In Memory of Poncho Bebe
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The car bomb that went off was at least 50 feet away, but it carried Poncho’s small body from the center of the highway back into Camp Taji.
I don’t know why I ran to him without first checking on my own guys, but I did. He was just inside the gate, face down in the sand. His right leg was gone just above the knee, and the other was twisted behind him so that his foot was resting on his back. I rolled him over. His eyes were open and moving from side to side. I didn’t check to see if he was breathing. I started mouth-to-mouth resuscitation without even thinking. I saw Poncho’s chest expand with my breath and as I turned for another, he coughed blood into my face. I knew then that he wasn’t going to make it.
I picked him up and started walking in different directions, looking for what I wasn’t quite sure. By that time helicopters were overhead, both gunships and the medevacs to carry the countless dead and dying. One had already landed nearby and I think the crew chief started to wave me off as I approached. That was often the case when trying to get even the most seriously wounded Iraqis ahead of an American. The look in my eyes must have made him think otherwise. Or perhaps because he saw that I was carrying a small boy. Whatever the case, he let me place Poncho in the back corner of the helicopter, between the tri-level stack of gurneys. He pulled me back, however, when I tried to climb inside for the short ride to the Baghdad Combat Support Hospital.
I looked at Poncho for a brief second before stepping away. His eyes were still open, but they were no longer moving. It struck me that the hat that I had given him was still resting on his head. I turned away and walked back toward Camp Taji, through the now obliterated gate, and continued toward our living area, leaving behind everyone in the patrol I had been leading a few minutes before.
I didn’t look back, but could hear the helicopter lift off. I never asked anyone whether Poncho lived or died. I knew. I also knew that he was just another of so many who had died, and who would continue to die, in such a senseless war. I only wished that day it didn’t have to be Poncho Bebe.
The author is a 18-year Army veteran who deployed to Iraq in 2004-2005. He now lives in Northern California.