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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The compressor was making its high pitched screech, but the rotor blades' whomping, pulsating rotation bumped the screech and made the bird sound like a hyperactive, demented man with a grinding wheel attacking a piece of steel. It was pitch black outside but there was a glow from the cabin that made a curious blue X shape on the ground. My radio operators had just talked this bird onto the deck. They didn't need my help, I was there just in case. We were waiting for the payload to come by and get loaded aboard. The payload had just roared by in a 7-ton truck a few minutes before the helo touched down. The truck went straight to the battalion aid station.
The aid station was only a few hundred yards from the landing zone. I could see the truck tail lights, flashlights, small areas lit up as people moved back and forth. It looked so organized, so rehearsed from my distance. I couldn't hear the screams, the shouts, the orders, the cries of anguish. The maniacal man with the grinding wheel kept those sounds from me.

Finally the ambulance came over and teams of stretcher bearers queued up to carry the payload, friends and fellow Marines, into the waiting, screeching, glowing machine . . .

A third aircraft landed. Like the others, we could hear it coming, then see a vague black smudge a few hundred yards out. The smudge grew bigger and bigger until finally its outline could be seen crawling toward us only fifty feet away, power surging high and low while it lined up in the dark. The radio operators talked it in, but these pilots were professionals, they didn't need help, the radio operators were also there just in case.

There was no more emergency with this last load, nothing would ever help these Marines again, and stretcher bearers were scarce by now. I jumped in the queue and carried one stretcher handle . . .

The night will be vividly etched in my mind forever. I want to write and tell what I saw, what I felt, what I did. To share it in some kind of cathartic release. But some things aren't done. No one wants to read these details of their loved ones. So for now I must hold it in, not share it, and simply say that it was bad, but all the Marines here jumped in, organized, well trained, doing what had to be done . . .

The rotors twisted, bit hard into the dark air, the wind kicked up sand into our faces. The bird slowly lifted, then the rotors bit even more and the bird jumped up and away like it was being jerked on a cable. I marveled at the power of modern helicopters. The mind continues to work in normal ways even when you don't want to think in normal ways.