INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
November 28, 1997
FED UP, MATT RIERSON left his humvee back in the column and sprinted up to the lead vehicle. As he saw it, Danny McKnight was overwhelmed. The colonel leading the convoy appeared completely lost. And now McKnight, too, was wounded. He was bleeding from the arm and the neck.
Sgt. Rierson finally learned from McKnight where they were trying to go. Then, on his way back down the column, the Delta commando stopped at every vehicle and spread the word. He screamed at each driver to stay out of the intersections, where they were exposed to concentrated fire.
Over the radio came a hopeful inquiry from Command, which clearly misunderstood their situation.
Uniform 64, you got everybody out of the crash site? Over.
Uniform 64 was the column's code name. McKnight answered:
We have no positive contact with them yet. We took a lot of rounds as we were clearing out of the area. Quite a few wounded, including me. Over.
Roger. Want you to try to go to the first crash site and consolidate on that. Once we get everybody out of there we'll go to the second crash site and try to do an exfill [move out].
This was, of course, out of the question, but McKnight wasn't giving up.
Roger. Understand. Can you give me some . . . we just need a direction and distance from where I'm at.
There was no answer at first. The radio net was filled with calls related to the crash of Mike Durant's helicopter. When McKnight did hear from Command again, he was asked to report the number of Rangers he had picked up from Staff Sgt. Matt Eversmann's Chalk Four. He ignored the request. He wanted to know where the hell he was.
Romeo 64, this is Uniform 64. From the crash site, where am I now? How far over?
Stand by. Have good visual on you now . . . Danny, are you still on that main hardball [paved road]?
I'm on the exfill road. Down toward National.
Turn east. Go about three blocks east and two blocks north. They're popping smoke.
Understand. From my location I have to go east farther about three blocks and then head north.
So the increasingly deadly search resumed. As they turned another corner, they encountered a roadblock. Piling out of the vehicles to provide security, the Americans were hit with a terrific volley of fire from the Somalis.
Spec. Eric Spalding jumped out of his truck to help carry Burns to a vehicle and, as he carried him, he felt the sergeant get hit by another round. Spalding was about to climb back into his seat on his truck when he was grabbed by an enraged Rierson and yanked back out to the street. The sergeant was shouting so hard his face was beet red, and Spalding could see veins bulging in his neck, but the noise of gunfire was so loud he couldn't hear.
The sergeant put his florid face right up to Spalding's nose and enunciated every word.
``PULL YOUR F-ING TRUCK FORWARD!''
Their sudden stop had left the vehicles behind backed up, and Rierson's humvee was stuck in the middle of an intersection again, exposed to enemy fire.
Two humvees farther back, Pvt. Ed Kallman sat behind the wheel, increasingly amazed and alarmed by what was happening around him. Ahead, he saw a line of trees on the sidewalk begin to explode, one after the other, as if someone had put charges in each and was detonating them one at a time. Somebody with a big gun was systematically taking out the trees, thinking Somalian gunmen were hiding in them.
As the convoy moved out again, it suddenly seemed to be raining RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades). Pfc. Tory Carlson was wedged in between the two rear seats of the second humvee in the column. Stuffed in behind him, shooting out the open hatch in the rear, were Sgt. Jim Telscher, the wounded Rodriguez, and Delta Master Sgt. Tim "Grizz" Martin, who was leaning against a row of sandbags to one side.
Carlson heard a grenade explode behind his humvee, and moments later came a blinding flash and an ear-shattering Boom! The inside of his vehicle was clogged with black smoke. The goggles he had pinned to the top of his helmet were blown off. A grenade had gone through the steel skin of the vehicle, right in front of the gas cap, and exploded inside. The blast blew Rodriguez, Telscher and Martin out of the back end of the moving vehicle.
It ripped the hand guards off Sgt. Jeff McLaughlin's M-16 and pierced his left forearm with a chunk of shrapnel. He felt no pain, just some numbness in his hand. He told himself to wait until the smoke cleared to check it out. The shrapnel had fractured a bone in his forearm, severed a tendon, and broken a bone in his hand. But it wasn't bleeding much, and he could still shoot.
Carlson felt himself for wet spots. His left arm was bloody where shrapnel had pierced it in several places. His boots were on fire. A drum of .50-cal ammo had been hit, and he heard people screaming for him to kick it out! Kick it out! He booted the drum, then stooped to pat out the flames on his feet.
The explosion blew off the back side of Rodriguez's left thigh and practically tore Martin in half. The grenade had poked a football-sized hole right through the skin of the humvee, blown on through the sandbags inside, passed through Martin's lower body, and penetrated the ammo drum.
Telscher, Rodriguez and Martin now lay writhing on the road behind the smoking humvee. Rodriguez had tumbled about 10 yards before coming to rest. His legs were a mass of blood and gore. He began struggling to his feet, only to see one of the five-ton trucks bearing straight for him. Its driver, Pvt. 2 John Maddox, stunned and momentarily disoriented by another grenade blast, rolled the truck right over Rodriguez.
Soldiers scrambled again from the vehicles to pick up their wounded comrades. Medics did what they could for Rodriguez and Martin, both of whom were gravely wounded. Rierson helped carry some of the injured and found places for them in the back end of humvees. In the rear of one he found an uninjured Ranger sergeant hiding, curled in fetal position. There wasn't enough time to say or do anything about it.
Chapter 14: The convoy disintegrates.