for his own death, suddenly heard pain in Pat's voice. A moment of silence
passed, then he heard what sounded like water gurgling down the hill, felt his
O'Neal turned. It
wasn't water. It was a river of blood. The back of Pat's head was gone.
Oh my God! Oh, my
God!" Russ heard O'Neal screaming when the shooting finally ceased. Russ
saw O'Neal yanking off his helmet and trying to tear off his bloody clothes.
Russ then saw platoon mates go over toward O'Neal with a stretcher and carry a
body down that hill. But Russ's mind refused to ask whose body it was or to add
things up, because one plus one would equal devastation.
security for three quarters of an hour, his eyes scanning the terrain for the
enemy to make sure the ambush was over, his head still in the sand. A vehicle
pulled up, Kevin perched in the turret. He'd been far to the rear, in the last
vehicle of Serial 2, and knew nothing about what had happened to Pat or the two
other Black Sheep, Uthlaut and his radio operator, who'd been wounded,
possibly, by the spray of bullets from that lead GMV. He kept asking where Pat
was, wondering why he hadn't heard his brother's booming voice, but no one, as
yet, had found the courage to tell him. "Hey, what's up?" Kevin finally
called out to Russ. Just then, a sergeant approached Kevin and said softly,
"I'm sorry, I hate to be the one to tell you this ... but your brother was
said Kevin. "What? ... WHAT?"
All at once Russ
felt as if there were a black hole inside of him, sucking everything into it.
He watched a helicopter take away Pat's body; a second one came for Kevin.
Quietly, in small groups, the men began comparing their versions of what had
occurred. The unspeakable realization began to grip the Black Sheep. America's
most renowned soldier was dead, and they had killed him.
last, began to form in the fog of Russ's mind as he awoke the next morning.
Damn, he wondered, how could that have happened, a total clusterf---, with men
of this quality, men he respected and loved, Army Rangers? Sure, you squeeze
off a few rounds in the direction your squad leader fires--that's
understandable. But then you're taught to scan and wait, identify an enemy
target before you start blazing again. Why had so many guys just kept shooting
and shooting? But he hadn't been in their shoes, seen or felt what they had
while roaring out of that trap in the canyon and thinking they were running
into the ambush's second wave. Some of them would say later that the light was
bad, that all they could see were shapes and muzzle fire because the sun was
setting behind that hill. Some--not unlike Pat's old football teammates, wide
receivers Pat had flattened during light-contact scrimmages--felt that Pat had
been overaggressive, placing his team at risk, even though he had received
permission for the position he'd staked.
The sun rose on
their silent camp. Russ saw the haunting in those gunners' eyes, and he felt
sick for them. They'd been hung out to dry--all of them, he felt--by leadership
decisions made back at the FOB.
headed back there that day, and the haunting only grew worse. Notices went
around, high- and low-ranking soldiers alike called to testify in the Army's
initial investigation into Pat's death. The Black Sheep wept and couldn't
sleep, one of them growing dizzy at each reference to the horror. They gathered
in a large room with a chaplain and officers to vent--a "critical incident
stress debrief," in Army lexicon--where they yelled at each other, then
talked and cried on each other's shoulders. A colonel told some of them that
everyone was to blame, not any individual. It wasn't enough. The platoon, Russ
felt, was destroyed, the men in it damaged for the rest of their lives.
Russ missed the
stress debrief. As the Tillmans' closest platoon mate, he was chosen to escort
Kevin on a flight to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, to stare for hours at
that refrigerated coffin. The two men flew in silence, Russ under orders to say
nothing about the incident, "until we get the facts," and Kevin still
assuming that the enemy had killed his brother, too stunned and grief-stricken
to ask Russ for details.