Wednesday, August 10, 2005
"So we're driving down the road and it's midnight, so it's pitch-black, and when you're driving at night, you don't use any lights," says Terry Rodgers, "but we can see fine because we've got night vision goggles."
He's sitting in the living room of his mother's townhouse in Gaithersburg, telling the story of his last night in Iraq. He's still got his Army crew cut and he's wearing a T-shirt with an American flag on the chest.
"We're driving down this road and there's this tiny bridge over a little canal," he says. "They had rigged up this bomb and they had a tripwire running across the bridge and we hit it and it blew up."
Like the rest of the 13,877 Americans wounded in Iraq, Rodgers has a story to tell. He tells it in a matter-of-fact voice, like he's talking about making a midnight pizza run or something. He's sitting in an armchair with his right leg propped on an ottoman, the foot encased in a soft black cast that reaches almost to the knee. His crutches are lying on the rug beside the chair.
"The Humvee finally comes to a stop and the right side is just torn apart and I hear my squad leader screaming, 'I think I lost my arm!' And my best friend Maida was in the front passenger seat where the bomb went off and he was screaming, 'Where's help? Where's help?' And then he went quiet.
"And me, I'm trying to crawl out of the Humvee and I get most of my body out and just this leg is stuck and I thought it must be caught on something in the twisted metal. I look back and I see it's just laying there on the seat, so I'm like, 'Why is it stuck?' So I try to lift my leg up and it won't lift. I just had to pick up my leg and crawl the rest of the way out."
He mimes the action of picking up his leg with his hands, then he continues the story.
"I started patting myself down and that's when I noticed that my face took some shrapnel," he says. "It was all swollen on this side, so when I'm patting myself down, my middle finger went, like, this deep into my cheek where the shrapnel went in."
He points to a spot about halfway down his finger, showing how far it went into the shrapnel wound behind his right eye, which is still pretty much blind, unable to see anything but bright light.
"Then I started checking out my leg. I knew my femur was broken, but at that time I didn't know my calf was missing," he says. "And that's when I hear my best friend Maida and he started heaving."
Rodgers takes a few loud, quick breaths to show what Mark Maida sounded like.
"And he breathes like that for a few seconds and then he just stops. And that's when he died."