This story is dedicated to all the men and women who have fought for, and in some cases given their lives for, this country in its history. I am sure that there are many cases, similar to this one, where a young virgin soldier finds comfort in the arms of a woman as he lies mortally wounded on the battlefield. Semper Fi to the end.
The ambulance version of the military HumVee pulled out onto the street from the base hospital near the Baghdad International Airport in Iraq and headed down the 'Basara Highway' back to its MASH aid station about 15 klicks east of the airport. The ambulance had successfully delivered a wounded Marine who badly needed surgery, more than could be provided at the field aid station. The driver of the HumVee was eighteen year old Marine Private First Class Dennis Rader and his passenger was Navy Commander Nancy Roberts, the First Battalion, Seventh Marines, battalion surgeon.
Nancy sat back in the seat and pulled her flack jacket close around her chest. For God's sake she thought, women weren't even suppose to be in a combat zone but in the Iraqi war there were no clear lines, front or back, everyone, it seemed, was just on their own. Christ this was just like Vietnam all over except the fucking jungle was missing. Nancy was a 39 year old Navy reservist, a wife and a mother of a sixteen year old high school junior. When she stayed in the Navy reserves she had assumed that the closest she would ever get to the war was duty on a Navy hospital ship, but oh no, she had been assigned to the Marines. Good God, she was a Fellow in Emergency Medicine and she ran one of the largest trauma centers in Dallas, what was she doing in a shit hole on the outskirts of Baghdad?
Nancy looked over at her driver and the thought crossed her mind that he wasn't much older than Rob, her own son. "Hey Rader," she called, "how the hell did you end up in Iraq?"
"Oh I'm not sure Commander, just lucky I guess."
Lucky my ass! "How old are you Rader?"
"Eighteen ma'am... but I'll be nineteen in a couple of weeks."
Good grief Nancy thought, eighteen years old and dodging bullets for his country. Her mind wandered back to the 60's song, 'Where have all the Flowers Gone' and more specifically to the refrain about where had all the soldiers gone, and she thought the answer was 'dead and buried every one.' What was this world coming too anyway? Just then the sky around them was lit up by a huge explosion which was closely followed by a thunderous bang. Their HumVee rocked up on two wheels and started to swerve.
"Fuck!" Rader yelled. "Booby-trap!"
The HumVee righted itself for a fraction of a second then swerved to the left and went into a ditch and rolled over onto its left side. Rader was slumped down onto his door and Nancy was thrown on top of his prostrate body. She quickly moved so she could straddle him and see if he was OK. Nancy yelled,
"Rader, are you OK?"
He groggily shook his head and looked up at her. "I think so Commander. I've got a hell of a headache, but I think I'm OK." He reached out and grabbed the vehicles radio, praying that it still worked.
"Med-One to Juliet base. Med-One to Juliet base, over."
"Go ahead Med-One, this is Juliet base, over."
Juliet, we have been hit by a road side bomb and there are some unfriendlies around, need immediate assistance, over."
"Med-One, this is Juliet base, what is your position, over?"
"Juliet, we are about 8 klicks down the Basara Highway, headed home, over."
"Med-One, Juliet base. Assistance is on the way. Be advised that it may take a while, we are under attack here too, over."
"Med-One, understand, will await the posse. Med-One out."
"Christ Rader, we have to get the hell away from the vehicle before those guys come be back to see what's left of us."
"My thought's exactly Commander, you lead the way."
Nancy slowly opened her door that was now above her head and let it fall to the ground. She climbed out and Rader followed and they kept down behind the body of the vehicle, using it as a shield. Rader had his M-16 but Nancy only carried a side arm, a 9mm Beretta. She was just about to suggest that they head for the ruins of a two story house across the road when Rader collapsed onto the ground. Nancy's medical training quickly took over and she instinctively moved into position so she could evaluate what was wrong with the young Marine. She didn't see any obvious wounds or bleeding so she started a more thorough search of his body, then she felt the small hole just at the base of his skull, almost directly between and just above his shoulders. She felt the wound, which surprisingly enough wasn't bleeding and then realized that a piece of shrapnel had penetrated his skull and was imbedded at the base of his brain. As it was the piece of shrapnel would keep his head from bleeding but it would also cause that area of his brain to begin to swell. If she didn't get him somewhere in the next 12 hours or so she didn't think he would make it.
Nancy was successful in getting Rader's arm around her neck and pulling him to his feet. She grabbed his rifle and slung it over her other shoulder and then dragged him across the street and into the empty house. She saw the flight of stairs and lugged him up to the second floor landing, but by then she was breathing so hard that she had to rest. She let him slide down on his butt with his back against the wall and she went to find a vantage point to hid from any insurgent Iraqi's and if necessary, a position to defend themselves. It took her only a few seconds to spot the wooden pull down staircase that led up to the roof. She pulled out her Beretta, jacked a round into the chamber and pulled down the stair well. Nancy slowly crept up the stairs until her head was just even with the roof line then she peeked out - thank God there didn't seem to be anyone on the roof. Nancy looked around and saw that the roof line had a three foot wall around the whole house. That's good she thought, it will provide us protection from the street. She holstered her weapon and went back to collect Rader.
Rader seemed to be coming around. His eyes were open and semi-functioning and he was moving his legs, trying to stand up.
"Come on with me Rader." She urged the Marine.
"Uh... OK... where are we headed?"
"Up." That was all she said.
Up was all he heard, and then he blacked out again.
She helped the wounded Marine up the stairs and onto the roof then she pulled the stairs up and closed. She looked around but there was no way to secure the stairs from the roof, they would just have to defend the position as best they could. Nancy moved Rader to the street side of the roof behind a large chimney then she took off her flack jacket and made a head rest for the boy. She peeked over the roof line and looked down to the street below but all she saw so far was some inquisitive Iraqi's looking at their vehicle and around the area. Probably trying to figure out where we went to she thought. Nancy sat down against the wall, Raders' rifle in her lap ready just incase. She closed her eyes and tried to think of a way out of this situation.
"Where in the hell are we ma'am?"
His voice startled her and she turned and looked over at Rader. He was awake again and looking around. "Roof top, across from our vehicle."
"How did we get up here?" He asked the question although the answer was obvious to him.
"I hauled your ass across the road and up two flights of steps, that's how."
"Well, nice job Commander and thanks. Say, what made you take to the roof?"
"John Wayne movies, always take the high ground."
He laughed. "Well John Wayne or not, it was the right choice." He rubbed the back of his head and felt the small opening and then he pulled his hand in front of his face and saw some blood on his fingers. He looked over at the doctor and asked her, "How bad is it Commander?"
At first she wasn't sure what to tell him... the truth? Or maybe a little white lie so he wouldn't worry. No, he deserved the truth. "It's bad Rader maybe even fatal if we can't get you to a hospital. You've got a piece of shrapnel at the base of your brain and I think its leaking spinal fluid into the cranial cavity. In the next 10-12 hours we've got to get that shrapnel out of your brain or it will swell and shut down some bodily functions, like your heart and lungs."
"Swell, just fucking swell. Oh, I'm sorry ma'am."
"No problem Rader, that's exactly what I was thinking."
They decided to move their position so they were completely hidden behind the old adobe chimney that stuck up through the roof. It would at least provide some cover if the bad guys came up the stairs and on to the roof. Rader told Nancy that he thought they could keep any insurgents off the roof at least until their ammo ran out. The two of them sat quietly contemplating their future and their chances of even having a future. They took turns checking to see if any armed insurgents had arrived on site and after an hour decided that maybe they would be lucky, then the small arms firing began. Shots rang out plummeting into both the first and second floors, mostly around the already broken windows.
"Why are they shooting at the windows Rader?" She asked.
"To see if anyone returns fire, at least I think that's the reason. If we return their fire they'll know where we are and then they can concentrate on that area."
"So we just lay low?"
"Yup, until one of two things happen."
"Either the Calvary rides into Dodge or they come up the stairs looking for us."
The both just lay back, sweating in the heat of the day. Finally Rader looked up at Nancy and asked.
"Commander? How come you aren't scared? I mean you're just sit there like nothing is going on while were sitting here between a rock and a hard place."
"Jesus Rader, what makes you think I'm not scared. I'm about ready to piss my pants and if you could see my asshole you would know exactly what my pucker factor was. Hell, I don't want to die any more than the next person, I have a family in Dallas to think about."
Nancy crawled over to Rader and checked the back of his head. Still no bleeding, just some minor seepage, but there was a bit more of the clear cerebral-spinal fluid leaking. Not good, not good at all. She sat beside him and checked his vital signs and they were strong and stable, so far so good.
"So how am I doing doc?"
"Hanging in there Rader, hanging in there."
Rader looked into her eyes and saw something. "I think I'm going to die Commander." He just blurted it out.
"Not if I can help it pal, you just hang in there and let's wait for the troops."
Another hour passed and the small arms firing has all but ceased but when she looked over the roof edge she noticed some armed Iraqi's moving closer to the building. "I think the Indians have figured out where we are Rader. Now what?"
It's just a wait and see game Commander. If the stairs go down we'll know their coming up. We should have a pretty good chance of stopping them unless they have a RPG's or something."
Ten minutes later the stairs were pulled down and an Iraqi stuck his head up looking around to see if anyone was on the roof. When his chest rose above the roof line Rader put one shot clean through the center of his forehead. He fell back down the ladder and they both heard a lot of yelling amongst the insurgents on the second floor and then their guns opened up and a lot of bullets began whizzing up through the opening.
"I got an idea Commander, but I'll need your help."
"You've got it, what can I do?"
"Well I'm going to crawl over to the stairs and toss down a grenade. With any luck it will take out some of them but better yet it will take out the wooden staircase and without stairs there isn't any access to the roof. You'll need to cover me with the M-16. Give me your 9mm."
Nancy handed him her weapon and then took his M-16 and trained it on the edge of the stairwell.
"If anybody sticks their head up you blow if off OK doc?"
"No problem Rader, go ahead I've got you covered."
He crawled the thirty or so feet to the stairwell, her 9mm held out in front of him just incase another insurgent stuck his head up through the hole then he pulled the pin and let the spoon fly. He waited, counted to six, then dropped the grenade through the opening. He heard it bounce on a step then it blew and he heard screams from below and chards of the wooden staircase flew through the opening and rained down on the roof. Rader crawled back over to their position and leaned against the wall, breathing hard. "I think that will keep them off the roof at least for a while."
"I hope so Rader, I hope so." It was so God Damn hot and she was so scared. Nancy unbuttoned her fatigue blouse and took it off. She sat there in her green t-shirt and wiped her sweat stained brow with an arm. She sat back, her 9mm at her side and tried to relax.