Sgt. Christopher Nelson said he felt a little edgy as the Chinook lifted off toward the Baghdad airport and home leave.
Then he heard "a loud boom." He closed his eyes and prayed.
The next thing he knew, Nelson, 27, of Orange, Texas, was lying on the ground, surrounded by pieces of the helicopter.
"I saw medics running around trying to get people out," Nelson said. "I smelled fuel but couldn't see flames."
The helicopter had been shot down near Fallouja. Fifteen Americans were killed and 21 injured.
Now recovering in Germany, Nelson and Sgt. Raymond Littlefield, also 27, of Ephrata, Wash., spoke with reporters from their hospital beds at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
Nelson suffered a broken ankle and hip, and had a large bruise over his left eye. Littlefield said he suffered a blow to the head, and his face was badly scratched.
"I got on, and I was very excited," said Littlefield, who had been in Iraq for a little over six months with the 43rd Combat Engineer Company based at Ft. Carson, Colo. He said he hoped to be with his wife for the birth of their third child.
In Colorado, Littlefield's wife, Dawn, said he had telephoned Sunday.
"I was really surprised anyone made it off that helicopter," she said. "It is terrible that he's injured, but at least he gets to come home to us."
The hospital said it would discharge Littlefield quickly, and his wife said she hoped he would be back in time for the birth.