“It Wasn’t A Bleeding Problem, It Was A Shrapnel Problem”: Perspectives Of A Platoon Leader And A Grunt In Vietnam

Steve Lawrence & Ralph Dahl


Steve Lawrence grew up in The Dalles, Oregon, with two brothers (one was Steve’s twin) and a sister. His father, a shop teacher, and his mother was a stay-at-home mom and sometimes a secretary. He enlisted, and quickly tracked into the Officers Candidate School route. A “Dear John” letter almost caused him to “blow it,” but he graduated from OCS on November 22, 1967. Ralph Dahl grew up in San Diego, California, and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. His father was in the Navy, and his mom stayed at home to take care of the two boys and two girls in the family. Ralph was drafted, and after basic training at Ft. Ord, he went to Advanced Infantry Training at Tigerland in Ft. Polk, Louisiana. Both Lawrence and Dahl were assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division after arriving in Vietnam. They joined their unit at Camp Evans. Lawrence describes endless patrols on narrow trails in the mountains and setting up ambushes. Dahl recalls feeling like a slab of meat when he arrived at 1st Squad, 1st Platoon, D / 1-5 CAV, and was quickly designated an ammo bearer. Lawrence reflects on the battle of Ben An, while Dahl discusses the high number of booby traps at Bong Song, where he was hit in the ankle with a punji stake, resulting in a severe infection. Lawrence recalls mentoring new Soldiers and counseling them when they arrived at the unit. He regularly took the last watch of the night, using that time to get to know some of his troops. He also wanted to be awake, knowing that first light was frequently when the enemy liked to attack. For both Lawrence and Dahl, Vietnam was largely walking through the jungle, hoping to bump into the enemy. They both describe several engagements they were in, including the mortar attack on OP Pegasus, LZ Barbara, and the day Steve Harding was killed. Lawrence took R&R leave in Hawaii with his wife, and the cars and bright lights contrasting with what he was used to from Vietnam. Dahl took leave to Hong Kong, and recalls never saying goodbye to CPT Mohr when he redeployed to the States. After leaving 1-5 CAV, Lawrence became the Protocol Officer for General Forsyth, and recalled going to bed drunk every night, trying to reconcile his memories of the jungle. In this interview, they talk about their lives growing up, and entering the military. They describe their time together in D/1-5 CAV, and some of the missions they participated in. They recall friends they served, with and discuss some who were wounded or killed in action. Finally, they both reflect on what their service means to them.


conflicts Vietnam War
topics Leadership Morale Teamwork Courage Injuries Returning from War Military Techniques
interviewer David Siry
date 17 April 2018


name Steve Lawrence & Ralph Dahl
institution OCS
graduation year 1967
service Infantry
unit 1st Platoon D / 1-5 CAV, E / 1-5 CAV, B / 1-5 CAV, C / 1-5 CAV
service dates 1967 1969