After five minutes, Gulab and Ben Sharmak return from their conversation, and Sharmak walks away to rejoin his forces. Gulab and Luttrell stand by the mountain, staring at Ben Sharmak and his men. Gulab explains that Sharmak gave him a note demanding that Gulab either hand over “the American” or risk the death of every single person in his family.
Even when he’s threatened, point-blank, with the deaths of everyone he loves, Gulab stays loyal to Marcus Luttrell, a man he’s only just met. Gulab exhibits exceptional bravery, equal to anything Luttrell depicts in his SEAL friends.
Gulab leads Luttrell through a forest in the mountains. They’re vulnerable to Taliban soldiers, but they also have backup from villagers stationed in the forest in order to protect Gulab. Luttrell considers his situation: he’s alone with the tribesmen, “with no coherent plan,” and he’s in great pain.
Although Gulab has just saved Luttrell’s life yet again, he is hardly safe from danger.
Suddenly, Luttrell sees an Afghan man pointing an AK-47 at his face. To his relief, Luttrell realizes that the fighter is Afghan special forces—i.e., an ally of the American military. Behind the fighter, Luttrell sees two U.S. Army Rangers. Gulab, displaying “unbelievable presence of mind,” shouts out Luttrell’s BUD/S class numbers: 2-2-8.
At every stage of Luttrell’s ordeal, Gulab distinguishes himself as an exceptionally clever, resourceful, and courageous man—and here, he helps the Afghan forces ascertain that they’ve found their man.
The Army Ranger captain orders a team to move Luttrell out of the forest immediately. They begin fixing Luttrell’s wounds, replacing Sarawa’s dressings with fresh bandages and antiseptic cream. Luttrell begins to realize what’s happened: the Army Rangers have searched hundreds of square miles of mountain and found Luttrell. Luttrell tries to debrief the Rangers as quickly as possible on the danger: Ben Sharmak is nearby, accompanied by a large Taliban army. The captain says he confident he has enough men—twenty—to defeat any Taliban army. He also explains how the Rangers found Luttrell: the emergency signal he activated while he was in the mountains.
A few things to notice here: 1) Luttrell is rescued because of the distress signal he sent out himself, rather than because Gulab’s father reaches Asadabad; 2) For not the first time in the book, Luttrell is the beneficiary of some phenomenal good luck, since the Rangers have essentially stumbled upon him in the middle of the forest; 3) The passage once again emphasizes that a small number of American soldiers is more than a match for a large group of Taliban soldiers.
The Rangers lead Luttrell back to Sabray with Gulab. Back in Sabray, Luttrell gives the Ranger captain a full debriefing on his situation. He learns that Mikey, Danny, and Axe’s bodies haven’t been found. When Luttrell talks about his fight with the Taliban soldiers, he emphasizes how bravely his three teammates fought. As he talks, Luttrell can hear the sound of an American helicopter approaching the village.
Even when he’s in great pain and distress, Luttrell fulfills his duties as a soldier, providing his superiors with as much useful information as he can remember.
Suddenly, Gulab shouts, “Taliban!” The American soldiers spring into action. It’s clear to Luttrell that the Taliban, knowing that the helicopters are about to take him away, are trying one last time to kill him. The Americans open fire on the Taliban, and Luttrell smiles grimly: after everything he’s been through, it’s undeniably satisfying to see his friends shoot back at the Taliban. That night, thirty-two al Qaeda and Taliban soldiers die—“not enough,” Luttrell writes.
For the final time in the book, Luttrell writes about how satisfying revenge can be. He’s been severely wounded by Taliban forces, and the Taliban have also murdered three of his friends. It’s perversely satisfying, then, for him to witness the American military shooting dozens of Taliban troops—though, as he seems to suggest, no amount of violence can remedy his grief and regret.
As the Taliban retreat, an American helicopter lands in the Hindu Kush. The Rangers help Luttrell, and then Gulab, into the helicopter. Gulab is uncertain for the journey ahead, both because he doesn't know where he’s going and because he’s never flown before. The ride to Asadabad is short; for the time being, Gulab will remain in Asadabad, and Luttrell will go on to Bagram. Luttrell and Gulab have a short goodbye. This is painful for Luttrell, because he has no way to express his thanks to Gulab, who’s saved his life.
Luttrell and Gulab’s friendship comes to a quick and rather poignant end (in the book, at least—in real life they’ve had many more encounters). Gulab is the only Afghan character in the memoir for whom Luttrell voices clear, unambiguous respect. And yet even in Gulab’s case, Luttrell doesn’t have the ability to express his feelings of gratitude—perhaps symbolizing the alienation of the U.S. military from the people of Afghanistan they’re supposedly trying to protect.
In Bagram, Luttrell receives the medical care he desperately needs. He’s lost thirty-seven pounds, cracked three vertebrae, broken his nose, smashed his wrist, and hurt his leg. In the hospital, Luttrell weeps: to be back around people who care about him and want to protect him is overwhelming. The first thing he asks for in Bagram is a cheeseburger.
Even though Gulab and the villagers were literally saving Luttrell’s life and trying to heal him, he doesn’t perceive them as truly “caring” about him—he only feels this about the Americans back at the base. (Also: Luttrell’s request for a cheeseburger inspired a brief, funny scene in the 2008 movie Iron Man!)
Back in Texas, Luttrell’s parents learn that their son is alive. Holly is so overwhelmed that she faints. Every one of her friends and neighbors greets this news with “a pure outpouring of relief and joy.” Soon after hearing the good news, the Luttrell family joins with its friends and neighbors and sings, “God Bless America.” Luttrell speaks to his family on the phone, taking great care to be gentle with his mother and to reassure her that he’s fine.
The news of Luttrell’s survival is greeted with pure joy back in Texas. It’s interesting to notice that the Luttrells sing “God Bless America” after they get the good news—rain or shine, happy or sad, the Luttrells affirm their patriotism and their faith in the American military.
During his time in the intensive care unit, Luttrell learns about the practice of lokhay, which saved his life. He also begins to have nightmares about Mikey’s dying scream.
Luttrell seems to display symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder here: he’s haunted by vivid memories of his shootout with the Taliban, and he seems to feel guilty about being the lone survivor of the fight.
In the coming days, the troops recover the bodies of Mikey and Danny (Axe is yet to be found). Luttrell will always remember Mikey as a proud, brave, funny soldier—the best friend he ever had. But Luttrell can’t stop worrying about Axe. He tells the soldiers to track down the village elder—surely he, of all people, will know where to find this body.
Luttrell continues to show signs of intense guilt. He senses that, in a way, he’s “betrayed” his friends by surviving the shootout. Furthermore, he feels guilty for violating the SEAL code to “leave no man behind.”
Shortly afterwards, the military recovers Axe’s body. It’s discovered that he had only one round of ammunition left—two fewer than he had when Luttrell saw him. This proves that Axe lived longer than Luttrell thought, and fought to the very end.
Axe apparently died as he lived: fighting bravely for the country he loved.
On July 8, Luttrell is moved to a hospital in Germany. For a little over a week, he receives treatment and therapy for his wounds. His longest-lasting problem, strangely, isn’t a physical injury, but rather a stomach bug that he contracts from drinking unclean water.
Luttrell continues to recover from his injuries, receiving top medical care. Now that he’s escaped immediate danger, he’s treated as a hero and a top priority for the American military.
Luttrell returns to San Antonio, Texas, and reunites with his brothers. When Morgan first sees Luttrell, he just says, “Jesus, you look awful. Mom’ll have a nervous breakdown.” Luttrell laughs.
It’s a mark of Luttrell’s love and closeness with his twin that they immediately begin cracking jokes about Luttrell’s harrowing experiences, rather than being overly serious. For some people, humor is a better “cure” for trauma than exaggerated somberness—but this can also be another example of military machismo.
On the long drive home, Luttrell and his brothers catch up, and Luttrell summons the courage to tell Morgan about the death of Morgan’s best friend, Axe. Morgan weeps when he learns how Axe died.
Now that Luttrell is the lone survivor of Operation Redwing, he has to deal with psychological wounds, particularly the guilty fear that he didn’t do enough to protect Axe and the other soldiers from harm.
After the brothers arrive at their home, Holly weeps at the sight of Luttrell, who’s considerably unhealthier than he looked when Holly saw him last. To Luttrell’s surprise, there’s now a beautiful stone house on his family’s property. The house is a gift from a wealthy Texan named Scott Whitehead who, upon hearing of Luttrell’s survival, offered to build Luttrell a house. In the coming weeks, Luttrell and Morgan move in to the house, and receive many visitors, mostly SEALs. Luttrell even receives a call from former president George H. W. Bush. Bush encourages Luttrell to call if he needs help of any kind. Luttrell concludes, “Are Texans the greatest people in the world or what?”
The gifts that pour in after Luttrell is found alive testify to the patriotism and togetherness of Luttrell’s Texas community. Luttrell’s heroism in Afghanistan has caught the attention of some of the most powerful people in the world, foreshadowing the honors Luttrell will later receive from government elites. Once again Luttrell idealizes “Texan” virtues, and sees the Bushes as quintessentially Texan politicians.
In August, Luttrell is promoted to Petty Officer First Class. Luttrell receives his appointment directly from Admiral Mike Mullin, the Pentagon’s chief of Naval Operations. Mullin offers to do anything for Luttrell, and Luttrell has only one request. He removes his Texas “Lone Star” patch, which he’s worn throughout his time in Afghanistan, and he asks Mullin to give the patch directly to President George W. Bush. He adds, “President Bush is a Texan. He’ll understand.”
Luttrell regards George W. Bush as a true Texan, with whom he can speak a private, Texan language. (Although, as many people have pointed out, Bush the great Texan was born in Connecticut, attended Andover, Yale, and Harvard, couldn’t ride a horse, and lived in a “ranch” with no cattle—not exactly a great résumé for a “real Texan.”)
On September 12, 2005, Luttrell makes the decision to deploy back to the Middle East. He’s the only member of his original SEAL team left alive. He serves in Bahrain until late October, at which point he returns to Hawaii. After this visit, it’s time for Luttrell to make the most arduous journey of all: visiting the deceased SEALs’ families.
As in many a Hollywood film, we’ve come “full-circle”—we now understand why Marcus was visiting his friends’ loved ones in the first chapter.
The bodies of the deceased SEALs (including those killed in the helicopter) are flown back to the SEALs’ hometowns under special circumstances. For the SEALs who hail from small towns, as Axe does, the town itself is effectively closed down: the streets are closed to make way for the funeral, and nobody goes to work. The people in Axe’s town are proud Americans: they respect Axe for his sacrifice. “No amount of poison about our alleged brutality,” Luttrell adds, “is going to change what most people think.”
Luttrell makes one of the quintessential right-wing American arguments: the “real” America can be found in small towns, where people respect America and the military, rather than in big coastal cities where liberals criticize the troops. Luttrell’s comments about America’s “alleged brutality” haven’t aged well, and were offensive even at the time. In 2004, news broke of the torture and abuse perpetrated by the American soldiers in charge of Abu Ghraib prison, showing that the abuse Luttrell mentions here was real and brutal.
During his visits to the SEALs’ families, Luttrell travels to New York, D.C., Los Angeles, and many other smaller cities. Shortly afterwards, he returns to Coronado, where he conducted his BUD/S training. He finds the bell that recruits were permitted to ring during Hell Week. Seeing this bell makes him realize that any number of SEAL recruits would have acted exactly as he acted in Afghanistan. He wouldn’t trade his experiences in the Navy for anything—he was, and is, “a United States Navy SEAL.”
In this important scene, Luttrell seems to come to terms with some of his guilt and trauma. Even though he’s been hurt, both psychologically and physically, by his experiences in Afghanistan, he’s proud to have fought for his country. Many victims of PTSD suffer from the crippling feeling that they’re all alone in the world. Luttrell, however, seems to take comfort in the fact that he’s not alone at all: he’s surrounded by other SEALs who’ve received the same training, would’ve behaved the same way he did in Afghanistan, and understand what he’s going through.