Agincourt And The Gunny by Jim Messer, Lt. Col, USMC, Ret.

On October 25th, 1415 at Agincourt, France two enemies faced one another, exchanging taunts designed to provoke an attack. English archers versus armored French men of war. The English King, Henry, marched his force close enough to allow his archers to unleash a hail of arrows upon the French.

The archers carried stout yew bows that had a draw weight of about one hundred and thirty pounds. The bows could propel a steel blade that penetrated all but the finest of armor.

The French knights charged forward only to be caught in a slippery quagmire of mud. Henry's archers fired lethal storms of arrows into a dense mass of humanity until the French began to retreat.

In a matter of about ten minutes, the archers had struck the French with a cumulative total of about sixty thousand arrows.

The archers then dropped their bows, picked up what weapons they could find and joined the English knights in slaying their foe. The setting sun left a battlefield heaped with the bodies of thousands of French knights and the cream of France's ruling class. The English had dealt their enemy a disastrous blow.

Historical lore has it that the French threatened to cut off the middle fingers of English archers so they couldn’t draw their bows. After their victory, the archers waved their middle fingers in defiance. Inspired by the feathers on their arrows, they called the gesture “the bird.”

Not only that, but they also shouted, “Pluck yew!” since they could still “pluck” their yew-wood bows. Over the years people came to think of the middle finger as obscene rather than a sign of military defiance.

On September 19th, 2008 in Ramadi, Iraqi, two enemies faced one another. Gunnery Sgt Michael Burghardt was on his third tour in Iraq. He was a legend in the bomb disposal world after winning the Bronze Star for disabling 64 IEDs and destroying 1,548 pieces of ordinance during his second tour.

His story was reported in the Omaha, Herald and sent to me by a correspondent. The parallels were too interesting to pass up, so I relay the story as reported in the newspaper.

Responding to a cry for help, the Gunny arrived at a chaotic scene after a bomb had killed four US soldiers. He chose not to wear a bulky bomb protection suit. 'You can't react to any sniper fire and you get tunnel-vision,' he explains. So, protected by just a helmet and standard-issue flak jacket, he began what bomb disposal officers term 'the longest walk', stepping gingerly into a 5 foot deep and 8 foot wide crater.

The earth shifted slightly and he saw a Senao base station with a wire leading from it .He cut the wire and used his 7 inch knife to probe the ground. 'I found a piece of red detonating cord between my legs,' he says. 'That's when I knew I was screwed.'

Realizing he had been sucked into a trap, he yelled at everyone to stay back. At that moment an insurgent, probably watching through binoculars, pressed a button on his mobile phone to detonate the secondary device. 'A chill went up the back of my neck and then the bomb exploded,' he recalls. 'As I was in the air I remember thinking, 'I don't believe they got me.' I was just ticked off they were able to do it. Then I was lying on the road, not able to feel anything from the waist down.'

His colleagues cut off his trousers to see how badly he was hurt. None could believe his legs were still there. 'My dad's a Vietnam vet who's paralyzed from the waist down,' says Burghardt. 'I was lying there thinking I didn't want to be in a wheelchair next to my dad and for him to see me like that. They started to cut away my pants and I felt a real sharp pain and blood trickling down. Then I wiggled my toes and I thought, 'Good, I'm in business.' As a stretcher was brought over, adrenaline and anger kicked in. I decided to walk to the helicopter. I wasn't going to let my team-mates see me being carried away on a stretcher.'

He stood and gave the insurgents who had blown him up a one-finger salute. I flipped them one. It was like, 'OK, I lost that round but I'll be back next week'.'

The Gunny’s injuries - burns and wounds to his legs and buttocks - kept him off duty for nearly a month and could have earned him a ticket home. But, like his father, who was awarded a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts for being wounded in action in Vietnam, he stayed in Ramadi to engage in the battle.

With Thanks to LtCol Jim Messer for allowing me to reprint this story.

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