Courage Under Fire
It was a quiet day in Afghanistan … until the explosion.
"We weren't leaving until we got Meari's body," Wysocki said. "We were taking fire from just about the whole city." The soldiers shot through nearly all their ammunition before help finally arrived. After bringing Meari's body to safety, Wysocki and the other soldiers asked if they could rejoin the fight. "They wouldn't let us go," Wysocki said. "I think they knew if they let us go back out, we'd raise hell. I was fucking pissed. I was ready to kill everyone in Senjaray."
Four months later, the squad hadn't lost its desire for revenge. Wysocki: "There is never one day when we don't want to take it to the Taliban." Pereira: "I want to stay and fight for the guys who died."
Their actions that day had not gone unnoticed. Wysocki had received a Silver Star, the Army's third-highest commendation, for courage under fire. Pereira was waiting to hear whether he would be awarded a Distinguished Service Cross, which ranks second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor. Just seven DSCs have been given to soldiers in Afghanistan. Other squad members received Purple Hearts and Bronze Stars.
Hearing their stories, I envied these men. For them, all the clichés were true. Facing death, they refused to retreat. They fought for the men beside them. They proved themselves as warriors. They acted more bravely than most civilians could even imagine.
And yet … their courage hadn't saved Curtis, 24 when he died, or Meari, 21. Their deaths were no one's fault, least of all their own. They simply happened to stand next to a man who believed that self-destruction offered its own path to glory. I couldn't forget how Pereira described the bomber. He's making eye contact with me. He's absolutely smiling. Very nice.
Alex Berenson is an author and journalist. From 2000 to 2010, he worked as a business and investigative reporter for the New York Times. His seventh novel, The Night Ranger, will be published in February.
Photographs by Alex Berenson.