A tragic accident took the life
of a wonderful soldier


Recounted by Sgt Rick Ericksen, Sr.
"A" Battery

Odell was a cook in our mess section on LZ St. George. Yes, we were fortunate enough to have a real mess tent and hot meals. He was the nicest, sweetest guy you could know and always had a smile and a good word to go along with it. 

I can remember it is if it were yesterday. I woke up that morning and came out of our bunker and walked into our parapet and was stretching when I turned toward the mess section and noticed Odell working on starting up the submersion burners for that day's wash water to wash the utensils and pots & pans in. These were a crude sort of device. They were mainly made up of  a 20 gallon galvanized trash can which had a burner clamped to it and ran off of a one gallon gas tank with a drip valve that fed the donut ring burner that was submerged in water the at the bottom. I waved to him and he waved back. A minute or so later I looked back in his direction and he was between the 3 burners and a 55 gallon drum of gas.  It was stored behind the burners so he did not have to walk across the compound to get the gas from the area where they kept the rest of the fuel for the generators, etc. 

Odell was attempting to fill one of the small burner tanks.  From what I could see, he was having a problem with getting the gas to come out of the drum.  He started to unloosen the top plug to let some air in so the gas would run out more freely.  I guess since the drum was stored directly in the open with the sun beating down on it caused pressure to build up.  When he turned the plug, all the stored up pressure sent vapor/fumes and a fine mist/spray of gas directly at and over him. I could see from where I was that he was swinging his arms he was trying to wave off insect or bee.  What he was trying to do was keep the gas from spraying on him.  

Things went bad quickly.  The gas spray/vapors & fumes hit the other burner that was already ignited in one of the other burners and it exploded into a ball of fire. Much to my shock, Odell became engulfed in the flames.  Odell ran in panic although and I ran after him.  Several of  us tried to stop him.  One of our men came from behind a bunker with a blanket and tackled him to the ground and smothered the flames.  The medics and some other guys showed up with a litter and scooped him up and rushed him to our aid station. Within a few minutes a Medicvac flew in to our makeshift helipad and air lifted him out to a Evac Hospital. We all just stood there in shock for the most part and we eventually went back to our respective areas and just sat there; we did not say much. 

For the next couple of days things were not much the same around the base especially when it came to eating. It was very hard not to see his face and smile and have a few friendly words with him as usual. Eventually two weeks came to pass and one morning the Battery Commander called a formation and read the a report. "On this date it was his sad duty to announce that PFC Odell Easley had succumbed to his injuries."

I felt like someone had just ripped my heart out; I completely broke down and cried like a baby. No one uttered a word, but felt like they had been hit by a truck. 

I remember only hearing "Battery Dismissed".  After that, I turned and retreated to my bunker where I finished crying until there were was no more tears to shed. It took me sometime to get past, it but in reality, I really never have. Back then, I just buried it along with all of the rest of the bad days of LZ St. George.


Sgt Rick Ericksen, Sr





Recounted by PFC Larry Engels
Acting Mess Sergeant
"A" Battery

Rick - I was looking through the Mighty Ninth's web page and found your story about Odell Easley.
I was the acting Mess Sgt. and I had sent him out to get gasoline for our stoves. Here is exactly what happened:

You were right about him trying to get gas out of the gasoline blevit. He had opened gas valve; because it was vapor locked, he opened the relief valve without closing the gas valve. When he opened the relief valve, he was covered from head to toe in gasoline. The gas continued past him and hit an immersion heater which was lit. If you remember the immersion heaters were used to heat the water so we could wash all the pots pans and what ever else needed to be cleaned. The gas ignited and followed a path back to him. Because he was covered in gas, it also ignited. He started running and  you and I started chasing him. I was the one who covered him in a blanket and put out the fire. We found out he died in the burn unit in Texas several days later.

No, I won't forget that day brother because I was the one who sent him out there to get the gas. Sometimes I think if I would have went out there myself and got the gas he would still be alive.

PFC Larry Engels

{Webmaster's Note.  With contradiction and great apologies to Larry, this accident was not his fault.  His job, as Acting Mess Sergeant, was to direct and guide others.  Larry was doing his job, just as Odell was doing his. A combat zone does not exclude accidents.  This one had a very tragic outcome.}