Tech. Sgt. John Chapman ran out of a bunker on the Takur Ghar mountaintop for the second time, intentionally risking fire from heavily armed enemy fighters.
Shot several times already, Chapman attempted to halt the al-Qaida forces’ assault on an incoming MH-47 Chinook helicopter carrying U.S. special operators.
He no longer had the cover of night, and exposed himself to the enemy as he ran. Dashing out to the ridge line in five-foot-deep snow, Chapman fired at the enemy fighters who were loading rocket-propelled grenades, helping additional American forces to enter the landing zone.
It would be his final bold act before two shots from a large-caliber machine gun cut through his torso, one destroying his aorta and killing him instantly.
But this, Chapman’s final fight, occurred well after the special tactics airman had already been presumed dead.
A 30-month investigation involving eyewitness testimony from nearby Army and Air Force service members and drone targeteers, intelligence reports and aircraft video feed proved that Chapman not only lived after he was initially hit and knocked unconscious early in the mission, but that he at one point engaged the enemy in hand-to-hand combat, fighting for about 70 harrowing minutes on the ground alone. This week, officials who investigated the circumstances surrounding his death spoke publicly for the first time about their findings.
Chapman, a combat controller assigned to the 24th Special Tactics Squadron, will posthumously receive the Medal of Honor, an upgrade of his Air Force Cross, for his actions on March 4, 2002, during a ceremony at the White House on Wednesday. He will become the first U.S. airman to receive the military’s highest award since the Vietnam War.
“John was the only American that was alive on [that] mountain top, and there was somebody fighting for an hour,” said an Air Force special tactics officer who was part of the investigation team.
Speaking on background during a briefing at the Pentagon on Thursday, the officer explained how the Air Force Special Operations investigative team and the Pentagon concluded that Chapman had lived and continued to fight after his presumed death.
“When you watch [these videos], heroism jumps right off the page at you,” the officer said. “It chokes you up, and it makes you realize the incredible sacrifice.”
He added, “You don’t have to do 30 months of analysis to see that.”
In all, Chapman sustained nine wounds, seven of which were nonfatal, according to his autopsy report. A medical examiner concluded he lived and fought through gunshot wounds to his thigh, heel, calf and torso, which pierced his liver. He had a broken nose and other facial wounds, suggesting he engaged in hand-to-hand combat in close quarters. The final fatal shots likely came from a PKM machine gun, officials said.