"I don't want strangers going in and getting them out of there. I want to be the one that gets to go in there and get them out of there. It's a horrific honor to go in and do that."
That's Prescott, Ariz., firefighter Conrad Jackson talking to The Arizona Republic about what it was like to be among those who collected the remains of their 19 colleagues from the site of the wildfire where the highly trained "hotshots" died on June 30.
Jackson and fellow Prescott firefighter Mark Matthews were among the 12 men — 11 of them from the Prescott Fire Department — who carried the bodies (which had been placed in bags and draped with American flags) from the scene the next day.
"We knew these young men, these kids," Matthews tells the Republic. "And they were the cream of the crop. You couldn't ask for better guys. It was tough, but I was glad I was there. I was glad I had the opportunity to honor them in a small way and bring them back down. I'll never forget it. I'll never forget it. It's something you never want to see again."
We don't want to take too much from the Republic's piece, out of fairness to the work it put in to tell the story. We do recommend giving it a read. It's not graphic about what the men saw. It's a heart-breaking, but ultimately uplifting, look at the bonds between those who put their lives at risk for others.
Related: "How Firefighters Cope With Profound Tragedy."