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On April 8, Fox Company were the first to enter Iraq’s capital. The main group stayed outside the city on a secured soccer field, while the rest split up into three platoons of 40 men each who entered the city from different directions. Their rendezvous point was the Iraqi Ministry of Intelligence, located at an intersection of five streets.
As they approached it, they were met with sniper fire and rocket-propelled grenades, forcing them to scatter. To their horror, cars were being pulled over by militia who would force their hapless drivers to zoom toward the American positions at gunpoint – the Marines had no choice but to fire into both enemy combatants and hostage civilians alike.
Vidaña served as a radio operator who kept his distance from the snipers, the RPGs, and the suicidal cars because he had to relay orders from his company commander. It made no difference. In one of the buildings behind him, someone took aim and fired.
The bullet hit its mark and smashed through the right side of Vidaña’s helmet. Kevlar stopped some of it, but the rest punched through, tearing through his skull and lodging in his brain. He didn’t even feel the slug. All he remembered was his head snapping forward then jerking back before darkness fell.
George Rosado, a Navy Corpsman (a medical specialist with the Marine Corps) got to him first. He had undergone the ten-month training program at Camp Pendleton and considered Vidaña his friend, but there was nothing he could do except pronounce the Marine dead. While waiting for a truck to haul the body off, Rosado hoped against hope and checked a second time… to his surprise, his friend was still alive.
Vidaña was finally rushed back to the waiting FRSS unit. They had stayed outside Baghdad because the situation was deemed too dangerous for them to enter. It had taken too long, however, so the Marine was pronounced dead a second time.
Closer inspection showed that he wasn’t. His heart was still beating, but it was so weak, he didn’t register a pulse. Clearly they had to work on his head, but there was a problem. The military didn’t send over many brain surgeons. Experience told them that most injuries they’d have to deal with would be orthopedic in nature (bones, joints, tendons, muscles, and nerves).
So the doctors turned to Gupta, but there was another problem. They couldn’t open Vidaña’s head. Fortunately, the Expeditionary Force had a complete set of tools, including a Black and Decker power drill. Gupta took that, and with the help of the other doctors, got to work. An hour later, the Marine was recuperating.
Vidaña not only received a Purple Heart, he became a licensed therapist. As of 2016, he is advocating for health care reform and remains in touch with Gupta.