Life on the Road
Great escape in Iraq, Part III
Note: This is the final article in a three-part series chronicling the saga of Thomas Hamill, the married, 43-year-old civilian truck driver and father of two from rural Mississippi who was injured and captured in Iraq on April 9, 2004. Hamill’s 24 days as a hostage and his daring escape made front-page news across the country and resulted in the best-selling book, “Escape in Iraq: The Thomas Hamill Story.” Over the Road interviewed Hamill earlier this year.
It is hard to imagine the terror that went through Thomas Hamill’s mind as he was captured and whisked away to an uncertain fate following an attack on his supply convoy in Iraq. His right arm shattered from shrapnel and his head throbbing from a rifle-butt blow delivered by his captors, Hamill feared for his life as he sat in the back of a small, black car, surrounded by men speaking in Arabic.
“I was thinking, this is going to be it, they’re going to kill me,” Hamill recalls.
Hamill was videotaped in the back seat of the car and then blindfolded. He was driven to several houses for one or two days at a time. At one stop, someone examined his injuries and put an IV in his arm. His captors took another video of him in which they threatened to kill Hamill within 12 hours if U.S. troops didn’t withdraw from Falujah. The video was shown on television around the world.
“They moved me around from place to place,” Hamill says. “Each place was very secure. There was no way I could get out.”
One day his captors moved him to a shed behind a house in the middle of no-where. Unlike other places he was held, the shed was not very secure. The door was missing, replaced by a propped up piece of sheet metal, like a barricade. A man with an AK-47 posted outside the shed was all that stood between Hamill and freedom. He waited for an opportunity. On his 24th day of captivity, it arrived.
“I heard the sound of diesel engines off in the distance,” he says. “I pushed the barricade a little and looked out with my left eye. About a mile away I could see all of these U.S. military vehicles and soldiers on foot. I thought, ‘It’s now or never. God, I know you'll take care of that guard.’”
Hamill pried open the door and started running for the convoy. Miraculously, the guard was gone, apparently scared off by the U.S. soldiers. Hamill kept running. That is when another thought raced through his mind. “I’m scruffy, I’ve got a beard and I’m running at a military convoy. I figured they’d shoot me and ask questions later,” Hamill says. “And I wouldn’t blame them if they did. They didn’t know who I was or what I was going to do.” Fortunately, the soldiers didn’t shoot Hamill; they saved him.
Back home and still recovering from his injuries, Hamill credits his survival to faith, hope and trust. As for his future, Hamill says he is looking forward to getting back on the road, this time in the U.S. of A. “Maybe I can buy me another truck,” he says. “I’ve been driving for 26 years. That’s what I enjoy. That’s who I am.”