Leadership: November 7, 2003


November 4, 2003: The Department of Defense press release announcing the death of two soldiers supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom noted that both were killed in action on October 18 in Taza, when enemy forces ambushed their patrol using rocket propelled grenades and small arms fire. Killed were: 1LT David R. Bernstein, 24 and PFC John D. Hart, 20, both assigned to 1st Battalion (Airborne), 508th Infantry Regiment, 173rd Infantry Brigade out of Camp Ederle, Italy.

But a terse paragraph doesn't begin to do justice to what happened to these paratroopers. 

A patrol was sent to investigate an explosion at the airfield outside the oil city of Kirkuk (about 250 km north of Baghdad). It was late in the day and SPC Joshua Sams was driving the last Humvee in the convoy when they came under fire. The RPGs missed, but AK-47 bullets raked the vehicle. Sams was thrown out of the vehicle, but his body armor got caught something on the vehicle. He was dragged along at 45 mph until the vehicle finally came to a stop, but it rolled backward onto his arm.

PFC Hart was already dead, hit in the neck. Oddly, Hart had told his father shortly before his death that he felt their Humvees needed more armor and that they didn't have the 'right' body armor. 

Bernstein, the company Executive Officer, had a bullet in his leg. A fourth soldier in the Humvee had escaped the initial fusillade without injury. The three survivors were now taking fire from the front and rear. 

According to the account that Brigadier General Leo Brooks Jr. (commandant of the United States Military Academy) read at Bernstein's funeral, the Lieutenant tried five times to rescue his driver while firing a few rounds at their attackers. The fifth time, he managed to pull Sams out. Then Sams applied pressure to the lieutenant's wound but was unable to stop the bleeding. But Bernstein had lost too much blood at that point. Sams' mother told one reporter that her son said "the lieutenant died in his arms..." 

A terse paragraph from the DoD just doesn't begin to do justice to what happened. 

On October 31, LTG Brooks presented the Bronze Star to Bernstein's parents at the funeral service. For reasons unknown, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz took the long journey outside Kirkuk on October 24, to visit the ambush site.

Bernstein, recently promoted to First Lieutenant, was a Phoenixville, PA high school valedictorian and graduated fifth in West Point's class of 2001.

Hart, who had turned 20 exactly one month before the ambush and planned on becoming a Ranger, was from Bedford, MA. 

Neither was married. Neither will leave behind a wife or any children. Bernstein was buried at West Point, Hart is to be buried on November 4 in Arlington National Cemetery. 

Bernstein memorial, online at: http://www.skysoldier.org/bernsteinkia.htm.
Hart memorial, online at:http://www.skysoldier.org/hartkia.htm. 

Bernstein, Hando, Dean, and Cato B Co. 1/508th 

- Adam Geibel


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