Sometime around 6 p.m. on Jan. 20 Bobby's squad leader sent him and another soldier out to set mines and guard the trail's perimeter. A couple of other soldiers were deployed nearby. The area was heavy with brush and trees. Darkness was falling. Bobby and his partner were about 75 yards from the squad leader and the rest of the men, hidden from them by a berm.
According to an Army report of the incident, at 6:32 Bobby's squad leader went to search for the two soldiers, whom he was unable to locate. In the dim light he spotted an individual whose movements, investigators wrote, "seemed furtive" and "who appeared to be trying to hide." The squad leader said that he shouted "fire in the hole" three times (a command that says friendly fire is about to commence). Hearing no response, he fired several rounds.
Upon realizing that he had hit Bobby in the chest, the squad leader immediately called for a helicopter. Meanwhile, a medic rushed to Bobby, whose chest was oozing blood. The copter arrived 18 minutes after it was called, fast time considering the remoteness of the area. Bobby was put on a stretcher and taken away. But he was already dead.
Word reached base camp a couple of hours later. The identity of the victim wasn't reported at first. Nolan prayed that it wasn't Bobby. Then the men from the mission returned a few days later, and Nolan and the others gathered in front of their tent. Someone explained what had happened and said it was Bobby who died.
Then, according to Nolan, the squad leader who had shot Bobby spoke. "I'm sorry," he said. "It was my mistake. I'm sorry."
Nolan looked at the squad leader and said, "Watch your back. If you don't, you might not make it out of here alive."
That night, Nolan waited until he was alone before reaching into Bobby's mattress for the photos. He tucked them away in his footlocker. Then he sat down and wrote a letter to Janice Gasko, which he concluded with these words:
I pray the Lord will be with you. I know you lost a great man, for I have lost my best buddy.
P.F.C. Nolan E. Cook
Less than a week after Bobby died, Nolan was transferred out of the company. About a year later, while on leave, Nolan went to New Jersey and gave the photos to Janice. Soldiers did that kind of thing all the time. They still do.