In Martha Raddatz' new book, the ABC News Chief White House correspondent describes a 48-hour firefight in Sadr City, Iraq, and how that fight ultimately affected the soldiers involved and their friends and family. The March 2004 battle, which marked the beginning of the Iraqi insurgency, left eight Americans dead and more than 70 wounded.
The following is an excerpt.
Where the light shone that evening, it illuminated only gore and the clenched faces of soldiers unaccustomed to pain.
There were so many young men, more than thirty, and they had arrived so unexpectedly that the cramped concrete aid station was quickly overrun. The overflow lay outside, soldiers naked and bleeding, on the cooling sands of Camp War Eagle. Dry wails or an occasional whispered plea of "Sir" came from those who could muster a voice, as the medics moved among them. Others were silent, breathing in staccato gasps, as if rationing what little air they had left.
With no electricity and with darkness beginning to settle, the medics relied on the dust-caked headlights of Humvees circled around the aid station to help guide their fingers to the source of each trauma. The splayed black hole of a gunshot wound here, the rip of shrapnel there. Narrow beams from flashlights allowed them to probe more carefully the chunks of splintered bone, extract bits of steel, and bundle and bind wayward intestines.
On a signal from the medics, two of the most catastrophically wounded survivors were swaddled in sleeping bags and rushed to the roaring belly of a nearby helicopter.
Standing amid the chaos was Colonel Robert Abrams, commander of the brigade to which these men belonged. The son of legendary Vietnam War general Creighton Abrams (for whom the army had named its biggest tank), the younger Abrams was drolly referred to by some soldiers as "the natural-born killer." But like virtually all the three thousand soldiers he now commanded, Colonel Abrams had never once in twenty-two years of service heard a gun fired in battle, never seen a soldier wounded in combat or watched a soldier die. He would see it all this night.
Abrams moved from one wounded soldier to the next, grasping hands and offering crisp reassurances. "You'll be fine," he said again and again, feigning confidence as he looked at the wrecked bodies all around him. "You'll be okay."
The massive hand of Staff Sergeant Robert Reynolds, whom the men called "Big Country," grabbed Abrams's pant leg as he passed. At six-foot-six and 280 pounds, the sergeant was considered the First Cavalry Division's "go to" squad leader -- a soldier who made things happen. Colonel Abrams bit back his horror as he stared at the sergeant. He was stripped from the waist down, his genitals smeared red and buttocks glowing white. A loaf-sized chunk of Reynolds's inner thigh was blown off, laying bare the remaining tangle of veins and tendons. Reynolds strained to tell his commander about the brutal assault on his men that he'd barely survived. Abrams bent down, his ear close enough to hear Reynolds above the din of the aid station. Emotion and pain shook Reynold's voice.
"There were hundreds of them, sir."