"As we started driving back through the town we started taking fire," said the letter one of the soldiers wrote to family members. "I could just hear shots behind me. Then we had to turn around again because we had missed our turn out of town. We found our turn and raced toward the bridge over the river and out of the city. Just then we started coming under heavy fire from both sides of the road."
From the side of the road, tires were being tossed onto the pavement. More than one soldier saw a bus maneuvering to block the narrow road.
Cpl. Luten, the .50-caliber gunner, described the scene as though he was in a movie: "I was up there, and I think of it now, kind of thinking of the movie The Matrix. And you see the bullets, flying. And it, it seems like it's slow motion. … The bullets were flying. I can actually see them, as they pass me, uh, over my head, back in front of the vehicle. It seemed like they were going that slow."
In the letter from the soldier, there is a description of the volley of gunfire as, "several rounds hit my truck. Something bigger hit the engine which started blowing smoke everywhere. One of my tires was blown out. I was just driving and praying."
Luten remembered, "And, we started returning fire, as we were pushing our way through the town. And as we were going along, uh, and receiving fire, at one point my equipment had locked up on me, basically malfunctioned. So, I went down, inside the cab, to grab my M-16, to continue fire. And a round came through the door, and got me in my knee." Several soldiers told ABCNEWS that the unlucky Luten never managed to fire either weapon before he was wounded.
As the convoy approached the bridgehead, "the vehicles ahead of me started getting farther and farther ahead real quick," recalled one soldier. "I didn't realize it, but they were trying to get out of there because they were taking fire."
An Army field manual covering convoy operations specifically orders that vehicles which are "part of the convoy that is in the kill zone and receiving fire must exit the kill zone as quickly as possible if the road to the front is open."
The Humvee carrying one of the soldiers who was now wounded, Staff Sgt. Jackson, had finally sputtered to a stop after re-crossing the Euphrates, just south of the bridge. It was riddled with bullets and overheated. Four more vehicles managed to limp up, including the truck driven by company supply sergeant Matthew Rose, which ground to a halt with its engines blown. As the trucks grouped in a safe area, soldiers could see Capt. King's Humvee and a couple of 5-ton trucks as silhouettes on the horizon. Left behind in the ambush area were half of the convoy's vehicles — eight in all.
‘Is Anyone Alive?’
The six soldiers aboard the three lead vehicles of the convoy were able to escape without injury.
According to eyewitnesses, Sgt. Matthew Rose and Cpl. Francis Carista (who himself had been hit by a piece of shrapnel that lacerated his heel) jumped out of one 5-ton truck south of the bridgehead of the Euphrates. From another truck came Pfc. Adam Elliott. Fortunately, during a prior enlistment, Rose had served as an Army medic, while Elliott had taken a "combat lifesaver" course.