For 1st Lt. Scott Schafer and Warrant Officer Thomas Speaks, the Grenadan conflict was a one-day war.
The two young soldiers are recuperating at Walter Reed Army Hospital here after being injured within hours after their arrival last Thursday during battles near Grenada's Point Salines Airport.
Schafer, 24, of Cincinnati, said he was struck in the thigh by shrapnel after an American plane mistakenly strafed his position, wounding 13 other Americans. Speaks, 23, of Bismarck, N.D., hurt his back when his helicopter was hit while he was landing, causing it to collide with another helicopter at what he had been told was a Cuban stronghold.
They are among 29 American wounded being treated at Walter Reed and at the Bethesda Naval Hospital. The wounded began arriving Friday night and are the first casualties of the Grenadan conflict to be treated here.
Thus far, the Pentagon has put the toll of Americans in the fighting at 16 dead, 77 wounded and three missing.
In an interview Saturday night at a Georgia Avenue NW restaurant near Walter Reed, Speaks and Schafer, dressed in sweat clothes and foam-rubber hospital slippers, readily told their stories.
Speaks said he ran into trouble when gunfire raked the UH60 Blackhawk transport helicopter he was piloting while trying to land troops near Point Salines last Thursday.
The helicopter went out of control and careened into another as troops were getting out and running, Speaks said. Two or three men got caught in the tangling of the rotors, and one of the first things Speaks said he saw when he jumped out of the aircraft was a soldier with his face, arms and legs chopped off.
"I remember trying not to step on his brain, which was lying right there," Speaks said. "A guy will always wonder, what am I going to do when this happens. There's a guy all mangled. . . . But it goes right past you." Altogether, there were about six wounded on the ground, he said.
With sniper fire continuing, Speaks said he realized he had lost his gun in the bouncing of his disabled helicopter, so he looked around for a weapon to take from one of the wounded too injured to use it. With the feeble help of one of the wounded, he got one and started running for cover.
"I said to myself, why did I let myself get out of shape," he said.
Twenty-five minutes after his landing, he said, he was evacuated from the scene. He said he expects to be discharged from the hospital this week.
Schafer, blond and soft-spoken, said he was at brigade headquarters on top of a hill with about 30 others when four or five snipers started shooting from a position below. The U.S. troops returned the sniper fire.
About 600 meters away, a U.S. infantry platoon of about 30 men were positioned at a drive-in movie theater, and the snipers also were shooting at them, he said.
"The infantry at the drive-in couldn't see the snipers. They were receiving fire, and all they knew was that it was coming from the direction of the hill," Schafer said. "Someone called in an air strike" on Schafer's position.
"All of a sudden, the world blew up," Schafer said. A U.S. A7 jet made a sudden strafing pass, and splinters and dirt filled the air. It happened so fast that there was no sound of the jet engine until after it had passed, he said.
As the plane turned to make a second run, an Air Force officer ran to the radio and called the plane off, Schafer said.
"I knew I was hit right away," Schafer said. "I had a hole in my flight suit and blood started to come out."
He took a wound in his right thigh from a piece of shrapnel the size of a nickel. He later counted 21 pieces of wood and shrapnel in his flak jacket.
Schafer said he was one of the more lightly wounded of the 14 at his position. None was killed, he said, although two were bleeding heavily and might have died if they had not been evacuated quickly. It was only when he got to Walter Reed, Schafer said, that he fully understood what had happened. His roommate at the hospital happened to have been in the infantry unit that had mistakenly thought the enemy fire was coming from Schafer's position.
"At first I was upset, but now I realize how it happened," Schafer said reflectively. Of the air attack that wounded him, Schafer now says: "It was a beautiful shot."
A Defense Department spokesman said last night he had no information about the incident Schafer described.
Schafer and Speaks went into battle with different attitudes.
"I was scared to death," Schafer said. He and his wife both knew when the phone call came last Monday night, telling him to get his gear and to report to Fort Bragg, that this was not a drill.
"She was in tears," Schafer said. And after a pause: "So was I."
"I was excited about it," said Speaks, who is single. "I don't want to sound like a warmonger but . . . it was an adventure." Before he left Fort Bragg, N.C., he signed over his power of attorney to his roommate because they have a mortgage together, and he said he left with his adrenalin pumping.
Speaks, who expects to be released from the hospital in a few day, said he will return to Fort Bragg, where Schafer also is stationed, "just long enough to get my poncho" and then he said he wants to go back to Grenada to get more combat hours.
For Schafer, the Grenadan experience changed his outlook on his future in the Army.
"I was ready to get out before we went on the mission," he said. "I was fed up with peacetime. . . . Then when you go and use it, it makes you feel good, that it works," he said. "Now I'm ready to stay."
At the Naval Hospital in Bethesda yesterday, two marines injured in Grenada fighting were introduced to the media at news conferences shortened because of the men's condition and the eagerness of the media representatives pressing around them.
Lance Cpl. Keith Harter, 19, of West Unity, Ohio, said he was wounded while part of a group in an observation post on a mountain overlooking an airport.
Just before he was shot he said he didn't "see anyone or hear anyone. I heard the shot ring out and looked down and it felt like somebody tugged on my hand. That was all. That's all I ever saw."
Harter has a fractured left hand and has had one finger amputated.
At one point, when Harter was asked to describe the fighting, he said, "When we arrived, it was a hot L.Z. (landing zone)." Then he attempted to go on: "The firefighting was mostly between Soviet . . ." but was cut off by the public affairs officer who said, "That's it folks," explaining that the corporal had gotten into areas that were off limits.
The spokesman said later the marines were not allowed to talk about any operational matters.
Later, when a reporter asked what Harter thought of the soldiers he was opposing, the corporal responded, "I was asked not to answer questions like that."
As to getting into combat, he said that "when you're 18 and graduating from high school, you always say it's no big thing. When it happens, I can hang with it."
Now that he has been wounded in combat, Harter said, "I think there are worse things to do for a living." He said if the servicemen had not gone into Grenada, "there might have been other Americans hurt."
Harter said he would "like time to think about" whether he wants to continue in the Marines as a career. Then, looking down at his wounded hand as he was wheeled from the room, he said, "There's a lot to do with whether I'll be allowed to."
A Marine helicopter pilot, Capt. Tim Howard, 30, of Jacksonville, N.C., told reporters: "Every house we flew over, the Grenadans waved and were tickled pink to see us."
Howard said he was piloting a Cobra gunship, an attack helicopter, that was used to escort marines trying to evacuate Americans on the island. He said he was shot down. He suffered a fracture in his right leg and his right forearm has been amputated. A Bethesda hospital spokesman said two Navy personnel were admitted to the facility yesterday with the marines, but their names could not be released because the next of kin had not been notified.
All four had come from the Naval hospital at Roosevelt Roads in Puerto Rico.
The spokesman said the hospital had prepared a 34-bed ward for incoming wounded and could accommodate others at the hospital.
Of the 29 American military men being treated at the two local hospitals, Bethesda as of last night had four and Walter Reed had 25.