Inspired by the experiences of Peter “Lindy” Lindenthal
by Robert LeHeup
You should see the guy. Six foot and change, chops that could frighten a hurricane, lean, mean, and the sort of man you either fear or have on your side. He wears heavy metal shirts of bands he probably inspired, with rings and chains of the macabre that, by the nature of wearing them, are a workout all their own. Bearing tattoos that might very well come to life one day, he speaks directly, a sniper of points made when he’s in a good way, his words like punches when he isn’t. He’s trained in several martial arts, working through age like it ain’t a thing in spite of everyone pointing out otherwise. Some could claim that he hides carefully a kind and caring nature, where at the core he’s doing his best to understand the world. Here’s the thing: He ain’t hidin’ nothin’. He doesn’t have to. The good, the bad… We all have both. But not all of us own them like he does.
Peter “Lindy” Lindenthal was talking with his platoon sergeant, Staff Sergeant Hoover, a man of equal capacity, driven, serious, and focused on mission accomplishment until he can afford otherwise. And when he trusted you, it was for damned good reason. And as trust can take you, advice comes with it. At one point, given the mutual respect that had been created, they crossed the subject of insubordination.
“Here’s the thing,” Hoover said. “They can’t charge you for your thoughts, beliefs, or feelings. So keep that in mind if there’s ever a necessary moment. Not that there should be. But we’re Marines. We adapt and overcome. That includes anger management.”
That style of trust continued as they found themselves at Forward Operating Base Naray, strategically set up by a mountain valley in Afghanistan, close to the eastern border. There had been roughly a platoon’s worth of Marines there, including 60mm and 81mm mortars, machine guns, assaultmen, Operational Detachment Alpha with the Army (think Delta Force or Green Berets), as well as several squads of Afghan security forces. After about a month, they had become used to locals in a nearby village firing off potshots that landed a hundred yards off. Lindy’s past experience with training local tribes in the Republic of Georgia left him with a confident feeling of doubt in their abilities.
On June 23rd of 2004, roughly a month after they had arrived, Lindy, along with a fireteam (4 men) from his squad and another fireteam from the assaultmen, split to cover the eastern and western portions of the valley. The valley itself was filled with blistering heat, bookmarked by rocky crags and micro terrain that could be used for cover, none of which inspired confidence in anyone. But the village that the ODA needed photographed could potentially harbor some serious Al Qaeda villains. For all those reasons, though dangerous, reconnaissance preparation would be key in future patrols.
Having a base so close, they could strip themselves of unessential gear. A vest, rounds, stripped MREs, a few other basics. And then there were those little Camelbak backpacks they could fill with water. Funny thing being they always pushed the pack up slightly. Still they might have had humps like Ninja Turtles, but they wouldn’t be thirsty. So as the evening came, having blown through their MREs, camelbaks and taken more than enough photographs for their mission, they returned to the base on trucks.
Upon arrival, Lindy was giving a situation report to Hoover and the platoon commander. At the tail end of it, one of his squad leaders approached him, respectfully pulling him to the side to tell him that McClenney, 18 years old and with all the responsibility that comes with it, had lost his Night Vision Goggles, or NVGs, somewhere between leaving for the mission and returning. As soon as Lindy got to his tent, he let into his Marines with a righteous fire. He’d made sure that they had checked their gear before they’d left Bagram and he’d be damned if his Marines were going to have lost such an expensive piece of equipment accidentally. However, after searching the tent, surrounding area, and trucks they were riding in, they found nothing.
And so he had to tell Hoover about McClenney losing his NVGs and that, after all their searching, they couldn’t find them. They talked about what should happen next, Hoover questioning going out to look for them in the valley. But Lindy said it was a bad idea. Too much micro terrain, too many hills to tire those who were unfamiliar with them. Too much bad juju lying in wait in that valley. Maybe punishing McClenney would be the best option. For a long, arduous time, sure, but punishment seemed the most reasonable option. Consider the NVGs a “combat loss.” But regardless, the end result would be that they would have to tell the platoon commander, a relatively young and inexperienced officer whose abilities were unproven.
Maybe that platoon commander didn’t want to look bad to his superiors. Maybe he thought it through and simply reached a different conclusion. After all, they hadn’t actually taken much fire at that point and the little they had was ridiculous. Instead, his orders were for the Marines to go back out to the valley in the morning and search for the NVGs. Lindy, in retrospect, has since reconciled this decision, knowing that the officer was doing his best. So Lindy, being the Marine that he is, soluted, then went to give a brief to the men that had to go back out in the morning.
This micro-op coincided with two other operations, which would leave the base bare-bones. Staff Sergeant Hoover would be leaving on a friend-finding mission several miles farther north of the valley, along with half the attachments that arrived with them. Another group was also preparing for a more reliably violent operation, where each man was reminded that they were there to pull the trigger when necessary, regardless of age or sex. So that also seemed to have more priority than a simple pair of night vision goggles. With this in mind, Lindy was left as the highest ranking non commissioned officer on deck. His responsibility to the base kept him from leaving.
On the morning of the 24th of June, Lindy, along with Lance Corporal Cutter, drove LCpl Molby, LCpl Thacker, and PFC McClenney to the initial starting point of the patrol they had gone on the previous day. As they got out and grabbed their gear, Lindy did something strange. Something beyond brotherly, caught between gratitude, duty, and affection. But something… beyond just brotherly. He reached out to Thacker, gave him a one-armed embrace, and kissed him on the forehead, saying “Find those NVGs and I’ll see you in a few hours.” It even felt a little odd to Lindy, but he didn’t care.
Once he’d driven back to the base, he and Cutter went to the morale tent, where a television had been set up, along with a VCR and one of those newfangled DVD things. They started watching Black Hawk Down, waiting for the call to come pick his guys back up, or to help other patrols unload once they’d arrived back from their missions. It was around 1600 hours (4pm) that a comm’s (communications) guy busted into the tent, anxious and panicked.
“They’re taking fire!”
A lot of people had been “taking fire” since they got there. Pot shots were a common thing and some people handled them better than others.
“What kind of fire?” he asked, wary of overreactions.
Lindy practically knocked the comms guy down as he ran into the radio room.
And he was right.
It was bad.
“What’s the situation?!” he screamed through the handset.
He heard a panicked voice respond “Three Tango (Thacker) hit! Probable KIA! Three Mike (Molby) MIA! 2 Mike (McClenney) WIA!”
Holy shit… it’s the kid…
It should have taken 30 minutes to get to where Lindy had dropped them off. He and a full squad of Marines made it in 12. He stayed on the radio to keep McClenney calm, jumping out of the truck as soon as it stopped to unload everyone. He and his squad started moving down the road and up into the mountains, a steady jog that became a run. There was one final burst of an AK, long, as though they were emptying their full magazine. After that, the only noise that was heard were their own breath and footfalls. No AK fire. No radio. And deafening. They cleared an old set of stables that was falling apart, meant to hold goats in between wars the Afghans had been fighting for decades. After that… Lindy started bounding.
Two months before, he had been in the mountains of Georgia, climbing up the Appalachians, so his body was entirely familiar with both the strain and terrain. There was another Marine that had been stationed at the base who was also familiar with doing mountain patrols. So between the two of them, the squad that went with them could hardly keep up. But between adrenaline and concern, Lindy might as well have been a cloud of dust to those that followed. Throwing aside the care for his own wellbeing, he began yelling out the missing Marines’ names.
“Thacker! McClenney! Molby! The fuck are you guys?!”
He didn’t get a response.
“Thacker! McClenney! Molb-”
In running so quickly, Lindy and the other Marine had actually run past them. They followed the voice to find Lance Corporal Molby. He’d been shot in the chest, lying flat, playing dead. If he hadn’t, Lindy might not have been able to find the others. So as the corpsman got McClenney stabilized, Lindy began searching.
The first one he found was Lance Corporal Juston Thacker. He’d been serving with Thacker for years. Trust was being founded. The sort of trust that was built to pass on advice, eyes reflecting the gratitude from mutual respect.
It was strange to see those same eyes, now far more blue, glazed, his chest riddled with holes, life snuffed, future gone.
A few yards up the goat trail was Private First Class Daniel McClenney. He was the one who was speaking on the radio until that last burst of AK-47 fire. Lindy could see what had happened. Turns out he refused to let go of the radio. It only went dead when they broke his arm. The emptying of the magazine afterward was his skullcap being blown off. And then, given what was at his feet, Lindy looked at McClenney’s head and knew. They had put their fingers inside his skull, scooped the brain out at the stem, and threw it at his feet.
Lindy took off his flack jacket and undershirt, covering McClenney as best he could so the rest of his men didn’t have to see what they’d done. But as they were patrolling back to their landing zone, Lindy was crying, his face covered in the blood of his men. When the chopper finally got close, the steep incline of the hill threatened it’s blades and further casualties, leaving only the opportunity to load McClenney before having to find a new landing zone out. So they all got on trucks, with Lindy in the back next to Thacker. At one point, he raised his head to an ODA team member, commenting “Huh. I don’t remember him leaving a camelbak.”
The ODA man was a large man. 250 pounds of meat you couldn’t cut with a knife. But his eyes still went wide with Lindy’s. He had thought Thacker’s camelbak had burst and was being caught in his shirt. It wasn’t. What had gathered instead was deep black leaving red stains.
After they left the final LZ, they were then escorted by Apaches helicopters back to base. Once there, Lindy had to give a debriefing on the events that had just transpired. From there, it was a “health assessment,” where he freely admitted he was shaken, but not combat ineffective. He would still be there for them. For his guys. And what’s more, he recognized that his men had stumbled upon an ambush meant for the patrol that arrived shortly after they had. Were they not there, over a dozen men, rather than three, could have been injured or killed. Turns out that was the right response. The platoon sergeant and platoon commander approached him separately to pass along their sympathies. They also let him keep his job, and gave him enough distance to mourn and reconcile at his own pace. All except for one.
Lindy had known his first sergeant for a while now. He knew his gruff voice belied a man who was deeply religious, but an ordained minister who gave services in the morale tent on Sundays. Lindy always wished him nothing but the best. He respects religion and the religious. For that reason, and knowing that he didn’t want anything to do with a church service, he did his best to avoid the first sergeant as he was inviting everyone to the service for Lance Corporal Juston Thacker and Private First Class Daniel McClenney. But the first sergeant was eager to get Lindy’s attention, and being the Marine that he is, Lindy stopped when called.
“Yes, first sergeant.”
“You should come to the service. It’ll be good for you.”
“Respectfully, first sergeant, but I don’t think that’s the best thing for me right-”
“Nah, it’ll really be good for you. C’mon. The rest of the guys are coming.”
“First sergeant, with all due respect-”
“You’re coming! What do you think about that?”
Lindy paused for a second, reminded himself of some wise words he was once told, and responded.
“I think you should fuck yourself, first sergeant.”
The pause. That precious, precious pause where the first sergeant’s eyes went wide, face red with blood vessels begging to pop, entire posture clenched, mouth puckered… But it was when his voice went from a growl to a squeak that Lindy knew to savor that moment.
“What’s that you just said?!”
So Lindy, being the Marine that he is, nodded his head to reassure the first sergeant that his hearing wasn’t going bad, then slowed his speech just a tiny bit.
“I think you should fuck yourself, first sergeant.”
The squeaking continued, this time with a shaking finger pointed at Lindy’s face.
“You had better talk to your platoon sergeant before I do!”
Lindy nodded, said “Roger that,” then left to speak directly to his platoon sergeant. Sitting behind a desk with a stern face, Staff Sergeant Hoover was stooped over a book. He looked up to see Lindy, eyes wide, shaking his head at losing his cool to the first sergeant.
“You talked with the first sergeant, didn’t you?”
“How did you-” Hoover cut him off.
“How’d it go?”
“I said some shit I probably shouldn’t have.”
Hoover stared at Lindy, waiting for him to get to the punchline.
“I told him I think he should fuck himself.”
Hoover leaned in just slightly.
“Yes, Staff Sergeant.”
Hoover leaned in just a bit more.
“Those are the exact words? You said ‘you thought?’”
“Yes, Staff Sergeant.”
Staff Sergeant Hoover nodded his head, smiling.