(Dedicated to Cholita Estampilla)
(feature photo courtesy of John Horrigan) You can read part 1 here:
John Horrigan, named after the apostle John the Baptist, is the twin brother of the mighty warrior that is Robert Horrigan. Prior to submitting part I of Bob’s story to SOFREP, I sent it to John for review; he had nothing but praise. Recently it occurred to me that brother John should read the amazing comments that our reading audience has for Bob.
I collected all the comments and sent them to John. Soon after, these are the remarks he made to me in response to our readers’ inputs. I felt it only fitting to share what John Horrigan said about your admiration for his brother, Robert.
John Horrigan writes:
Thanks, I am silently wiping away tears. You ever need anything, holler. Geo, don’t worry when you pass, people will say this about you. We were walking among Giants and didn’t even know it. You did good my friend. Thank you,
(John 15:13: Greater love hath no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.)
“Bob… man, I need a huge favor.” I sheepishly muttered, knowing the favor would mean ruining any plans that Bob might have for the evening. Evening plans in Bosnia; was there even such a thing? Not for me, but maybe Bob intended to hoard the sole Internet-providing laptop computer in our Forward Operating Base (FOB) Flying Horse, to visit with his wife and kiddos.
“Anything you need, Geo.”
“Well, I need some backup tonight ‘out east’ to retrieve some… stuff… This will trash your evening plans…”
“Geo, I didn’t come to Bosnia with a personal agenda. I came here to catch bad guys, and help out my mates. What’s up?”
Geo (to self:) “Gawd, I am such a piece of $hit at times; I really need to ratchet up my act—dammit!”
“So what’s the plan?”
“Can I just explain on the way, Bob? I’ve got everything we need in the Land Rover; we’re going across the ZoS.”
The ZoS was the Zone of Separation outlining the sectors of Bosnia that were occupied by Serbs and Croats when the United Nations intervened in the civil war, implementing and sustaining a cease fire.
Yes, when musical chairs stopped playing, Serbia had chairs in the east, and Croatia had chairs in the north of Bosnia. Pop-pop went the the weasel, the weasel; Pop-pop went the weasel, the weasel; pop went the weasel cuz the weasel went pop!
As with most everything we did over in that country, it wasn’t so much the operations that were time consuming, as the drives we had to endure. It seemed like everything we did involved a drive of four hours minimum.
“So here’s the thing, Bob: I didn’t want to talk in the FOB, I’m going to swim across the Rijeko River under the bridge in Zvono, and recover some video from a remote Video Observation Post (VOP).
“Wooooah… said nobody ever!” Bob thumbed. “Yeah well, THAT, is not going to happen anytime soon. Wait… you said ‘recover’ some video. How did this VOP get over there in the first place?”
I regarded Bob momentarily over the top of imaginary reading glasses, as if about to get real. “That’s why I need your help, Bob; I almost drowned getting back across. It took too stinking long to get the camera in… swimming back I was just getting weaker and floating farther downstream. I finally tumbled onto rocky shallows and made it to shore. I swallowed an entire Like Eerie; that was two days ago, and I still haven’t needed a drink.”
Bob looked me back, over the top of his imaginary reading glasses. “How did it come to this. What’s my role? Who the, how the, why the, when the, WTF, over??
“I know, right? We just really, really, no shit really needed a record of every plate coming over that bridge Sunday. The room was just full of nay-sayers and hand wringers. It was a sucking ass wound of no can do.”
You know how these pukes are, Bob: not a single one of them can trace their lineage back to Roman Gladiators. I decided to make it happen, cuz, well, that’s what we do, right? Can I get a Hallelujah, Bob? Can I get an Amen brother!?!
“How do you explain the sudden appearance of the videotape, and am I swimming with you? I think I need to hear a good solid plan before I let this happen, Geo; sorry.”
“It’s all good, Bob: the swim is right at 300 feet shore to shore. The beauty is, you don’t need to swim with me. See that spool behind us; that’s over 350 feet of nylon 3000 lb tensile strength. I’ll tie that off to my waist and make the swim. On the Serb side I’ll anchor the line, make the recovery, and you can pull-assist my swim back.”
The tape I explain away as a hand-over from a CIA asset from Alaska Base; the Based Alaskans I call them. Besides, in the grand scheme of things if I show up with a Camcorder missing, I have to explain it away, or eat it—woe is phuk’n me!
“What about the cold, George?” (oh, my full name—yeah, he is definitely serious).
“I’ve got on a chicken vest on underneath, and gloves, plus a black watch cap.”
(A chicken vest is a thin wetsuit that has short legs and arms, used for water that is not quite cold enough for a full wetsuit, but not warm enough to go slick. It protects mostly the core. Also called a shorty.)
“What about the dark?”
“I have a Night Observation Device (NOD) monocular for each of us. When I hook back into the safety line from the Serb shore, I will tug on it until I feel you tug back, then I’ll make the swim with you pulling me over.”
“Are you swimming with your gat?”
“No, no… I figure in the astronomically small (sell the plan) chance I get rolled up, they can’t say I had hostile intent. Get it, got it, good!”
“What about the swimming-in-the-icy-river-at-midnight-dressed-like-a-Ninja part?”
“Geez Bob, who did you expect me to dress like, Mary Poppins? In that case I’ll just start singing Bohemian Rhapsody at the top of my lungs, and they’ll think I’m nucking futs. Admit it Bobby, I have a solid plan. Let’s just do this thing, ok?”
Bob was disturbingly silent for seemingly the next 100 years. In those seemingly 100 years he twisted himself toward the back seat and rummaged through my carefully compiled ‘assault kit.’ Finally he quizzed: “Hey did I tell you about the crazy thing my kids did?”
And the mission was on.
Under the bridge head, I tied onto the nylon safety line. Bob held the spool of line with a metal rod through it so it would roll smoothly. I gave Bob one sneak peak for any signs of negativity. None. I stepped into the Rijeko waters and let out an involuntary quiet yelp.
“What’s wrong, George??”
“It’s all good, my brother; the water just didn’t look this cold in the pictures back at the FOB.”
I started forward, only to be stopped by two pats on my left shoulder. I turned to see Bob standing with his hand outstretched. “I’m making pancakes for breakfast tomorrow.” What was I thinking. I shook Bob’s hand vigorously, trying to break it with my bear trap-like grip, but it was more bear CUB trap-like, where Robert Horrigan was concerned.
“Easy day, Bob; loves me some pancakes.”
Mother of pearl, but that water was cold. Could it possibly be colder than last time? The swim began with a forced hyperventilation due to the shock of the cold water. I tried to keep it quiet, but was pretty sure Bob could hear my broken-high-pressure-hose-like breathing. I could feel the tug of the line behind me as the current worked on its ever-increasing length. I had not factored that in.
On the ‘far’ shore, I slipped my safety line off. There was nothing to tie off to. I piled a mound of river rock to pin it down, but not much because I was freezing and anxious to get this thing over with. Worming up the slope, I found the Camcorder video right where it was supposed to be. Bad news: it was actually looking up toward the sky rather than down at traffic. Shiver me timbers! Ugh… don’t say ‘shiver’!
(Fortunately that change in look-angle happened sometime after the video ran out, so no loss.)
I was cold. I was so cold I had trouble wrapping the camera in the waterproof bag I brought for the swim back. Snaking with ease to the bottom of the slope I was horrified to see a figure there at my entry point. Raising my NOD to my right eye… it was Bob, squatting in a tiny ball shivering like a hot Mexican jumping bean.
“Louis, this is Clark… do you have any idea where the fuck we’re at—WTH, Bob???”
“Geo, I felt the line go slack. I thought you were in trouble. I swam the line back over.”
“Well, for the love of Jesus H. Christ…” The pressure of the current on 300 feet of tubular nylon and been too much for my ‘anchor.’ It slipped through the rock pile and down river. I was a horse’s ass; a flying horse’s ass!
“I anchored the far end of the line to a solid tree. I’m going to pull myself over. Once I’m there I’ll pull you across. Piece of cake, right Geo?”
I sat with the safety line once again around my waist and waited. As I waited I feared I might shatter the enamel on my teeth, they were clattering so hard. The line tugged hard, pulling me into the water again. It was Bob!
My hands were cold and useless. I held the camera bag clenched in my teeth, for fear I would lose it to the numbness of my hands, yet I feared I would lose it still to the chattering of teeth, which by this time were playing their rendition of Flight of the Bumblebees.
Then it happened.
My teeth stopped chattering. Well that’s good. Well no that’s bad! It was there, while slicing through the chilly goodness, that I saw rabbits hopping about the surface of the river. Some were soft and timid white Easter bunnies from vegetable gardens. Others were desert-weathered jackrabbits of considerable swag. How they hopped and hopped. Sinking under the water didn’t seem like such a bad thing really, at that moment I did fancy, and sink I did.
The rabbits were replaced by Bobs fierce eyes drilling holes in my face, as he held me up with his bear traps by my collar and shook me like a colicky baby. “I’ll take this, Geo…” as he coaxed the camera bag still clenched in my teeth. It is likely thanks to slipping into hypothermia that saved the mission, for it allowed my shivering to subside, and helped me keep my yap shut.
Bob had seen me sink under the water and pulled for all his worth. He later confided how he felt me slamming and bouncing off of rocks and logs and such that lined the bottom of the river. It was a detail I have no recollection of, yet it haunts me still, despite the time passed by.
Bob hiked up to our Rover, and returned wrapped in an Army wool blanket, OD in color, one each. He had two more that he wrapped around me.
“This is going to suck but we need to go to the Rover right away. There is heat there that you need real bad right now. Just stick out these last few minutes to climb up.” It was a painful event, Bob more carrying me than me actually propelling my chilly self. I understood his strength as he lifted me with one arm, and toted the safety line spool with the other.
“Still cold Geo?” Bob struggled through his apprehension to make conversation. We both understood that I should stay awake at all cost. Some jocularity would do him some good, I thought, just needed to say something:
(shivering) “Cold??? My Johnson has retreated so far up into my body, that it’s actually now my tongue.”
“Want to stop for a hot cafe, Geo?” Bob kidded as we drove back. I reached to the floor with great effort behind the driver’s seat and produced a thermos of hot Joe. All I knew was how bad I wished I had it last time. I winked and poured. Bob had to help me.
“Just d.d.d.drive, m.m.m.m.man; hot p.p.p.an c.c.c.c.akes will d.d.d.do just f.f.f.f.fine.”
(Back at FOB) “Breakfast is at nine Geo… oh hey, let me ask: why would you even come to Bosnia with a chicken vest??
“We Army Divers are like Navy SEALs in some ways, Bob: after a while our skin just dries out… and we HAVE to go find some water to soak in eventually.”
“RGR; g’night, Geo.”
“We can’t mention any of this to anyone, you know Bob?” and by ‘anyone’ I meant make sure the time is right to tell this story to the brothers.
“Mention any of what, G?” That was my man, right there; that was Bob Horrigan!!
So there are big men, really big men, and then there are giants who walk among us. When I was in the Green Berets I was treated like a giant, but my humility prevented me from accepting that. If I was a giant, I felt, then the country was in jeopardy, because I was not all that, or a bag of chips.
Bob made the swim without a chicken vest. He took a single blanket for himself, and gave me two. Bob suffered the same dangerous ice water threat that I did, and fared better. “You were soaked in ice water a lot longer than I was.” he thumbed any time I brought it up. Bob was my backup by agreement, and he meant it too, by God.
So I left the Green Berets and hanged my beret in a locker in an assault teamroom in Delta, never to wear it again except at funerals for fallen brothers. Little did I realize at the time that there was still plenty of wear in that green beret of mine. Sadly there was, but at last I was dwarfed in the company of true giants, giants like Robert Horrigan.
Robert Horrigan, like every man in the Delta Force, had a post operational rally point on his last mission in Iraq, to wait for extraction. When the other brothers arrived there, they were sorely distressed by the absence of Robert. They had not yet realized that the Lord had assigned Bob a different rally point that day, at a place where he was needed more by the Heavenly, than the Earthly.
There but for the grace of God went I that day. There but with the grace of God went Robert Horrigan, with a lingering sadness that remained; I feel it still.
Master Messerschmidt John Horrigan at his presentation of a gift of his cutlery to Geo W. Bush
Bob and his young son prepare for a risky jump into St. Mere Eglise with the vaunted 101st Airborne Division.
Bob and John fight for custody of Bob’s young son, John’s nephew.