Strange Relic From a Day in Iraq

A Marine's faith, shaken on the battlefield, is reaffirmed seven years after a comrade is grievously wounded.

Bayardo's blood runs down his flak jacket, forming a small red puddle on the ground. My hand presses against the wound on the back of his neck, but I can't stop the hemorrhaging. With each beat of Bayardo's heart, with every pulse of his artery, blood seeps between my fingers and trickles away.

“God, no,” I pray.

This can't be happening. We are near the end of our deployment. We've survived firefights far more dangerous than this. This can't be happening. Not here, not now.

Two Marines support a wounded comrade in a darkened building.
Photo: CatherineCRoberts/Flickr/cc-by-nc-nd-2.0

We are at Baghdad's water district building, days after one of our armored vehicles pulled down the towering statue of Saddam Hussein in the city's main square. It's strongly fortified with brick walls, an iron-barred fence and solid metal gates. Inside the compound, there are about a dozen tanks and 70 or so Marines. Snipers are in the towers, and a couple of "rovers" patrol inside the perimeter. For the most part, this is supposed to be a safe place to be.

But even in the most secure location, the difference between life and death can be seconds or inches. Sometimes less.

Only a moment before, we were safe inside the building with the rest of our unit. For the first time since the invasion, we had time to ourselves and to hang our helmets. No one wanted to be in the hot sun. When Bayardo and I stepped out to fetch a pair of clippers from a tank, we were the only Marines on the grounds.

It happened so fast. First we heard tires screeching around a corner on the other side of the walls, then a revved-up engine getting closer to the gates. As a small white pick-up sped past a lower section of the wall, a gunman sprayed a magazine through the bars. The vehicle turned a corner and disappeared before anyone could return fire.

For a just a brief second, I felt relief. We had crouched down as soon as the firing started, making a smaller target. The truck was moving so fast that the shooter wouldn't have been able to hit anything, anyway. But when I look to Bayardo, I'm sickened with anguish.

Blood spews from the back of Bayardo's neck and sprinkles the dusty ground at our feet. He screams.

“I'm hit!”

Time stops; my senses become acute.