Cpl. Gunnar Zwilling suspected his days were numbered last week, while he and his band of brothers in the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team prepared for a mission near Wanat, Afghanistan.
"It's gonna be a bloodbath," he told his father, Kurt Zwilling, on the phone, in what would be their last conversation.
Kurt Zwilling braced himself for the worst but held out hope that his son would make it home.
"They were in the most dangerous place on Earth. They were in mortal danger, and there was nothing they could do it about it," he said. "But they were soldiers, so they had to do their job."
With just a few days left in their 15-month tour, Gunnar Zwilling and eight of his comrades were killed July 13 in a clash with as many as 200 Taliban militants during a mission to set up an outpost near Wanat. It was the deadliest attack on U.S. troops in Afghanistan in three years.
In the wake of their deaths, the paratroopers have become symbols of what many say is a forgotten war, prompting the U.S. military to draw up plans for putting more troops and resources into the war in Afghanistan.
Their base was overrun, and they saw it coming. That says it all.
We have lost something priceless.