The First to Die
Credit: Courtesy the Childers Family
Lieutenant Childers's eyes roll back in his head. His breathing has become shallowand labored, and now he is completely unresponsive. The corpsmen ask Odom to open Childers's mouth and insert a special plastic implement designed to keep the air passages open. It doesn't work. Childers is down to eight respirations per minute. Tapley begins to administer CPR, but the lieutenant's breathing continues to slow down.

Meanwhile two Marines, Corporal Mike Cash and Corporal Brandon White, creep up on the bullet-pitted Toyota from which Childers was shot. Four Iraqi men, all of them badly mangled, emerge from the truck and raise their hands in surrender, crying, "No shoot, no shoot!" As a party of Marines lead them over to a makeshift holding area, Cash skulks up a little closer to the truck and realizes that at least one Iraqi is still trying to hold out. The man is hunched down low in the bed of the truck, but every few seconds he peaks over the rim. Cash yells at the man in Arabic, tells him to throw over his weapons and to raise his hands above his head. No response. Then he sprints toward the back of the vehicle and pumps eight rounds into the man, who slumps over, dead. In his lap is a loaded AK-47.

Cash and White then hasten back across the road to the holding area, where a heated debate has begun about whether the prisoners who shot Childers deserve medical attention. Some of the Marines' attitude, for now, is let them suffer. Cooler heads prevail, and the medics begin irrigating and dressing the Iraqis' wounds, setting up IVs, injecting morphine for pain. (According to a medical officer assigned to escort them to a hospital ship in the Gulf later in the day, every one of the four ended up surviving.)

Back by the tracks Tapley and Glanville have been working on Childers continuously for 15 minutes. He cannot breathe on his own. His pulse is faint and thready; then, his capacity to fight finally spent, it fades to nothing. Glanville shakes his head. A wound like this, there was nothing we could have done, he thinks as he packs away his equipment. Another medic closes Childers's eyelids and drapes the hood of his chemical suit over him like a shroud.

It's 9:00. Childers is laid out on the ramp of the ambulance track, a pale and strangely bloodless corpse dressed in shorts, his body marked by one perfect wound, left by one perfect bullet.

A few minutes later a CH-46 helicopter descends upon the site in biting swirls of dust. The Marines rush Corporal Groce inside and then carefully place Lieutenant Childers's body next to him. Slowly the helicopter climbs over the smoldering grid of Pumping Station No. 2. and heads for Kuwait.