Spc. Gerry DeNardi stood at the on-base Burger King, just a few miles from downtown Baghdad, hoping for a quick taste of home.
Camp Taji encompasses miles of scrapped Iraqi tanks, a busy U.S. airstrip and thousands of soldiers living in row upon row of identical trailers. Several fast-food stands, a PX and a dining facility the size of a football field compose Taji’s social hub. . .
As DeNardi walked up the three wood steps to the outdoor stand to pick up his burger, the siren wailed.
Wah! Wah! Wah! “Incoming! Incoming! Incoming!”
The alarms went off all the time — often after the mortar round or rocket had struck nothing but sand, miles from anything important. Many soldiers and others at Taji had taken to ignoring the warnings. DeNardi glanced around at the picnic tables to make sure everyone was still eating. They were. The foreign nationals who worked the fast-food stands hadn’t left; so he went back to get the burger he had paid for.
The mortar round hit before he could pick up his order.
“I turned around and all of Burger King and me went flying,” DeNardi said. . . “I’m not getting killed at Burger King,” he thought, and he dived for a concrete bunker. People were screaming. DeNardi saw a worker from Cinnabon hobbling around, so he climbed out of the bunker, pulled shrapnel out of the man’s leg and bandaged him. The Pizza Hut manager was crying and said two more foreign workers were injured behind her stand — near the Burger King.
“Lightning doesn’t strike twice,” DeNardi said, “so I went back. But there were body parts everywhere.” The first man’s leg had been blown off, his other leg was barely attached and he had a chest wound. “He was going to die,” DeNardi said.
The other wounded man had shrapnel to his neck. DeNardi peeled off his own shirt and fashioned a bandage out of it as other soldiers started streaming in to help.
Then, “all clear” sounded over the loudspeakers as medics arrived and took over.
“I’m covered in blood, but I still have my hamburger receipt,” DeNardi said. “I went back to Burger King the next day, but they wouldn’t give me my burger."