“Kill Cards” by Max Peck

Kill cards. They are small laminated pieces of paper each marine and sailor keeps in his left shoulder pocket, per standard operating procedure. They contain essential information about the person carrying it, including blood type, and a kill number made up of the first initial of his Company, the first initial of his last name, and the last four digits of his Social Security number. Kill cards. What an inappropriate name. They are meant to save lives, so you’d think they’d be called life cards. But the Marine Corps won’t allow that; it only deals with death.

HM3 Zarian Wood was a part of the new wave of corpsmen my battalion had received in preparation for our deployment to Afghanistan. I had been given the task of making kill cards for all new attachments. Wood’s first name had somehow stuck in my mind, so when I made his cards I incorrectly made his kill number IZXXXX instead of IWXXXX. I hadn’t realized my mistake until Wood told me about it when we were in country. I took my job seriously. I meticulously finished tasks, especially those that made it into my log book. I remember writing down that I needed to issues him new kill cards.

Whenever I’d open the book, I’d see my note, but with so much going on in Afghanistan, fixing Wood’s kill cards became just another task I still hadn’t completed. Wood and his squad were stationed at a different patrol base than mine. From time to time our patrols would link up or he’d make it to my position, and he’d remind me about it. I’d always told him I’d have the new cards ready for him the next time we met.

HM3 Wood became our batallion’s third casualty, another service member taken out by burrowed bombs in the ground. When he was tagged, our Company Commander was the first one to treat him and called in the nine-line. Amidst the chaos, maimed HM3 Wood told our Captain his kill cards were incorrect, and he gave him his correct kill number. In the helo headed to Kandahar, Wood died. He died of blood loss. When I heard the news, my stomached dropped. I still hadn’t made is new kill cards. Little things can add up. I felt like I had jinxed him.

But there wasn’t much time for me to dwell on Wood’s death or to feel sorry for myself. There were other marines and sailors that would need me to be at my best, just as I needed them to be at theirs. We all kept each other alive. I used my mistake as motivation to never slip up again. In the end I received a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for my superior performance of duties while in Afghanistan.

But infantrymen are a superstitious bunch. What if I had never issued Wood the incorrect Kill Cards? What if I had cursed Wood to die, because I had it in my power to fix something simple and I never did? It’s hard to live with that. Wood. I’m sorry.


HM3: Hospital Corpsman 3rd class: the first rank in the Non-Commissioned Officer ranks

Nine-Line: When there is a casualty someone on the battlefield calls in a “nine-line” to headquarters. It is like a checklist for the medevac that indicates location, person injured “kill card info,” whether there are enemies in the area , etc.

Max Peck is from upstate New York and hates the cold. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2007 right after high school graduation. He was deployed three times, to Japan, Afghanistan, and a MEU  (Marine Expeditionary Unit), and left the service as a Corporal.  After his discharge in 2012, Max attended Jr College in Costa Mesa and then transferred to UCSB last fall, where he is studying communications and is the president of the Student Veteran Organization. He loves to travel; he has been to 19 countries, and once he graduates, that number will grow to 21.