All around him was the noise of combat, but Marine Lance Cpl. Ronald Tull said the missile that hit his light armored vehicle came quietly.
"You don't hear it or see it coming. It just happened," Tull said before his release this weekend from the San Diego Naval Hospital.Tull, 22, of Twentynine Palms, was the lone survivor among eight Marines in the scout vehicle struck by friendly fire during a Jan. 30 battle against Iraqi forces pushing into the Saudi Arabian frontier town of Khafji from occupied Kuwait.
Eleven Marines of the 1st Marine Division, based at Camp Pendleton, were killed in the Persian Gulf war's first major ground battle, including Utah's Dion James Stephenson.
Tull, who completed boot camp last April, said he had been in Saudi Arabia with his light armored infantry battalion nearly six months before the night of combat.
"It started like every other evening. The next thing we knew there was gunfire. You could see the tracer rounds," said Tull, who was the driver.
"It looked just like Christmas. The only thing you could see were the lights. They were getting hit. You knew it was going on, but you didn't have a chance to think or feel anything about it."
The fighting raged for hours. Then, he said, he felt a searing heat and a jolt of incredible force reverberating through the vehicle. He lost consciousness.
"When I woke up, I was outside my vehicle," Tull said. "It's probably better if I don't say what I saw. I still have my friends' families to think about.
"The minute I woke up on the battlefield, I wondered about that, you know, why I'm alive, and God's the only word I can tell you. There's no other explanation."Tull suffered burns to his face and hands, a lung contusion and a fractured vertebra that will require him to wear a support brace for about two months, said Navy Dr. Bill Pekarske.
Tull said he bears no resentment toward the pilot who fired the missile.
"The pilot was doing his job," he said. "My friends that did not come back, they knew about friendly fire. We knew about combat, we'd never been in it, but we knew about it. None of us complained.
"They wouldn't be sore at the pilot either, because they know what war's about. Unfortunately, friendly fire is just a part of it. That's all I can say."
Tull said he was very close to his buddies and he misses them. He said they are heroes, not him.
"You know, you prepare your defense together, you dig your holes, you sleep together. In the morning you wake each other up, you eat together, you talk together, you're always together. I want to remember my friends for the things that we did. That's the best way to remember them. They would want it that way," he said.
Tull's journey home began with his evacuation to a field hospital in Saudi Arabia. He arrived Sunday at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, where he saw his parents, the Rev. Murrell and Ginger Tull, who live in New Jersey.
He was flown on to San Diego, arriving Monday, to recuperate at the Naval Hospital. He has had visits from his wife, Susan, 22, as well as from Miss America, Marjorie Judith Vincent, who toured the hospital Valentine's Day.
Right now, he said he's ready to go home to his wife and their 1-year-old son, but he added: "I'd go over there again right now . . . but my wife doesn't want to hear that."