I could only pray that He look over us and keep us safe. And that was that I did: I prayed for Bayardo's well-being.

A 7.62 mm round remains in Bayardo's neck, too deep to remove without risk of paralyzing or killing him. I still don't know how the bullet penetrated his neck, or why the crow had blood on its beak. But I take it as an omen. God had a plan for my driver, and it was to not die that day.

The author deployed to Iraq in 2003 and 2004. He now lives in Southern California. On June 27, 2011, tank driver Adolfo Bayardo was formally presented the Purple Heart for the bullet wound that he suffered to his neck eight years earlier in Baghdad.