America's Mission

U.S. Airman Mike Stewart's Sierra helicopter flies low over the smashed city of Meulaboh, where an intact tower clock hasn't moved since the earthquake struck on the morning of Dec. 26. Stewart and his crew land to deliver plastic sheeting, but two U.S. Marines on the ground tell them it isn't needed. Up in the air again, Stewart spots a lone Indonesian man in shorts who is waving. The helicopter circles lower: other villagers start smiling and blowing kisses. They clearly aren't desperate. "We'll come back with food and water," Stewart explains above the din of the chopper. The 23-year-old from...