This archived article was written by: Christopher Palo
The worst night of my life happened in 2006, in Iraq. My best friend, Shannon “Squishy” Squires, and I were loitering in the smoking area before the mission. We never worried about the missions beforehand. We joked and smoked. We made fun of everything and everyone.
Squishy was the driver of the first-gun truck in the convoy, I was the second. His jobs were to lead the convoy to the destination and call out any dangers that lie ahead. My job was to protect the vehicles that were in front of me as well as provide support, should the first-gun truck need it.
As we are driving, the jokes and inappropriate talk was interrupted by the convoy commander (CC) coming over the communications (comm) system telling us the latest intelligence. We listened to the brief, but not thinking it will happen to us. Before the brief was finished, our fears came to fruition.
I saw it before I heard it. Two giant fireballs exploded from both sides of the road. I couldn’t see the first-gun truck, but over the comm came a voice that embodied my fears, “Gun One is on its side! Gun One is on its side!” My mind went crazy. All I could think of is,“No! My best friend is there. My best friend is in the vehicle that just got hit. Get up there, help your friend! Get up there now!”
I saw my truck commander (TC) yelling, but couldn’t hear anything, all I could think of was bodily movements that will get me to my friend. Push on the gas pedal. I feel my boot slam on the accelerator. The vehicle accelerates past the semi-trucks, slowly, much too slowly. My head is yelling at the vehicle, “Faster! Faster!” The semi-trucks are accelerating past me, faster and faster until I see it. My best friend’s vehicle is on its side, flames blazing 30-feet high from the wreckage.
My vehicle passes the last support vehicle before the downed vehicle. I realize that I’m still speeding and about to pass the blazing hunk of metal that used to be the lead vehicle. I slam on the breaks and the vehicle won’t stop. I’m yelling at the vehicle to stop and it finally does, 50 feet in front of the wreckage.
The TC was calling the CC, giving him a situational report and the gunner was providing watch over the wreckage. I opened the hatch to my vehicle and jumped out.
I ran towards the blaze. I see the gunner of the vehicle pulling my best friend from the flaming wreckage. He was on fire from the waist down.
Then I hear screaming from the field below the incident site. There, lying in the field, was the first gun trucks TC. I had to make the most difficult decision of my life: help my best friend or help the man in the field.
The military training took over. I ran down to the field, did a baseball slide next to the TC and looked him over for injuries that I need to take care of before moving him. I saw a large piece of shrapnel sticking out of his leg, below a make-shift tourniquet. I tightened the tourniquet and helped him to his feet. I wrapped his arm around my neck to support most of his weight and started back to my vehicle.
After three steps, the pain was too much for him. He stopped and said, ”I can’t go any farther.”
“One more step,” I urge, “just one more step.”
“I can’t,” he said. Just then, a portion of the ground in front of me exploded and I noticed that it was a bullet that hit the ground in front of me. I start hearing the air popping around me and realize that the ammunition in the vehicle was cooking off. I have to get this guy to the vehicles and out of harm’s way.
I lift him up into the air. He is dramatically lighter than I anticipated. I placed the man on my shoulders and take off running. Slipping and sliding through the mud, doing everything I can to make it a smooth ride for my injured passenger, I finally made it up the hill to the other vehicles.
My TC was out of the vehicle with a fire extinguisher. He assists me with the wounded warrior, we put the man on the litter and attend to his wounds. I happen to look back at the wreckage and see the gunner and my best friend standing on the side of the road behind the wreckage.
I run over to assist. My friend’s clothes are missing save for his underwear, half of a T-shirt and what looks like one half of a boot on and a black sock on one foot, the other was bare.
We help him into a vehicle and start dumping water over him. He is coherent, but in shock. I retrieve a litter from the front of my vehicle and the TC of Squishy’s vehicle and lead him onto the litter.
I was taking inventory of the wounds my best friend sustained. I noticed that the skin on his abdomen had melted and rolled down to his waist. His legs were much of the same. Upon closer inspection, on one foot the skin had completely de-gloved the other foot and the boot had melted to his foot. The black sock was the skin above his boot burnt black.
The rest of the squad had set up a landing zone for the medevac helicopters to land. Our luck wasn’t that good. The helicopters landed 150 meters south of the landing zone.
I grabbed a soldier and we carried my severely injured friend to the landing zone. We finally got him to the helicopter, and as if a final jab to my ego, my buddy said, “I bet you I could get that flight surgeon’s number.”
Laughing, I said, “You can’t do that bro. I already called dibs.” We both laugh and the helicopter takes him away.
I finally get back to the vehicles and the CC orders us to get back in the vehicles because we are headed back to the base. I’m the lead vehicle of the convoy. And all I could think of is that final smile and laugh I got from my best friend.
I never saw him again, he ended up dying at Brooks Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, while watching a Penguin’s hockey game. I am so thankful that the last thing said between us were words of laughter and friendship.
In the dark and loneliness of some nights, I still hear the rounds popping and hear the screams of my friends. My dreams are my worst enemy and my feelings always betray me. I drive on and continue to live and thrive because after everything he went through, Squishy could still joke. Therefore I can soldier on and not let his death go in vain, because he gave his life so I could live mine and for that I am forever grateful.
Thank you Squishy, you are the best.