I was once lucky enough to share and stage, and then a drink, with this fella, who got shot down in the first Gulf war. One thing that sticks out from his talk was they recovered a recording of the low-level attack of the Tornado he was in, which came in so low the bombs they dropped onto an airfield hit their aircraft, setting it on fire. In the recording, both voices seemed so calm, even as you can hear the warning alarms going off in the cockpit, until finally the pilot say’s “I’m losing it, I’m losing it”, and then “eject”.
Another thing that stuck in my mind was how as he was floating down to earth, a huge battle going on all around him, he suddenly forgot how to release the survival pack from his harness, meaning he’d probably break both his legs. This was unexpected as every year, he’d had to demonstrate his ability to do this in order to keep on flying, but I guess practice only gets you so far.
There was a lot more I remember, but that last thing I’ll share is this: after being interrogated and beaten up – which was more to tick a box than intelligence – he lay on the floor, semi-conscious, no doubt wondering if the Geneva convention stretched all the way to Iraq, when heard the cell door open, and someone comes in. With his eyes closed, he waited for the kick, the punch, perhaps the bullet. Instead, he felt a set of hands pulling his body into a sitting position, then dragging it to a low wall, then lifted his arm, so it was resting on it. For a moment, he thought this unknown person was now going to break his arm, but instead, he walked away and closed the door. What he’d imagined was going to be more pain, was in fact, the opposite: a guard, who, seeing - and no doubt having heard - his enemy being beaten, and left in the dirt, had done nothing but tried to make another human being - one who had just been dropping bombs on him - a little more comfortable.