The story here is about how close Steiner came to death. Writes Junger:
The book's back cover.
Steiner lay there unable to see or move, wondering whether the things he was hearing were true. Had he been hit in the head? Was he dead? How would he know? The fact that he could hear the men around him should count for something. After a while he could see a little bit and he sat up and looked around. The bullet had penetrated his helmet to the innermost layer and then gone tumbling off in another direction, looking for someone else to kill. (The blood on his face turned out to be lacerations from stone fragments that had hit him.) The other men glanced at Steiner in shock — most of them thought he was dead — but kept shooting because they were still getting hammered and firepower was the only way out of there. Steiner was in a daze and he just sat there with a bullet hole in his helmet, grinning. After a while he got up and started laughing. He should be dead but he wasn’t and it was the funniest thing in the world. “Get the fuck down and start returning fire!” someone yelled at him. Steiner laughed on. Others started laughing as well. Soon everyman in the platoon was howling behind their rock wall, pouring unholy amounts of firepower into the mountainsides around them
“It was to cover up how everyone was really feeling,” Mac admitted to me later.
Three Humvees drove down from the KOP to pick up Steiner, but he refused to go with them — he wanted to stay with his squad. When the platoon finally started running up the road toward Phoenix [the name of an outpost; not the Arizona city], Steiner found himself floating effortlessly ahead of the group despite carrying sixty pounds of ammo and a twenty-pound SAW [stands for Squad Automatic Weapon, a light machine gun]. It was one of the best highs he’d ever had. It lasted a day or two and then he sank like a stone.
You start getting these flashes of what could’ve been,” Steiner said. “I was lying in bed like, ‘Fuck, I almost died.’ What would my funeral have been like? What would the guys have said? Who’d have dragged me out from behind that wall?” Steiner was doing something known to military psychologists as “anxious rumination.” Some poeple are ruminators and some aren’t, and the ones who are can turn one bad incident into a lifetime of trauma.
“You can’t let yourself think about how close this shit is,” O’Byrne explained to me later. “Inches. Everything is that close. There’s just places I don’t allow my mind to go. Steiner was saying to me, ‘What if the bullet —' and I just stopped him right there, I didn’t even let him finish. I said, ‘Bit it didn’t. It didn’t.’”