Boyd Larson was haunted for 27 years.
He saved a man’s life in Vietnam. But Guy Lounsbury, the man he saved, already had lost both legs and most of his right hand.
“I felt like maybe he hated me for saving his life,” Larson said quietly at a news conference Thursday.
The thought tortured him through nightmares, through a marriage that fell apart, through years of trying to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder. “I kept imagining the worst in my mind.”
Last week, Larson, now being treated for the stress disorder at the Boise Veterans Affairs Medical Center, called Lounsbury.
Lounsbury is chief of prosthetics at the Spokane VA Medical Center, a college-educated career man, married with two young children and very happy to be alive. He quickly made plans to travel to Boise to see the fellow Marine he hadn’t seen since his injury.
“Boyd is the person who saved my life,” Lounsbury said Thursday, sitting by Larson’s side. “Life is the most precious gift you’ve got.”
The two men told a harrowing story. On March 18, 1969, they were gathering up unexploded ordnance south of Da Nang, to prevent the explosives from being used by the enemy in booby traps. But one rocket that Lounsbury picked up already had been booby-trapped.
As he went to set it into a trailer that Larson was pulling behind his Jeep, the rocket exploded. “Both of us are damn lucky that the whole trailer didn’t go up,” Lounsbury said.
Lounsbury staggered away from the explosion, though his legs were gone. Larson rushed to his aid, and held a leg wound that bled so heavily he couldn’t even remove his hand to prepare a tourniquet.
As Lounsbury drifted in and out of consciousness, he looked at his hand. “I turn to him and I say, ‘Boyd, I can’t go back to the world without fingers.’ I’m totally unaware of what’s going on below my waist.”
Larson called in a helicopter and sent Lounsbury off to the hospital. A day later, Larson was shot and wounded and went to the same hospital, but wasn’t allowed to see Lounsbury because of his condition.
Lounsbury spent a year and a half in a Philadelphia naval hospital, then was treated there as an out-patient for two more years. Then the young man, who was 22 when he was injured, went back to school, earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania.
Larson spent years enduring nightmares and guilt, both symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. A turning point for him came when his second wife left him. “She said, ‘I can no longer deal with the enemy that you carry within.”’
The two are now back together, and Larson said he’s finally happy.
“All’s I needed to hear is that he was doing OK, and he’s doing better than that, he’s doing better than OK. He’s remarkable,” Larson said of Lounsbury. “It was just like the biggest relief that I’d ever felt. Here I’d spent 27 years beating myself up.”
Both men said they hope their story will persuade veterans or others suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder to seek help. “There’s ways to get help, and they need to address it,” Larson said.
“I did what I had to do there,” he said. “But a lot of times I felt like maybe I shouldn’t a done it. Now that’s gone for me. The relief - it’s like recovering from a terminal illness.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
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