The pale figure shot through the chest was Alvin Bert Grantham. He was from Mobile, Alabama, and he was 18 years old. A year earlier, he and his friend Freddie Prist had joined the Marines. They had been working as bricklayers. Both had dropped out of high school, and when the draft board came calling, they decided to join the Marines. They knew nothing about Vietnam or the war, except that the communists were trying to take over the country and had to be stopped.
The assault against Huáº¿ came on the 31st, and the battle for control of the Citadel lasted for 25 bloody days, with the combatants controlling an ever-shifting patchwork inside the three-square-mile precinct. The fighting was inch-by-inch, room-by-room. Grantham's unit was nearly always directly across a street from the enemy, and each morning rang with action. The unit was repeatedly ordered to send squads across, and the squads were mowed down each time. Then the Marines would spend excruciating minutes, sometimes hours, trying to drag the killed and wounded back. Once, Grantham watched as a sergeant walked out alongside a tank to try to retrieve a fallen Marine. When they got close, he took off his helmet and leaned down to place his ear on the man's chest, to see if his heart was still beatingâ€”and was shot through the head, the bullet entering by his left ear, just below the temple, and exiting through his right jaw. The sergeant, improbably, was still alive. He fell over and rolled around, and the men behind him, Grantham included, shouted for him to crawl back. He made it to a ditch in front of the house where the rest of his squad was hiding, and a corpsman went to work on him there.