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On Campaign Trail, a Single Shot

The rest of the platoon gathered in a dirt parking lot that had turned into a swamp. The men were soaked. It was still raining, but no one sat inside the Strykers. Nearly everyone was smoking; they burned the cigarettes to the butt and then used them to light more.

Mauney was still in the operating room when the chief surgeon shook his head and announced, "Time of death: 1602."

Soldiers from C Company's 1st Platoon work to get out the vote on the west side of Mosul's al-Whada neighborhood. (Steve Fainaru -- The Washington Post)

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Mauney walked outside and smoked. A doctor came out and handed him Hoe's soaked pistol belt. The medic kept thinking about the previous summer. Hoe had been hit by a car while jogging, and Mauney went to his house every day to change his dressing.

"Hey, Doc, I never saw a medic who makes house calls," Hoe's new wife, Emily, teased him. Then she said: "Well, I don't have to worry about him over there with you looking out for him, do I?"

"I was just sitting out there in the rain, holding his pistol belt, and that was going over and over in my mind," Mauney said.

By then, Gibler, the battalion commander, had arrived. He wanted to break the news to the platoon, but Myers insisted that he be the one to do it.

Gibler, Myers and Born, the company commander, walked out into the rain. The platoon was gathered around the Strykers. Some of the soldiers already knew. Some knew but didn't want to believe it.

"Nainoa didn't make it," Myers told them.

'You Caught Your Wave'

The men were crying now, all 40 of them. Born started to speak. "I know how close you all are. . . ." He broke down and turned away.

Myers announced that anyone who wanted to could come inside the hospital and pay their last respects. At first, no one moved. Then slowly the soldiers shuffled forward.

Hoe rested on a gurney in a remote hallway. He was covered by a blanket except for his face.

His men walked slowly around the gurney until they had nearly formed a circle. Then the entire platoon, all 40 men, knelt beside their platoon leader and prayed.

The men rose and moved on. Some reached out and stroked Hoe's cheek. Some leaned over and whispered into his ear.

"Vaya con Dios," said Moreno.

Siglock recalled that Hoe had once told him that if he could surf every day for the rest of his life, he would. Now, sobbing, Siglock told Hoe: "You caught your wave."

Roettgers, who slept on the bunk above Hoe's and was with him more than anyone, looked at the platoon leader and smiled. Hoe's eyes were halfway open.

"That's the way he sleeps," Roettgers said.

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