Steve Lawrence grew up in The Dalles, Washington (he later returned and served as Mayor). His dad was a Quaker and taught high school shop. His Quaker paternal grandmother protested WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, and Steve remembers receiving a letter from her in Vietnam which said, “I look forward to the day when you return and live a useful life.” He grew up with an older sister, a twin brother, and a younger brother. He and his twin were very athletic in high school, and he was All-State in wrestling and track, and played football. His twin, Joe, enlisted in the Navy in 1964, and to do something different, Steve enlisted in the Army in 1967. He commissioned through OCS (Officer Candidate School) and was assigned to Sand Hill to train Soldiers in Basic Training. He was accepted into flight school, but his commander recommended he volunteer for Vietnam and assignment to the 1st Cavalry Division. Upon arrival in Vietnam, he jumped aboard a cargo plane headed to An Khe, where the 1st Cavalry Division was headquartered, bucking the traditional assignment process. Shortly after his assignment to D Company, 1st Squadron, 5th Cavalry, he participated in the late June battle of Binh An, where he remembers LT Edwards, with only 10 days left in-country, taking command of the company during that fight. He also remembers good advice from SGT Ralph Dahl and the absolute calm of his Platoon Sergeant Robert Kuta, who told him, “I’ll run the Platoon until you’re ready.” As the Platoon Leader, Lawrence spent time getting to know his Soldiers, keeping notes on each of them in a notebook. He understood that his job was to get them home. He felt responsible for their mental and moral wellbeing, and when he learned that one of them was taking ears off corpses as trophies, he counseled the Soldier, reinforcing the rules and establishing limits as the “last barrier of civilization.” After serving as a Platoon Leader in D Company, he was transferred to the Recon Platoon in E Company. Later, he spent time in both B and C Companies. His next assignment was with 1st Cavalry Division Protocol. When he arrived at Division Headquarters, he was handed orders for a Silver Star that CPT Mohr had put him in for. Discovering that he had not been presented the award, the Division Commander, MG George Forsythe, presented the award to him in front of his subordinate commanders. While serving as a protocol officer, Lawrence sometimes listened to radio traffic from D Company in tears because he was away from his unit. When he returned from Vietnam, he was assigned duty notifying families about the death of their Soldiers. He left the Army and went to college to earn a law degree. While in college at Portland State, the Cambodia incursion and Kent State happened. He remembers that during a military presentation on campus, a riot nearly started, but he and 10 other veterans stepped forward to protect the speaker. Years later he wrote three books about his life experiences, starting with the novel “First Light.”
In this interview he talks about his childhood, his experiences in Vietnam, being an author, and his work as the mayor of The Dalles. He recalls the first dead Soldier he saw, SPC Wight, remembering that he flew to Vietnam with him on the airplane. Wight’s death hit him hard, and he buried that memory deep. In another instance, he describes his RTO yawning when a bullet entered his open mouth and exited through his cheek without causing serious injury. Lawrence shook for two hours after that. He discusses dealing with Post Traumatic Stress after the war, and how reunions help him deal with memories. Finally, he reflects on what his service and the Army mean to him.