(5 of 10)
In the humvee, the soldiers fought back. Buggs and Anguiano also had an M249 machine gun, and they fired it into the Iraqi soldiers. "I heard the first sergeant say, 'Piestewa, speed up,'" Jessi said, and now they were running for it, for their lives. "Everybody was trying to talk at once, and there was all this yelling, but Lori was quiet. She knew what she was doing. I could hear bullets hitting the other vehicles, and I looked at her and I knew she hadn't given up.
"And we kept going faster and faster, and I thought it might all be all right. But it wasn't going to be all right," Jessi said. It had been about an hour since the battle began, maybe a little longer. In fear and resignation, she could not look anymore. "I lowered my head down to my knees, and I closed my eyes."
Just ahead of them, Iraqi soldiers had used a truck to block the road. An American tractor trailer rumbling just in front of Jessi and Lori's humvee came under heavy fire and, swerving to miss the Iraqi truck, ran off the road just in front of them. In the mass of Iraqi fighters, one raised a rocket-propelled grenade launcher to his shoulder and sighted on the speeding humvee. He squeezed the trigger.
Jessi, crouched in the middle, her arms around her own shoulders, her forehead on her knees, did not feel the round that finally punctured Lori's control and sent the humvee bouncing off the road, straight at the tractor trailer.
The last thing she remembered was praying.
"Oh, God, help us.
"Oh, God, get us out of here.
"Oh, God, please."
The rocket-propelled grenade had rocked the humvee, sending it into a swerve that carried it into the just-stopped tractor trailer with enough force to crush Sergeant Dowdy. He died, it is believed, on impact. Specialist Anguiano and Sergeant Buggs, who had fought off a small army of Iraqi fighters for what had seemed like forever, were killed, either on impact or soon after by Iraqi soldiers. Jessi and Lori lay in the wreckage. None of the American soldiers saw what happened to them.
The humvee crashed sometime after 7 a.m., but Jessi and Lori were not taken to the hospital, a military hospital, until about 10 a.m. The hospital was only minutes away.
Both Lori and Jessi were unconscious when Iraqi soldiers dropped them off at the hospital. Lori had suffered a serious head wound. The Iraqi doctors said that they tried to save her, but that brain surgery in the opening days of the war, as their emergency rooms filled with wounded, was impossible. She died before Jessi came to.
Jessi lost three hours. She lost them in the snapping bones, in the crash of the humvee, in the torment her enemies inflicted on her after she was pulled from it. It all left marks on her, and it is those marks that fill in the blanks of what Jessi lived through on the morning of March 23, 2003. But her memory just skipped, like a scratched record, from the last few seconds inside the speeding humvee to a blurred circle of faces staring down at her in what she slowly began to recognize as a hospital bed. The language she heard told her that she had awakened in a hospital under the control of her enemies, and that meant she was a prisoner of war. She had been left behind after all.