Some people run towards danger and some people turn their heads. A story that has always fascinated me is the tale of Kitty Genovese from New York City in the 1960’s. She was brutally raped and stabbed multiple times while her neighbors looked on from their windows. Everyone heard her scream and no one ran to her aid.
Dozens of people did not run to the danger to help their fellow (wo)man. She was 28 years old and she died in the streets while people watched and did nothing.
I hope to God I am never someone who freezes in a time of danger. Last night at 0130, I heard a woman screaming, “No! Stop! Don’t! Oh God, please don’t!” multiple times. I waited until I heard her scream the second time before I braced myself and ran outside, barefoot, but ready to help this woman. I assessed the situation quickly. She was screaming and running as fast as her overweight body could carry her (which wasn’t very fast at all) up the street. My eyes scanned the street and I saw the tow truck pull away. I laughed.
Multiple other people had come outside to see what was happening as well. And I’m so glad that it wasn’t another Kitty case. But even if people run outside to see, they will probably not help. They might look onwards, simply nosy and sensing a primal bit of danger and excitement, or they might not come outside at all. They might be scared. Others of us will run to help.
I didn’t know which one I was until 2008.
It was September and I had newly hit the United States Marine Corps fleet. I was 18, and a fresh “boot”, which meant I was a tad damp around the ears in the giant scheme of the Marine Corps. I had completed communications school and had been dropped to my first unit, Combat Logistics Battalion 11 on Camp Pendleton, California. I was dating the man who would later become my first husband. He was my Corporal and I was a Lance Corporal.
He volunteered me for a task that I did not want to do. Not that I had any choice as a Lance, but I certainly bitched enough, as any Lance Corporal would, that I didn’t want to do it. The task was simple enough. We were selected to go act as insurgents for another unit that was practicing to go to Iraq. We were allowed to wear civilian clothes, which was amazing to me, with our flak jackets and Kevlar helmets. I threw on blue jeans and a white tee-shirt. The 16 of us who had been selected were told to be at the compound bright and early.
When I arrived at the compound, there were two up-armored seven ton trucks sitting in a line. Everyone else mingled around and talked and joked, standing by to stand by. I looked around. I vaguely recognized two people, one of whom was the girl I shared a bathroom with in the barracks. I awkwardly walked over to her and said hey. She dismissed me with a quick wave of her hand and continued laughing and joking with the guys. So I leaned against the wall of the building and waited.
“Alright! Load up!”
We all shuffled to the back of the seven ton trucks. These 7 tons are considered “troop transport” because the sides are bulletproof and the backs of the trucks could hold about 20 people if you jammed them all in. There were two benches that ran down the center of the back of the seven ton. There was a fake wall that was placed between the benches so people could lean back while traveling.
Everyone was crowded around the back of the first truck, taking their sweet ass time climbing the ladder and all laughing and joking. Frustrated and irritated, I walked to the second truck alone and said, “Is there any reason everyone is avoiding this truck?” Some people half-heartedly walked over and got in the back of the second one with me. They were unwilling to leave their friends. It must have been nice to have friends.
I sat in the middle of the left side of the truck’s back. There was a tiny window just above my knees. I had to lean down to see out of it. I tried to put my Kevlar helmet on but my hair, in a very tight bun, inhibited my ability to latch the bottom clasp so I placed the helmet in my lap. It was really hot so I left my flak jacket open in the front to allow some cool air to hit the front of my shirt.
As we start traveling, I imagine where we are going in my mind. I can’t see out of the back of the truck and I can only see the road from the window. The fat black Corporal next to me was bragging about his time in Iraq. “Cool story, bro.” My mind lost track of the direction we were going. I didn’t know the roads we were on anymore and we were traveling to an area of Pendleton that I didn’t know.
We start gaining speed, winding faster and faster through curvy roads. There was a sudden screech of the giant tires as we rounded one curve in the road. We were all thrown to the left side of the truck as it went up on its left two wheels. I fell against the tiny window as my helmet fell to the ground. Bracing myself against the up-armor, I see the ground come closer and closer through the tiny window.
The seven ton tilted back onto all four wheels. Everyone was screaming and yelling, “What the fuck!!”
I glanced down at the window. No one else could see anything. When my mind took in what I saw, I screamed, “GET THE FUCK OUT! THEY FLIPPED! GO!”
There were bodies all over the road. I was screaming at the other Marines to get the fuck out of the seven ton to go help. I shoved someone down the ladder as I went sprinting towards the bodies.
Everyone in our truck was stunned. There were six of us and all of them seemed frozen on the side of the road as they looked at their friend’s bodies. The driver of our seven ton had started helping one person up.
Why the fuck is everyone standing around?!!
I snapped at the Corporal.
“Go call for help!”
He looked at one girl laying on the road moaning.
“Jesus fuck, GO!”
He pulled out his phone and said, “There isn’t any service.”
“Then go find some!”
I was incredulous at his lack of knowing what to do. Iraqi vet, huh? And a Corporal??
We started pulling people from the road, assessing their injuries and lining them in the grass along the side of the road. I was the only person who had brought an IFAK (individual first aid kit) and I was using what I could to help the injured. One girl’s face and nose was smashed in and I could see the white of her skull on her forehead. She was in shock but able to hold her head together after I cleaned her up and calmed her down. She kept saying, “I wasn’t wearing my helmet, I wasn’t wearing my Kevlar” as a sort of mantra.
As I glanced up, I saw the battalion’s First Sergeant sprinting towards us. His face was of utter shock and fear. His job was on the line.
“This guy is stuck!”
Someone was yelling from inside the flipped seven ton.
“What the fuck do we do?”
I didn’t trust a single thing these motherfuckers said so I climbed inside the back of the seven ton and walked along the wall towards the back of the right side. There was a man laying with his head turned away from me. His neck was at an awkward angle, curved up against the canvas sheet that covered the top of the seven ton. I glanced down to see why he was stuck. It was so dark in the back of the seven ton that I could barely see anything.
My eyes traveled over his body. His right arm was awkwardly bent over the top of the armor and underneath it. I was standing on the wall that was crushing his arm.
I immediately crouched down to get a closer look at his arm. He mumbled something.
“Hey, what’s your name?”
“His name is Michael.”
Someone was standing behind me.
“Okay, hey, Michael, I’m Savannah. I know you’re in a lot of pain, but it’s about to get better, okay?
Keep talking to him. Distract him.”
I reach down with hands and grasped his right arm. There was about two inches between the armor and the ground. His arm was twisted and pinned. It looked like he had tried to brace his arms on the wall while the seven ton flipped and had the truck flip onto his right arm and drag it along the road. His shoulder was broken.
I start to wiggle his arm back and forth with the little give it had. He was screaming in horrible pain. It wasn’t giving way.
I break his arm at the forearm. It snapped easily, almost like it was waiting to be broken with the slightest pressure.
He had passed out. I yell at someone to give me a knife and a strong stick. The person behind me sprints out to find both. I’m handed a knife and I slice the canvas top so Michael’s neck isn’t bent awkwardly. I cut a long swath of the canvas and two strips. Using the stick, I brace his arm in the most haphazard brace I had ever seen.
The ambulance was there at that point. He was carted off.
I was covered in blood that wasn’t mine.
A few months later, I saw a commotion at the compound surrounding a man in a shoulder brace. Someone yelled, “Hey, look, it’s Cannon!” I walked over and met a conscious Michael. He didn’t remember me at all, which I was grateful for. The snap of his bone was something I would never forget but he didn’t need to remember that.
“This is the girl who saved your arm.”
Michael looked at me and said, “Yeah, wow, thank you. The doctors said I would’ve lost it if the truck was on it much longer.”
I asked if he was going to be okay. He wiggled three fingers slightly within his cast and said he would probably have some use of his arm and hand.
I was never thanked by the command. They swept the accident under the rug as much as they could besides this news article. The driver of the first truck was charged with reckless driving. Multiple people were injured but everyone lived.
Whenever I see people getting Navy Commendation medals for completing a lot of paperwork, I just shake my head. I didn’t want an award but to have my actions ignored by the command was just a foreshadowing of how the Marine Corps would operate over the next four and a half years.