For more than four hours Wednesday afternoon, Brian H. Carroll lay flat on the floor in a small room at St. George's University School of Medicine in Grenada, wedged between about 40 other tense and terrified students, listening to gunfire and thinking about his family back home in Fairfax City.
"You made your peace with yourself," said Carroll, 27, who feared he might never see the United States again.
Eventually, the students heard voices outside, and then a crash as a door they had chained shut was broken down. An American soldier bounded into the room, landed on one knee and said, "American soldier, freeze!" The soldier looked around the room at the students. "You all okay?" he asked.
Carroll, who was among more than 400 Americans evacuated so far by U.S. Air Force transport planes, had been unable to decide for days whether to leave the island he loved, possibly risking his medical education and career. But by Monday afternoon, American officials and his Grenadan friends had convinced him that his life would be in danger if he stayed.
"My friends in Grenada told me there was big trouble, because a civil war was imminent and that it would be a bad situation for us and that we should get off the island," Carroll said. "We had not realized how split the island was. The army was in control during the curfew, but the army was split themselves. And people were up in arms about Prime Minister Maurice Bishop's murder" last week.
By Monday evening "every boat on the island was chartered. We were all ready to go. I was going to try to get out anyway I could," said Carroll, a graduate of Fairfax High School and second semester medical student at St. George's.
But early the next morning, events overtook the students. Carroll, stranded at the school since the curfew was imposed, said he heard gunfire around 5 a.m.
"I thought it was the counter-revolutionaries. I came out and looked and saw it was an American plane, and I thought 'Holy Cow, they've come to get us out,' " he said.
He and other students gathered in one of the buildings, throwing mattresses against the sliding glass doors to protect themselves from shattering glass. They then chained the doors to try to keep out intruders and began gathering up food and filling bathtubs with water for drinking.
Using a ham radio in the building, they contacted the American military forces, and were told to lie flat on the floor, piled against each other like fallen dominos. They were also told to tear sheets into armbands to identify themselves as students.
"Around 5 p.m. Wednesday things got real quiet. Then all of a sudden, there was a lot of gunfire, anti-aircrafts, and cannon-type shots. It was really scary," said Carroll. "The worst part is it seemed like it took forever, although it probably only lasted three or four minutes."
It was at that point that the American soldier burst into the room. "I thought, well there's a fifty-fifty chance of it being friend or foe," said Carroll.
The students had to run about 50 yards down the beach to waiting helicopters. "The ocean was to the left, the Marines were to the right. They were firing like crazy to cover us," said Carroll. "I was really scared."
He added, "There was no better feeling then when that helicopter-lifted up."
Eleven Americans have been killed in the Grenada fighting, including Capt. Michael Ritz, 28, of Petersburg, Va., and seven are missing, according to the Pentagon. Another 67 were wounded in the fighting, including Marine Staff Sgt. Randall Arnold, of Washington D.C.
Carroll was one of more than a half-dozen Virginia residents evacuated from Grenada this week. Other students evacuated are Granville Batte of Hampton; Wally Schriefer, 27, of Virginia Beach; Todd Oliver, 29, of York; John Carmack of Roanoke; William B. Harris of South Boston; and Jason Garrison of Churchland.
Maryland residents evacuated from Grenada are Thomas Fioratti of Baltimore and Jeffrey T. Haugh of Hanover.