ON FEB. 15, 2005, all four platoons from Dog Company rolled out to patrol an area near Cemetery Street in Ramadi. It was a well-known haven for snipers. Mike, manning a machine gun, was in a Humvee with a driver and a truck commander, facing south. The unit had "strong-pointed," which means that Humvees were pointed in all directions, to provide security for their platoon leader, who was inside a nearby building interviewing Iraqis. It was about four in the afternoon.
Suddenly the familiar pop of sniper fire erupted. Crowell identified the weapon as a Dragunov, a Russian-made sniper rifle with a sound like a whip cracking. Mike ducked into the turret, then stuck his head out again to fire a shot. Crowell—who was in another Humvee facing west, about 30 feet away—remembers hearing four shots, after which he heard a scream: "Somebody get over here and help me! Right now!" He is almost positive that the fourth shot was the one that hit Mike, the bullet entering right behind his nose and into his carotid artery.
Crowell leaped from his vehicle and ran to Mike, as did a staff sergeant named Richard Hall. They sat Mike up. Crowell applied gentle pressure to the carotid artery on the right side of his neck, trying to control the bleeding. Crowell was wearing a pair of Nomex flame-retardant gloves, as he always did when on patrol. The sergeant is fairly certain that Mike was alive for a few moments, but the pulse he felt through the gushing blood grew fainter and fainter. "After about two to three minutes," says Crowell, "I couldn't feel anything."
That night, as his unit quietly mourned the Kool-Aid Kid, Crowell sat by himself and smoked a cigarette. He had been trying to quit, and he lit this one in anger. "I remember thinking, Why take Mike?" says Crowell. "Why take one of the nicest guys on the planet? Why not take me?"
ON NOV. 17, 1969, his first day in Vietnam, Bobby and a soldier named Nolan Cook became instant friends. Their unit—B Company, 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry Regiment—stayed out on missions for days at a time, sleeping in ditches and rice paddies. The jungle was relentlessly wet. When they awoke, they inspected each other for leeches, using lit cigarettes to remove them. In most of his letters Bobby, who was always fastidious about his appearance, mentioned how badly he wanted a shower.
Bobby's squad celebrated Nolan's 21st birthday into the morning hours of Jan. 17, 1970, getting rip-roaring plastered. The following day the squad was informed that another B Company platoon needed an additional soldier for a three- or four-day mission to help guard a trail in the mountains about 20 miles from camp. Bobby volunteered.
As Bobby prepared to leave, he said to Nolan, "If something happens to me, you know where the pictures are." A week earlier Bobby had received a few photos of his wife. He cut a slit in his mattress and stored them there. "Make sure Janice gets these back," Bobby said.
"Nothing's going to happen," Nolan replied. "See you soon."