by Austin Bay
May 6, 2008
Michael Yon is
one of those unusual Americans who emerge in wartime to do the jobs that need to
be done. The job he is doing is covering combat in Iraq at the gritty, confusing
and valiant level of close combat, and doing so with honesty, passion and
professional expertise. His new book, "Moment of Truth in Iraq," testifies to
Yon isn't World
War II's Ernie Pyle, he's the Global War on Terror's Michael Yon. This is a
different war with a very different media environment. Yon "self-embedded" with
U.S. combat units in 2005 -- paying his own way and getting donations through
his Website michaelyon-online.com. Given the Internet and digital technology, it
isn't really surprising that emails and Web logs (blogs) have been the richest
sources of detailed, day-to-day combat reporting. Yon is part of this new media
however, is Pyle's -- be there with the troops, with the Iraqis, in the
vehicles, on foot patrols, in the alleys and in the homes, then tell what
happened and tell it well. Yon writes: "I prefer to write what I see with my own
eyes in the streets and on the battlefield, to paint a picture as intimate and
rich in detail as I can, and then ... let the reader come to his own
I've read out loud the following passage from "Moment of Truth" in its entirety,
and both times my small audience asked, "Why don't we hear more stories like
Yon titles this
vignette "Gates of Fire: Mosul 2005." Eleven compelling photos Yon took during
the dirty, intimate battle complement the prose.
situation: Yon was accompanying the commander of the 1-24 Infantry, Lt. Col.
Erik Kurilla. A terrorist had shot a young sergeant in downtown Mosul. Kurilla
spotted a black Opel and -- playing a professional's hunch -- the chase was on.
The three men in the Opel abandoned the car and ran. Kurilla, his command
section and Yon (with a camera) left their personnel carrier and gave chase on
Yon picks up
shops, alleys, doorways, windows. Shots were fired behind us, but around a
corner to the left LTC Kurilla began running in the direction of the shooting.
He passed by me and I chased, Kurilla leading the way. There was a quick and
heavy volume of fire. And then LTC Kurilla was shot.
running while he was hit in three places including his femur, which was
shattered. The commander didn't seem to miss a stride. He did a crazy judo roll
and came up shooting. ... Bullets were hitting all around Kurilla. The young
second lieutenant and specialist who were part of Kurilla's crew that day were
the only two soldiers nearby. Neither had real combat experience ... the
interpreter had no weapon. I had a camera. ... I screamed to the young soldiers,
'Throw a grenade in there!' but they were not attacking. They didn't have
grenades ... or the combat experience to grasp the power of momentum. Help
arrived in the form of one man: Command Sergeant Major Prosser. Prosser ran
around the corner, passed the two young soldiers, who were crouched low, and me,
and started firing at a man inside who was trying to shoot Kurilla with a
pistol. Prosser shot the man at least four times with his M4 rifle. But the
American M4 rifles are weak. The man just staggered back, regrouped and tried to
shoot Prosser. Then Prosser's M4 went black (no more bullets). Prosser threw
down his empty M4, ran into the shop and tackled the man. I saw the very bloody
leg of CSM Prosser inside the shop. He appeared to be shot down and dead. I saw
Prosser's M4 on the ground."
Yon picks up
Prosser's rifle, grabs a magazine, fires three wild rounds attempting to save
Prosser as four more soldiers arrive. Yon writes: "Prosser wasn't dead, he was
fighting hand to hand while the terrorist was trying to bite Prosser's wrist,
but instead he bit into the face of Prosser's watch. Prosser subdued him by
smashing his face into the concrete. The combat drama was ended, so I started
snapping photos again."
Quite a piece
of prose -- terror, courage, physical combat action, choices bad, good and maybe
made palpable and immediate in the fearsome detail of direct experience.