Sunday, May 10, 2009

all both alike and different

"War stories, like Holocaust stories, are all both alike and different, and all improbable; each turns on moments of hor­ror, serendipity, and unimaginable bravery. Sitting next to me at Fran O'Brien's was Steve Reighard, of Bloomington, Indiana, who was hacking one-handed with a combination knife-fork at a steak the size of a dictionary. 'They am­bushed us,' he said. 'I'm standing there trying to realize what happened and my arm is laying there. I picked it up and fell in the dirt.' Across the table, Robert Acosta, of Santa Ana, California, manipulated a steak knife with his stainless-steel hook. 'They threw a hand grenade in my truck,' he said. 'I picked it up and, damn, dropped it down between my legs. When I grabbed it again, it blew up in my hand.' At Walter Reed, Phil Bauer, a strapping cavalry scout from upstate New York, had described being on a Chinook heli­copter that was shot down on November 2nd, killing fifteen soldiers on their way to a short leave. When he came to, he said, he was pinned atop the open-eyed corpse of a woman soldier to whom he'd just given a piece of gum. His leg was jammed beneath the burning roof of the Chinook, and he had to lie there, without morphine, for two hours while a 'jaws of life' appa­ratus was flown in from Tikrit. 'It was like cooking a steak with the cover down,' he said. He lost his right leg below the knee. At the dinner, a soldier named Ed Platt, from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, told me that the signature moment of his calamity was when the medics used the ribbons of his leg--­shattered by a rocket-propelled grenade--as its own tourniquet. 'They just folded it up,' he said. 'I looked down and I'm looking at the sole of my boot.' He shuddered. 'OK, cool, whatever, dude,' he muttered to himself as he finished his story. Doctors amputated just below Platt's right hip."

--Dan Baum, "The Casualty," The New Yorker, 2004 March 8

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