GET OVER HERE! I'M ALIVE!
This war is no place for softies. One who sees much of the horror and the heroics should perhaps develop emotional armor against the miseries of these gallant, lonely soldiers.
by Tom Tiede, Lai Khe, Viet Nam
Most observers, however, can not.
Not with kids like Steve Laier.
He was an 18-year-old infantryman from Fort Wayne, Ind. A handsome lad with a puppy-dog crewcut, eyes that lit up like lamps, and the confidence and enthusiasm that only youth generates.
A lot of guys met him here on a hospital bed.
He always smiled at them and apologized for not getting up.
He could not, of course. His legs had been blown off.
The boy and a couple dozen companions from the First Infantry Division were on an ambush patrol when it happened. The Viet Cong sprang their favorite suprise (sic) -- ground mine detonations.
If a man is lucky he may escape in one piece.
But Steve Laier wasn't lucky.
He was carrying the patrol's radio set when the explosion turned his world to hell. He must have been right on top of the blast for one of his legs was severed and the other reduced to ribbons.
Blood shot in all directions, but there was no pain save that of witnessing his own mutilation, Around him scores of wounded groaned and screamed. Two of them died instantly. The rest pleaded for help and water.
The boy himself was near death, yet he refused to die.
In fact, he refused even to pass out and instead began to work his telephone for help. "We're hit, we're hit," he blurted into the radio. "Choppers, we need choppers. Help us, please help."
Shortly, the nauseous realization of what had happened over-powered the boy and he dropped the phone to the ground and raised his legs to the air. He held them up to slow the flow of fluid from his weakening body.
Then he prayed and cursed.
The patrol around him was in human ruin. Virtually everyone was bleeding and a single medic moved from man to man as rapidly as possible. When he finally reached the young trooper, he winced, turned away and muttered:
"He's gone, I can't help at all."
"Get over here," he called, "I'm still alive!"
The medic obeyed quickly.
Keep Joing (sic)
"Don't give up, GI," somebody stammered.
"I ain't giving up, sir," the youngster replied.
"You can make it."
"Yessir," Laier said, "I hope so anyway."
Moments later he was evacuated. He was placed in the hospital with the entire lower half of his body brutally ripped, large holes in his abdomen, dime-sized punctures in his arms and face, and over a hundred smaller wounds covering the whole of his front side.
He struggled for life for two weeks.
And he clung to optimism.
"I've been praying a lot and thinking of home," he told visitors, "I know I look in bad shape, but I'll be O.K. I'll get by. I'll be out and around in no time."
Then Steve Laier died.
And a lot of the softies here wept unashamed.
(Tacoma Times Tribune, Tacoma WA, 25 May 1966, pg C-1)