Saturday, January 4, 2014
PETE TYRE: The Serendipitous Savior
Pete Tyre never set out to be a savior of lives when he studied about Jesus during Royal Ambassadors meetings at the Baptist Church. He never dreamed of trampling through deadly Asian jungles while he was camping out with the Boy Scouts and hunting with his father in the woods around Laurens County. Pete never pondered of being in the middle of highly intense and deadly firefights when he was standing on the sidelines of Battle Field while his teammates won game after game. All of that changed when Pete Tyre joined the United States Navy after high school.
Those of you who know William Craig "Pete"Tyre, know him as an arrowhead hunting, joke telling, fun loving, music afficionado. Some of you may know that he is a nurse, who spent four decades in the health care field. Most of you don't know that nearly a half century ago, it was Pete Tyre's job to follow the Marines of the 1st Marine Division through the jungles of South Vietnam. When a Marine fell, Tyre was there to pick him up, stop the bleeding and keep him comfortable until help could arrive.
He can't tell you how many lives he did save. To this very day he thinks more about the lives of Marines that he wasn't able to save.
In high school, Pete, the son of Bill and Evelyn Tyre, played football on Coach Minton Williams' state championship team. Although he only played in a couple of games, Pete persevered, staying with the team and never missing a practice.
Pete, his classmates nicknamed him "Rim," had so much fun that inscribed under his senior yearbook picture is the phrase, "If having fun was a crime, he would be having a life sentence."
"When I was 18, I was naive and thought I was a world traveler," said Tyre. His mother wanted him to go to college. Tyre, who joined the Navy instead, was swiftly taken through new recruit processing.
One day, after very little sleep and no showers, Pete and his buddies were forced to undergo a rapid fire, intense battery of tests while standing at a podium with a single light bulb hanging over their heads. As the instructor screamed at Pete, he was so tired and frustrated that he simply gave random answers to the multiple choice questions.
Scoring near the bottom of his group, Pete was the only one not to get an assignment to a special school. He was sent to Point Mugu Naval Air Station in California.
"I had never heard of it. I had heard of Mr. Magoo, so I had to get a map to find it," Tyre chuckled.
After six weeks in his first assignment as a janitor at the air station, Pete because so frustrated that he kicked a bucket of dirty, soapy water, unaware that a boatswain's mate was watching him. The supervisor escorted Pete to a psychiatrist's office at the dispensary.
"He asked me if I would like to be a corpsman, to which I responded 'What is a corpsman?" Pete recalled how he was unexpectedly set on a course that would define his career in the Navy and his adult life. Pete returned to his cleaning duties, but this time he was assigned to a medical unit. Eventually, opportunities to perform medical duties and take courses came. Tyre loved his new role, making straight "A"s.
After Point Mugu, there were a series of assignments at a Hospital Corps School in San Diego and another in Pensacola in an eye surgery unit. In his early days in the Navy, liberties in Hollywood, watching San Diego Chargers games from the post and going to the San Diego Zoo were a welcome diversion from rigorous training courses.
Another major life altering change came when Pete was sent to Marine combat training at Camp Lejeune and Parris Island for advanced medical field training. After short stints back in California and in Okinawa, Pete was whisked off to DaNang, South Vietnam.
Assigned to the thirty- man 2nd Platoon, Lima Company, 7th Marine Regiment, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Division, it was the new corpsman's job to go along on day time patrols, night time ambushes and sweep and destroy missions.
"It was my job to protect the Marines. They protected me a lot, because they needed me to help them when they were sick or injured," Pete asserted.
"It bothers me to this day that the South Vietnamese villagers were caught in between us and the Viet Cong," said Tyre, who tried to help the villagers he came upon.
"When the Viet Cong found out we helped the people in the villages, they would burn their houses, take their supplies, eat their food and sometimes kill the women and the children there. War is so horrible, especially the collateral damage to the children. I don't like to talk about that part of it, I get too emotional about it," Tyre lamented.
There was little time for fun. In his 14 months in Vietnam in 1966 and 1967, Tyre had five days of R&R, one time going 41 days without a bath or taking his boots off. After missing his mother's home cooking, Pete Tyre went from 125 pounds down to 100 pounds.
Most of his time in Vietnam was spent in the field with little time for fun, and Pete always loves to have fun. He missed not having iced cold drinks, forced instead to put iodine tablets in his canteen to keep from getting sick from stream and well water. A life long music lover, Pete heard very little music except during a camp sing a long, or when his sergeant would sing every Lefty Frizzell song he ever heard. He does remember the first song he heard as he was getting ready to come home, "Let's Get Stoned" by fellow Georgian Ray Charles. He can still tell you most of the lyrics to that classic song.
Life in the jungles was constant chaos, Pete will tell you. There would be 2-3 weeks of nothing and then a rapid fire fight. He welcomed the choppers and the fighter jets which got Pete and his platoon out of hot situations. There was always the threats of booby traps, snipers, and even children firing at them.
"I was scared all the time, I was no hero," Pete admitted.
Tyre and other corpsman carried weapons to keep the enemy from believing that he was an officer or a corpsman. He also carried a heavy pack of medical supplies and helped out the BAR carrier's ammo.
There were sometimes when Pete had to improvise. He found out that cellophane wrapping from cigarette packs made an excellent tool in preventing oxygen from seeping into sucking chest wounds.
"It was amazing that the cellophane would stop the air from getting into the wounds. I can't say that I saved a lot of lives that way, but a lot of men were still alive when they were airlifted back to a field hospital," recalled Tyre.
It was a long time ago that Pete Tyre quit trying to figure out why he, with no family, was saved, while others with a wife and children were not so lucky.
"God looked after me. I was blessed and I don't deserve it," he laments.
Pete 2nd from left.
"It was good for me and it helped me in more ways than I can count," said Tyre, who firmly believes that his time as a corpsman in Vietnam made him apply himself and become a better man.
Upon his return from Vietnam, Pete was still not sure what his next mission would be. He began working at J.P. Stevens, but soon decided that he could do so much more in his life. Using the GI Bill to take courses in medical studies, Tyre eventually obtained a Master's Degree in Nursing from the Medical College of Georgia.
He worked at Claxton Hospital in Dublin and later at hospitals in Statesboro and Americus, before beginning a career with the Veterans Administration, first in Augusta and then in Dublin for more than a dozen years.
"I took a job with the prison system in Florida and one time I visited the prison where the movie 'Cool Hand Luke' was filmed. Now that was cool," Pete fondly exclaimed!
After four decades in the health care field, Pete retired in 2003 and soon returned home to Dublin.
Today, Pete Tyre looks back on his days in Vietnam. Not one to talk about the terrible times during the war, he points to his days of training as a Royal Ambassador for Christ, a Boy Scout, and a Dublin Irish football player or the grand times he spent in the woods around Brewton, Georgia, where his father taught him how to hunt, fish and survive in the woods with getting him through the war.
More directly, he points primarily to God and ironically to his movie hero. Tyre, an ardent admirer of Steve McQueen, often pretended that he was in a movie, thinking that it was the other guy who was going to get hit and not himself as a way of getting through the sporadic chaos and that helpless feeling grinding his soul when he couldn't save one of the Marines.
Serendipity still seems to follow Pete Tyre where ever he goes. The lessons he learned in Vietnam continue to save lives. Back in the summer, Pete came upon an automobile accident. He quickly exited his car and ran to a badly damaged vehicle. He saw a woman pinned inside. Unable to open any door, Tyre broke a window and climbed in. Instinctively, he pulled his shirt off and used it as a tourniquet. To keep his patient from going into shock, Pete kept the pressure on the wound, held her head up and kept consoling the wounded lady by repeating that she was going to make it.
"When the EMTs got there, I told them what I had done. I got some alcohol and washed my hands, got back in my car and left the scene" Tyre stated, humbly believing that it was his training in Vietnam which helped him to save the life of a stranger.
And so goes the life of the serendipitous savior, Pete Tyre.