Split second changed Lawson’s life

T-R PHOTO BY CHUCK FRIEND Le Grand native Darrell Lawson proudly poses with his medals earned while in Vietnam in the 1960s. Lawson was badly wounded in a roadside bomb explosion and suffers the effects of it to this day.

Editor’s note: This is the latest in an ongoing series of articles profiling those who have ever served in the U.S. military, be it overseas or stateside. Every Thursday, a new profile will be published in the T-R.

Marshalltown veteran Darrell Lawson experienced a life-changing experience two years to the day of getting into the U.S. Army, and a year to the day of arriving in Vietnam.

And although he doesn’t really remember what happened on that day, his life changed forever. He still lives with the effects of six or more operations that were needed.

A native of Le Grand, Lawson joined the Army in January of 1967 and took basic training at Fort Bliss, Texas. He then attended a seven-week Radio Operators Training school at Fort Huachuca, Ariz. He finished his stateside training at Fort Gordon, Ga., for advanced radio teletype training.

In 1968, his unit was sent to Vietnam with the 105th airborne division where he served as a radio operator — responsible for calling in the 155th war cannons for airstrikes.

“I mainly talked with the aircraft pilots on the USS New Jersey — at that time the largest warship in the Navy,” Lawson said. “The ship was equipped with 18-inch war cannons. I saw the ship once from shore, and it looked very big.”

When asked about being close to a frontline in Vietnam, Lawson said, “In Vietnam there really was not any frontlines. It was really just bombing and shelling all over and every day.”

Lawson was walking in a field in Vietnam, when he was the victim of an exploding IED or roadside bomb. He suffered first-, second- and third-degree burns over 60 percent of his body. The only thing he can remember is having his arms un-bandaged and looked at, and then waking up in the 102nd Air Force Hospital in northern Japan.

“They told me that they put me in a whirlpool every night to cleanse the wounds against infection and used a cream that was illegal to be used in the United States to heal the wounds and prevent scaring, but I do not remember any of that,” Lawson said.

When he was sent back to the states to recover, Lawson said he remembers the doctor saying,” I can’t believe I am sending you home alive. Most people who are burned only a fourth as bad as you were have already died.”

“A person does not usually die from the burns, they die from the concussion of the blast itself,” Lawson said.

He returned home to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and got out of the service there. He came back to Iowa and settled on a farm south of Grinnell and began life as a pig farmer with 125 brood sows. He then moved to Minnesota and raised hogs there until 1974, when his health began to fail.

It was the result of the blast that has caused Lawson to have six or more operations on his stomach to this day, with at least half of his stomach and parts of his small intestine removed in operations in 1974 and 1975. During the years that followed Lawson has had four more operations and still has trouble eating more than two to three bites or small sips of water.

In and out of the hospital every 30 days or so, Lawson was on 100 percent disability from the Veterans Affairs, before being lowered to 60 percent. He moved to Colorado and received treatment from a new set of doctors — one of which called Lawson, “the toughest patient I have ever seen.”

Since then Lawson has spent time in nursing homes in Colorado, Texas, Des Moines and now is a resident of the Iowa Veterans Home.

“To this day they still cannot do much for me, “Lawson said. “That split second changed my life forever.”