He said it sheepishly, almost embarrassed that he had revealed himself to be so new to all-out urban warfare.
On Nov. 14, Payton was clearing a house and pivoted into one of its rooms. A fighter hiding inside fired a bullet in his leg and lobbed a grenade. Payton fell in the doorway, bleeding, and his buddy Lance Cpl. Kip Yeager dragged him out. A medic wrapped a tourniquet around Payton's leg and they evacuated him.
His company thought Payton would make it, and the young Marines congratulated one another. They thought they had something to be happy about after a week of grim bloodshed.
I still remember how sure they were that they had saved their friend's life. Only later would they learn they were wrong. Payton died during surgery at a military hospital.
Last year, I saw his old platoon commander, who carried Payton's picture in his wallet, along with photos of the others in his unit who died in Fallouja. He glanced at the photos for a second and then put them away.