The six of us moved on our bellies, out toward the jumbled remains in the killing field of the mudflat, as one, without any signal. The ability of Marines in combat to need a whole lot fewer signals and orders than the guys doing all the training back home thought they needed amazed me, once again. We had become homogenized into one thinking and feeling entity by bitter and brutal circumstances.

We moved just like the almost shimmering gray images of the other recoverers of the dead from the enemy side. We crawled, chests touching the mud, and then slid along until encountering some of the rock debris that had been scattered about by the impact of the recoilless rounds against the face of the cliff.

In my mind, as I moved, I thought about the futility of retrieving a dead body while risking the living bodies of six more, but in my heart, I was a Marine, and I was being watched by hundreds of other Marines with the same kind of beating hearts. I could not fail them. I could not fail them even if I died in the attempt. After almost a month in constant combat, the fear of death had still not left me, but the prospect of its eventuality had seeped into every pore of my body. I had learned that one day, and quite possibly this day, I would die. That concept had been taught to me since I was a young boy but the reality of it had never truly entered into my belief system, and now it was part of every fiber of my physical and mental being. Death was not an ‘if’ thing. It was a ‘when’ thing.