I remember just laying there. After any kind of a massive injury like that you have a period of shock. I was in total silence because my hearing was blanked out; I couldn't hear the machine-gun firing. I couldn't hear the explosions, the shots. Nothing, just silence. I'm laying there and thinking, "Okay I must have stepped on a personnel mine." They call them shoe mines--the Germans used a lot of them. They're designed not to kill but to maim; they usually blew the lower leg and the foot off.

It was snowing, cold, and kind of muddy. I thought, "I'll be bleeding a lot. I won't last long in this cold." Then I passed out. The next thing I know guys are putting me on a stretcher. I was conscious of that.

I was going in and out of consciousness, and I had this feeling of darkness, warmth, silence, and of moving along, sort of being in a trance, and of having I don't know what, God, somebody, something awaiting me with great warmth and love and care. I had a great sense of relief.

The next thing I remember I was being put on one of these ambulances they rig up on the side of jeeps. The company commander came up. He was all busy and in a bad mood, as I recall, because he'd lost a lot of men in that stupid raid we were on. I remember him saying something to me and I remember feeling disappointed that I wasn't out of it yet.

You were disappointed that you were alive?

Yeah, doggone it; the great journey was not over yet. The big adventure that Mom promised wasn't ready for me.

Let's talk about the mysteries that you write. You're known for mysteries in which the context is the Indian culture. At a time when Indians are critical of the appropriation of their customs and rituals, I find it intriguing that you were not only able to gain their cooperation but have received honors because of the way you portray them. How did you manage to do that?

There are Indians and then there are wanna-be Indians. There are what they call "blanket asses." There are city Indians. The Indians I've always known have nothing to do with the kind of Indians that you're describing, Ivy League Indians that have got a grandmother who was one-sixteenth Cherokee--but they're not sure, right? They tend to adopt tribes because they know how to spell them. Cherokee is a popular tribe as is the Sioux, because the Lakota Sioux got a lot of publicity.

The only Navajo who ever criticized me was himself a pretty good writer and I don't know why he didn't write about himself. The rest of them, well, let me put it this way: The world is full of us's and thems. In my childhood, the us's were the country boys--the Potawatomie Indians, the Seminoles, the Hillermans, the Moores, the Collins'. We were all redneck farm boys. We didn't have any money, we rode the school bus and took a sack lunch to school. We wore bib overalls and had just one pair of shoes.

The "them" were the sophisticated town boys. They wore neckties sometimes, and low-cut shoes; they had money. They went to the school store and bought hamburgers for lunch. We thought that if we got in a fight we could whip 'em. We tried, and it turned out they were just as tough as we were.

That us-them situation still exists. The people that you're talking about don't see separate tribes; they homogenize Indians, call them Native Americans, which Indians don't like to be called. Indians call themselves Indians; of course, they prefer to be called by their tribe--Hopi or Zuni, Navajo or Cherokee.

The city Indians have taken over the media, and they've taken over Hollywood. So the folks I know, they just endure. But here comes a guy, who is a country boy, a redneck like they are, and they spot it right away.

It also seems that because of your upbringing, which emphasized values and principles, you respect them for theirs.

That's what attracted me so much to the Navajos. They know what's important, what comes first.

A friend of mine wanted to be a surveyor. He's a Navajo, and he wanted a job where he would make enough money to support a family. So he went to a technical vocational school, learned to be a surveyor, and got a good job with one of the big engineering companies. He was a transit man on a crew that surveyed power lines.

Then he got a call from home. His maternal aunt had had a stroke, and they were having a ceremony for her. They told him the day it would start. It was his maternal aunt, so of course he'd be there. Everybody would be there.

It would last six days.

So he tells his boss, who says, "Hell, man, we're already behind schedule on the site. You don't have a vacation coming and I can't let you go. We're in bad shape." My friend says, "I have to go." So he went to the ceremony, lost his job--and had no regrets. He knew what was important.