During one scene fairly early in the book, Phelps recalls a particular incident from the war. A few of you have asked me if this incident is real. This is the U.S. bombing of the highway running between Iraq and Kuwait, the so-called "Highway of Death."
Below is an excerpt from the scene in the book (the opening scene of Chapter 8):
"The sight of the two bodies struck him like a sudden physical blow. Phelps had been expecting them, of course; but seeing them was something else entirely.
Fitzsimmons, ex-con and probable drug dealer though he was, made a pitiable spectacle, sprawled on the floor of his living room with half of his head missing. The woman was worse: Phelps stared at her mutilated body and thought of her wasted youth. Whoever she was, she should not have ended up this way.
He looked away, suddenly disgusted—with the scene but also with himself. A sheriff was not supposed to be sensitive. A sheriff was supposed to be insensitive so that regular people would not have to view images such as this.
Phelps had seen corpses before. Nearly twenty years earlier, he had been a young Marine in Operation Desert Storm, the last major American war of the twentieth century. One morning in the late February of 1991, Sergeant Phelps had witnessed the aftermath of a vast killing, and he still saw it from time to time in his dreams.
By late February of that year, the short war had been winding down, and Saddam Hussein’s ignominious but temporary defeat had been all but a given. Phelps’s platoon had been ordered to secure a portion of the northern Kuwaiti desert. This section of the vast dunescape was sundered by the six lanes of Highway 80, the main conduit for vehicle traffic between Iraq and Kuwait.
When the U.S.-led coalition drove the Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, the invaders had exited Kuwait City in a makeshift fleet of military transports and stolen civilian cars. They loaded these conveyances with as much looted property as they could. And so the Iraqis had fled, the rape and plunder of their southern neighbor finally at an end, the U.S.-led coalition pursuing them.
Near a portion of the highway known as the Mutla Ridge, American aircraft had attacked the long Iraqi convoy. Hundreds—perhaps thousands—of Iraqi soldiers were incinerated inside their escape vehicles. Western journalists had wasted no time in dubbing this scene “the Highway of Death.”
By the time Phelps and his men had arrived, the charred corpses and blackened machine wreckage had cooled. Phelps had walked among the vehicles, staring into the empty eye sockets of leering skulls. The men inside the stolen BMWs and Mercedes were little more than skeletons now. In the end, their rape of Kuwait and their desperate trek through the desert had been for nothing. What had they been thinking? Their delusion had been vast: Some of the Iraqi dead still wore the blackened remains of Rolexes taken from Kuwaiti department stores.
Phelps pushed the memories away. The two corpses before him now troubled him more than those hundreds of corpses from two decades prior. That had been war, after all; and if not all of those men had deserved to die in such a fashion, they had certainly been complicit in their own fate. This was no war zone; it was a residential trailer park in Phelps’s hometown, a community that he had sworn to protect and serve. He could not escape the fact that he bore some responsibility for those two bodies on the floor...."
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To answer the question: Yes, this is an account of an actual event from the Persian Gulf War. As the above paragraphs indicate, the bombing of the Highway of Death occurred rather late in the war, when the situation had already turned south for the Iraqis--who were busy fleeing back to the north.