A tiny lady with short-cropped blond hair approached me after I concluded a speech at Oklahoma State University. “God sent you to us,” she promptly announced.

“What?”

“We prayed for a Green Beret. God sent you.”

Nancy explained she was a member of a missionary group loosely affiliated with Franklin Graham (Billy Graham’s son). Her mission was the children of the Sahrawi, refugees from West Sahara. The Sahrawi were now wards of the United Nations in camps on the Sahara Desert of Algeria.

Weeks before, in 2003, the United States had launched its war against Iraq and Saddam Hussein, generating terrorist activity all over northern Africa. I was a veteran of 29 years with the military, thirteen of those with Army Special Forces. The Green Berets. Nancy insisted that God wanted me to escort her and two other women missionaries to Algeria to protect them against terrorists. While I wasn’t convinced that God selected me, that I was an answer to anyone’s prayer, I nonetheless shrugged and packed my old parachute bag. After all, have bag will travel. Anywhere, anytime, for whatever reason.

That was how I met and became friends with Zorgon. His face was dark and sharp and gaunt from a hard desert life, but his black eyes twinkled merrily and he was prone to break into chuckles at the least provocation. He had lived in UN camps most of his life, those scatterings of sand-colored mud houses not far from the border of his old homeland.

In 1975, when he was ten years old and Morocco invaded West Sahara after the Spaniards moved out, refugees fled east into the desert with what few treasures they could carry in packs, in donkey carts, on the backs of camels, or—for the more fortunate—in vehicles. Zorgon’s family walked for two months with the “Green March.” His grandmother starved to death on the way.

“One day,” he explained, “I see Morocco airplanes bomb refugees as they walk through a pass. Soon, a truck comes by and there are many people in the back. They scream and cry and blood pours from the back of the truck and leaves a trail on the road which the flies swarm. I am terrified and we run and we run, but to what? The airplanes come and they bomb us too, my mother and my sister and all the others. That is when I lose my arm. My mother carry me across the Algerian border to here, where refugees are building a camp. Then she dies from heartbreak, and I am left to live with my uncle.”

His arm had been blown off at the shoulder. That was 28 years ago. As a replacement, he wore a makeshift arm consisting of an old bicycle inner tube stuffed with rags and sawdust, to the end of which he appended a hard-molded rubber novelty hand with its middle digit extended in a gesture known universally as “the bird.” The arm swung freely when he walked and dragged on the floor behind as he scooted on his haunches to tend a teapot on its little brazier of coals.

I stayed mostly with Zorgon and his family in their little mud hut. On the wall hung a framed cutout of a recliner chair from a mail order catalog.

“One of these days,” Zorgon said wistfully, “I will own a chair like that.”

 

“In the predawn of May 12, 2007, two Humvees occupied by seven soldiers and an Iraqi translator were ambushed by insurgents. When the smoke cleared, four soldiers were dead and three missing. For more than a year, Delta searched for their missing comrades. Their creed of battle: None left behind.” NONE LEFT BEHIND (St. Martin’s) by Charles W. Sasser