In the middle of the shoot-out with the Taliban, Mikey shouts, “Fall back!” Right away, Axe and Luttrell jump down the mountain, while Mikey and Danny provide cover. Luttrell and Axe land safely, but almost as soon as they do, a grenade detonates, blowing them farther down the mountain. Amazingly, Luttrell and Axe are unharmed, although Luttrell has a broken nose. Luttrell writes, “I don’t know much about Mohammad, but by all that’s holy, I don’t think my own God wished me to die.”
The fact that Luttrell survives the attack of the Taliban troops is incredible and in some ways almost miraculous, affirming Luttrell’s lifelong faith in God (and also, perhaps, some inconsistencies in his narrative). But notice how, even in this moment, Luttrell distinguishes between the Islamic faith of the Taliban and that of the Christian soldiers. In this way, Luttrell suggests that Muslims worship a different god and are fundamentally different from Christians (even though one could argue that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, in different ways).
Luttrell and Axe shoot back at the Taliban. There are at least eighty soldiers rushing toward them. Danny and Mikey, amazingly, have managed to leap down the mountain and rejoin Luttrell and Axe. Mikey jokes, “this really sucks.” A grenade explodes, throwing Danny to the ground. Then a bullet hits him in the neck again. Luttrell begins to weep: he’s supposed to be a medic, but he has no way of helping his friend.
Even in the midst of a horrifying fight with the Taliban, Mikey manages to crack a joke—describing the battle as if it’s a minor irritation, rather than a life-threatening catastrophe. Luttrell feels helpless, since he’s unable to help the people he’s been trained to help.
The four SEALs manage to move farther down the mountain, with Luttrell dragging Danny. Just then, additional Taliban fighters appear in the distance—the SEALs are even more badly outnumbered than they’d thought. A bullet hits Axe in the chest, and his rifle falls to the ground. But then he picks up his gun and resumes firing—Luttrell writes that this was “the bravest thing I ever saw.”
Luttrell is overcome with admiration for his three friends, who fight to the death against a much more powerful foe. In one sense, Lone Survivor is an act of bearing witness to the heroism of Luttrell’s fallen comrades.
Luttrell realizes that Danny, who he’s been dragging down the mountain, is dead. Somehow, this makes Luttrell concentrate on survival: he says, “We have to get down this goddamned mountain or we’ll all be dead.” In this moment of crisis, Luttrell remembers the SEAL code: be stronger, smarter, and tougher than one’s enemies, and never surrender.
The loss of a close friend would cause some people to give up or become hysterical; however, Luttrell, due partly to his training and partly to his natural personality, falls back on his SEAL training and concentrates on the task at hand: saving his life and the lives of his surviving friends.
The SEALs try to move down the mountain, but they’re in such bad shape that they can barely protect their position. Knowing he has no other option, Mikey phones military HQ—something he’s been warned not to do unless he has no other option, since the call will betray the team’s position. He says, “We need help.” Just then, a Taliban soldier fires a bullet into his back, and he falls to the floor. Luttrell will never forget the calm tone in Mikey’s voice as he makes the call: fearless even on the brink of death.
Ernest Hemingway once defined courage as “grace under pressure,” and by that definition, Mikey’s calm, measured words to military HQ are the perfect example of courage. Instead of betraying his fear, Mikey controls his emotions, living up to the code of bravery and stoic machismo which he’s learned in the course of becoming a SEAL.
Luttrell is the least injured member of the team, but he’s running out of ammunition. Mikey falls to the ground and screams out in pain. Then, very abruptly, he falls silent—he’s dead, as is Danny. Axe is losing blood fast—within a few minutes, he’ll probably be dead too. He says, “You stay alive, Luttrell. Tell Cindy I love her.” These are his last words.
In his last moments, Axe utters a simple but poignant request, suggesting that he dies thinking about the people he cares most about, like his wife, Cindy. Axe’s last words also seem to act as a kind of charm for Luttrell—he is meant to survive, in part to convey his fallen comrades’ sentiments to their loved ones.
Suddenly, a grenade explodes, blowing Luttrell off his feet. He loses consciousness for a moment, and when he comes to, his left leg is jammed with shrapnel. His vision is blurred, and, bizarrely, his pants have been blown off. All he can do is crawl on his belly. And yet, once again, his rifle has landed just a few feet away from him. In this dark moment, Luttrell stops to pray to God for mercy. He also remembers the code of the SEALs, and vows never to surrender to the Taliban soldiers who’ve murdered his friends.
Luttrell continues to endure horrific pain, and yet he remains focused on the matter at hand. In his time of crisis, Luttrell turns to the two authorities by which he lives his life: God and the United States military. It would be easy to give up, but with the help of his religion and his professional training, Luttrell finds the strength to continue fighting.
Luttrell begins to gather his senses. He can’t hear any gunfire, suggesting that the Taliban assume he’s dead. But then he hears more gunfire: the Taliban are nearby. However, they can’t see where he is, since he’s hiding under a rock. Thinking quickly, Luttrell wipes the blood off the rock so that the soldiers won’t be able to track him. He has no medical supplies, but he has a gun, some ammunition, and a compass. All he can do is pray that the enemy soldiers don’t find him. This is the first time in his career as a SEAL that he’s been genuinely scared. He’ll later learn that this was “the worst disaster to befall the SEALs” in history.
Even though he’s disoriented and frightened, Luttrell has the presence of mind to hide any signs of his whereabouts, a decision that may have saved his life. He also assesses his situation, taking stock of what he has and what he’s lost in his fall. In short, Luttrell acts like a good SEAL, keeping his wits about him even in the face of incredible danger.
Back at the U.S. military base, Luttrell later learns, Lieutenant Kristensen gets Mikey’s message and sends the entire 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, along with the rest of SEAL Team 10, to recover the SEALs. The primary commander of the recovery mission is Major Steve Reich. The recovery mission flies out to find the SEALs. As the SEALs’ helicopter approaches Ben Sharmak’s base, however, the Taliban soldiers fire on it. A rocket-propelled grenade hits the helicopter, killing everyone on board. At the time, though, Luttrell knows nothing about this.
The recovery of the four SEALs causes an even worse tragedy, making Operation Redwing indeed one of the greatest disasters in SEAL history. This confirms some of the misgivings that Luttrell had even before he left on Operation Redwing: it’s virtually impossible to land a helicopter surreptitiously in a small, remote community, meaning that anyone who does so will be vulnerable to the Taliban.
Wounded, and still hiding under the rock, Luttrell pulls out his radio and tries to make contact. He can hear an aircrew talking, but he’s too disoriented to speak. Instead, he activates his emergency distress beacon. Luttrell later learns that the American team was reluctant to respond to the beacon, because the Taliban sometimes use them to lure helicopters into fire.
Luttrell is so shocked and traumatized by what he’s just experienced that he can’t even speak. This is by no means unusual for people who survive horrific disasters, even those with as much military training as Luttrell.
By this time, the sun is setting behind the mountains. Luttrell is thirsty and frightened, but he doesn’t move for fear of being shot. He notices a Taliban soldier carrying a gun, some 150 yards away—surely, the soldier is trying to find Luttrell. Slowly, Luttrell raises his gun and fires upon the soldier, killing him instantly. Soon after, two other soldiers rush over to where the soldier has fallen. Luttrell kills the two soldiers in three shots, before they can figure out where the bullets are coming from.
Luttrell manages to defend himself from a small group of Taliban soldiers without attracting the rest of them. In this way, he lives up to his expert training as a sniper, shooting precisely in order to conceal his position. (Although once again it’s worth considering later reports of the situation, which suggest that very few—if any—Taliban soldiers were killed at all.)
Luttrell is light-headed from loss of blood, and his backs hurts—he later learns he’s cracked three vertebrae during his falls. Knowing he’s going to die unless he finds help, he decides to move. He can barely put pressure on his left leg, but he manages to move by taking short strides up the mountain.
Luttrell is slowly bleeding to death, but he summons the strength to move himself away in search of help and water. He’s a SEAL, meaning that he’s been trained to work through pain.