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JOHN KING, USA

Special Memorial Day Edition

Aired May 29, 2010 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN KING, HOST: Memorial Day is set aside to honor those who have paid the ultimate price in their service to our nation. It is, as it should be, a day of reflection and remembrance, always poignant more so this past decade because the nation pausing to remember is a nation at war. The soil is still loose on some of the graves where a new flag is placed, where new tears are shed.

And as we remember this Memorial Day, we also mark an important milestone. The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is higher than the number in Iraq than the first time since the earliest days of the Iraq conflict. How much longer will they be here in both countries? And how in Memorial Day celebrations 10 and 20 years from now will these current conflicts and their heroes be remembered?

As we dedicate this hour to service and sacrifice, we begin with the man whose job includes managing the stress and strain of repeated overseas deployments, and includes comforting the families of those to whom the sacred holiday is dedicated.

General George Casey is the Army chief of staff and a man who knows too well the importance of Memorial Day. Hi father, a decorated army officer, was killed in a helicopter crash in Vietnam 40 years ago.

General, thank you for your time.

Let me begin with that, your personal pain, your personal story -- does that help you as you comfort the families, the survivors, these past years now as you have to deal with the fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan?

GEN. GEORGE CASEY, U.S. ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF: I don't know if it helps me as much as it helps them, knowing that as I'm talking to them and grieving with them that I have been through it, and that my family has been through something similar. It's indescribable, the emotions that you go through in the grieving process. And that having been through it personally, it is easier to relate better, I think, to the families of the fallen that I deal with today.

KING: In terms of your personal experience then, when you look around for support structure, whether official things in the Army or elsewhere in the military, or whether it's the community things on post during communities around posts -- does that affect one of your knowledge of we need more of this, less of that?

CASEY: Oh, sure. In fact, we have really reached out to survivors here in the last two years, because after I was on the job about a year, I looked around and realized that we were still providing casualty assistance really right around the time of the death of the soldier to the families. And there was so much more we could do. And I thought back to what my mother and sisters had gone through, trying to get a handle on all the benefits and the confusion all resulted from that.

And then I wear this bracelet for a soldier who was killed in Iraq. I wear it, one, to remind myself of the human cost of war but, two, his wife sent it to me. And I have put her on a panel of surviving spouses and she really helped keep me connecting to what we weren't doing for surviving spouses and family members.

KING: Tell us more about him.

CASEY: Sergeant First Class Rand Lambert (ph). He was killed in Ramadi in April of 2006. His wife sent me a note when I was the commander in Iraq on an e-mail out of the blue. And she was worried that the funeral arrangements wouldn't be just right.

And this was the 101st. And I knew it would be just right, but I just sent a note to the division commander. And he checked and it was all fine. And I sent a note back and we kept in touch on e-mail over time.

And as I said, I found it -- it allowed me to stay connected with what we weren't doing with survivors. And really, through some of the things that she has told me, we've significantly ramped up what we're doing for surviving spouses and families.

KING: What is the American who has no direct, immediate, here and now connection to the military, maybe no direct knowledge of a family member who has been lost in a military campaign -- what is their responsibility, in your view, on Memorial Day? What should they do on this day?

CASEY: Well, if you -- if you think about what Memorial Day is for and you said it in your lead, it's to recognize the sacrifices of really the more than 1 million men and women who have given their lives for this country in wars over the course of our history. And our freedoms aren't free. And those men and women have bought our freedoms for us and the freedoms of others.

And so, they really expect nothing more than the gratitude of a grateful nation and want to know that their sacrifices, their family's sacrifices and their loved one's sacrifices will be remembered. So, it's gratitude and remembrance, I think, that the average American can show on Memorial Day.

KING: In recent years, we're up now in the ballpark of 4,400 American servicemen and women who've been killed in Iraq, a little over 1,000 in Afghanistan.

Specifically on the question of Iraq -- as the country pays tribute to that sacrifice, the politics get involved in any way. Even now as we begin to drawdown in Iraq, our latest polling, 62 percent of the American people oppose the war in Iraq. So, six in 10 Americans think this war should not be happening, should not have happened.

Does that impact, in your view, the tribute to those who have paid the ultimate price?

CASEY: It shouldn't. And as I go around the country talking to Americans of all walks of life, the one constant is the support for the troops and the support for the families of the fallen. And people seem to have figured how out to be for the troops and their families and against the war. And it's usually important because we could not have sustained this army with what we've done in the last almost nine years now had it not been for the support of the American people.

And I mentioned I was in Boston yesterday, 2,200 runners each raising at least $1,000 each for post-traumatic stress and mild dramatic brain injury research, Red Sox Foundation in Mass General Hospital -- huge, huge outpouring of support.

KING: You mentioned you were the commander in Iraq, not at the very beginning, but in the early days of that conflict. Did you ever think you would be sitting in a conversation where we were talking about a number in the 4,400 range -- and hopefully not ticking up much more -- but certain to tick up a little more?

CASEY: I'm -- I looked at casualties every day, John. And I saw the time I was there they were averaging about two a day. And so, I didn't know how long it was going to last. I knew it was a long-term proposition. I never, you know, consciously thought 4,400 and 5,000, but I knew it was going to be a rather large number.

KING: How in 10, 15, 20 years do you think those serving now in Iraq and Afghanistan will be remembered? I ask in the context of -- more so Iraq than Afghanistan, but both of these wars, as we've discussed, get caught up in political debates from time to time, as all wars do, and as all wars have in our history. Will there be a monument somewhere near the Vietnam or the Korean or the World War II monument to those who have served in Iraq? Or does public opposition make it impossible to see that moment right now?

CASEY: Oh, I don't think so. I mean, again, the public may be opposed to the war, but they're not opposed to the soldiers. And I really, they tell me as I go out and around that they very much appreciate what the soldiers and sailors, airmen and marines are doing for them.

And so, I don't think that precludes any kind of recognition. I think they are very well appreciated now and I think that's only going to continue.

KING: We'll continue our conversation with the Army chief of staff, General George Casey, in just a moment.

When we come back, we'll discuss that important milestone. Now, more U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan than Iraq.

Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with the Army chief of the staff, General George Casey, on this special Memorial Day edition of JOHN KING, USA.

To that point where we now have more U.S. troops in Afghanistan than in Iraq, almost equal now, but slightly more in Afghanistan. The president's goal has been to get to 50,000 in Iraq by the end of August. We are at about 92,000 right now.

Logistically, even if the political situation stabilizes, can you make that happen or will you a little bit need more time? Could you get 42,000 troops out of Iraq in three months?

CASEY: Yes. And it's something we've been working with the leadership in Iraq for more than 18 months. And we have been gradually moving the extra equipment and things out. There's a great plan in place, and we're executing that plan right now. And so, we --

KING: Yes. No hesitation that you'll make that deadline?

CASEY: No hesitation logistically.

KING: What about politically and security standpoint?

CASEY: Right now there's no plans to change that. But you never know what -- you know, what's going to happen. But right now, we are proceeding to work with General Odierno to get to that 50,000 number by the end of August.

KING: And you say there are always contingencies. Are there any thought now that you will need more than the president has asked for in Afghanistan or do you believe, when you get to the full 30,000 in, plus, some additional NATO help, that that is enough for General McChrystal to get that done?

CASEY: I have heard no discussion of additional troops beyond the 30,000. And we -- the chief has looked at that and General McChrystal has looked at that. And we all believe that that will be sufficient for him to accomplish his mission.

KING: In this past week, the Congress moved more quickly than you would like on the issue of repealing "don't ask, don't tell," the policy that prohibits gay and lesbian Americans from serving openly in the military. They have decided to hold the votes this week.

You made clear not that long ago in some testimony that you weren't quite ready. You didn't think the force was quite ready for such a significant change. I want you to listen to your testimony.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CASEY: I do have serious concerns about the impact of the repeal of the law on a force that's fully engaged in two wars and has been at war for 8 1/2 years. We just don't know the impacts on readiness and military effectiveness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I want you to also hear the voice of the defense secretary because I sat down with him recently. And while he had said, you were more hesitant even than the defense secretary. He had said, I will implement this policy but I must first, out of the common courtesy and respect, have a survey of the men and women in the armed services and their family members. And he made very clear he thought that was the smart way to do it and rushing was different.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I've led several huge public institutions and I've led change in every one of them. And there's a smart way to do change and there's a stupid way to do change. This one has to be done smart.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Do you -- do you worry, again, after eight plus, nine years of war, that the Congress and that politics are getting in the way of what you think is the most effective way to manage the force now and perhaps to manage this difficult transition?

CASEY: Well, first, I agree with the secretary of defense. There is a smart way and a dumb way to do things. And I want -- we'll take a look at it with my colleagues on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and we'll provide our military advice to the secretary of defense on that.

KING: If you were told done deal, have to do it. How long would it take to implement such a transition --

CASEY: You know, you don't do hypotheticals here in Washington. It only gets you in trouble.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Let me -- let me ask you about another question. There has been an investigation, and we talked about this back at the very beginning, when you talked about the kick in the gut in the shooting at Fort Hood was. You once commanded the unit at that fort.

Where are we there in the sense of when you look at the suspect, the shooter, Major Hasan? Are there more of him in the American military uniform? Have you reached a conclusion how big a problem/issue this could be?

CASEY: We are -- we are still working on that. And as you could imagine, right after that incident, we have put a full-court press to go back and look at ourselves to look at what we were doing to make sure something like this never happened again.

And we made some great progress. I mean, within a week after the incident happened, we supplemented our direction to the force on extremist behavior to include extremist behavior like Hasan's. We've stood up immediately an insider threat task force that works closely with the FBI to ensure that we're tracking all leads and working through this. We've streamlined our reporting procedures.

So, there has been an awful lot of work going on right now. I think you also know that the criminal investigation is proceeding. And you'll see that play out here over the rest of the summer.

KING: Have you learned from these new procedures, anything that we don't know publicly yet about other potential risks, sir?

CASEY: No. In fact, what was -- what was in the Department of Defense report, we were just a little bit ahead of them in implementing the changes that we needed to do. So, it's really all contained in that -- in that report.

KING: As we close, I want to circle back to where we began and just ask you your own personal first memory of Memorial Day. You grew up in a military family. I assume this was important to you when you were first able to walk and talk. I'm trying to get a sense of your own first memory so that anybody out there watching can understand why this day should matter to them.

CASEY: It's interesting. I'm having difficulty thinking what my first memory is. But I will tell you --

KING: It's good to know I'm not alone.

CASEY: Yes. When my dad died, I got a call from my mother telling me his helicopter was missing. And about two days later, I went to work. I was working here in Washington and there was "The Washington Post" with his picture on the front page, saying that he'd been killed.

That was my first knowledge that my dad had been killed. And that took some getting over. And as I look back just on my personal life, and I say this to audiences of survivors all the time, we want to know that our loved ones sacrifices were appreciated and won't be forgotten. And that's what Memorial Day is all about.

KING: General Casey, we appreciate your time and we appreciate your sharing such a personal story, and we thank you, sir.

And when we come back, we go "Wall to Wall" to continue our special tribute in just the point the general was talking about, to the men and women who've given their lives more recently now in Iraq and Afghanistan and the families they've left behind. It's special new interactive tool. We want you to help us with it.

Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In "Wall to Wall" today, a tribute to the fallen and families they leave behind.

These images are from Boise, Idaho, back in August, 2004, the funeral for 20-year-old Brandon Titus. That's Brandon's dad, Tom Titus, the honor guard here escorting the casket out. As you can see, this is Brandon in Iraq. He told his dad he was proud to serve, atop his Humvee here, leading on a machine gun. Proud to serve because his dad was an Army Ranger back in Vietnam and Brandon said he wanted to follow in his footsteps.

I met Tom Titus, Brandon's dad back in 2005. This is the Idaho veteran cemetery, a remarkable place. They open it early. Brandon the first soldier buried there. This is headstone there. Tom visit often, not only to talk to his son, but also to tend to the other graves in the cemetery, part of his effort, he says, to continue to serve.

What can you do this Memorial Day to pay tribute to Brandon or some another fallen American serviceman or woman?

Well, we want to show you a remarkable, new interactive tribute wall. This is at CNN.com/homeandaway. Each dot here, a hometown in American representing a fallen American serviceman or servicewoman and dots as well in Iraq and Afghanistan as to where they were killed.

In Brandon's case, of course, his hometown: Boise, Idaho. He was killed when a roadside bomb detonated near his checkpoint in Baghdad in August 2004. Baghdad illuminated here.

How might you pay extra tribute? Each of the fallen has their own page in our new interactive wall. Sergeant Titus here, 20 years old, Company B, 2nd Battalion.

If you have any thoughts, if you knew Brandon, or from his community, you can do as I did, upload your thoughts here where I talked about meeting his father and hearing the family's remarkable story.

You can take part if you knew Brandon or anyone else. Just go to CNN.com/homeandaway and you'll hear more about Specialist Titus, the other remarkable heroes. And we said, if you want to, upload your own tribute.

When we come back, a closer look at this one remarkable hero and the toll on the families of the fallen.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

KING: Visit a cemetery on Memorial Day, the wreaths, the bright new flags on the graves, reminders that every hero's story is just one part of a larger ongoing story of friends and families left behind.

A couple of minutes ago, we showed you pictures of a father visiting his son's grave in Idaho. We met a few years ago and he told me their story, about his horror at learning the war that almost killed him isn't the war that hurts the most.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KING (voice-over): Idaho's veteran cemetery opened just over a year ago. Not all that many gravesites for Tom Titus to attend to on the days he volunteers here.

TOM TITUS, BRANDON TITUS'S FATHER: It is a nice idea. My connection is I'm a veteran.

KING: More time, then, to talk to the young man on the left end of the front row, the first veteran laid to rest here.

TITUS: That was my only son and, yes, he's my hero. And he always will be because he showed me a lot.

There's things I don't think is important anymore because they're just not, because he's not around.

KING: A year has passed, a little more, but not the pain, the disbelief, the memory of a knock at the door.

TITUS: And all of sudden, it just seemed like -- you know, it seemed like my heart just went right up my throat and it just seemed like -- it seemed like somebody had their big hand around my throat and I can't breathe. I opened the door and they said, "Are you Thomas Titus?" And I went, "Yes." And they asked me again.

And I heard the words that every parent hates to hear. And they started telling me the circumstances and I looked at the chaplain, and I remember, you know, I said, will you please write that down because I couldn't understand it. He wrote it down. And I kept thinking: this cannot be true.

KING: Brandon Titus left a letter for his dad in the event of his death, a letter Tom Titus read at his son's funeral.

TITUS: I learned a lot from my dad and I wanted to be like him. I wanted to do something that would make him truly proud of me.

KING: Tom Titus was an Army Ranger in Vietnam. For nearly 30 years, all this sat in boxes: the Purple Hearts, Bronze Stars, memories in some ways ghosts of a war that almost cost him his life and left him bitter.

TITUS: I will not join the VFW. I will not join the American Legion basically because of the fact the way I was treated 20 to 30 years ago.

KING: He finally unpacked all this so his son would know his father was proud of his Vietnam service despite the physical and emotional scars. One day, Brandon came home with the news he had enlisted.

TITUS: I tried to get through to him, this family paid enough. This has got to stop.

KING (on camera): But he said after 9/11, he thought it was important to serve his country. TITUS: After 9/11, as he said, before I can take -- 0before I can take advantage of the freedoms given to me by members of my family and my father, so on and so forth, I have to earn them.

KING (voice-over): Brandon Titus has his own wall now, a grieving father's tribute.

On the answering machine, three saved messages. It is hard to listen, harder not to.

BRANDON TITUS, ON THE ANSWERING MACHINE: Hey, Dad, this is Brandon. I got something I need to talk to you about. It's good news. So, give me a call when you get a chance. All right. I love you. Bye.

KING: The back bedroom is just as Brandon left it, except his boxes.

TITUS: His personal articles from Iraq are still in three boxes. I never unpacked them yet.

KING: Sent home from a battlefield, a different war, but once again, boxes that bring Tom Titus pain.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Next, a family finds the strength to move on by reaching out and caring for others.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: The job of honoring the fallen often falls on shoulders already bearing a heavy burden of grief, their families. When Sergeant Ryan Baumann was serving in Afghanistan, he told his stepfather that if anything happened to him, make sure his family told people about the positive things the U.S. military does to help the Afghan people, things that rarely get reported, like installing wells or fixing hospitals and schools.

An explosion killed Sergeant Baumann in 2008. His parents, Gary and Cindy Lohman join me now.

Thank you for spending some time with us on this Memorial Day weekend. Almost two years now.

When this weekend comes around, is it different or more special? Or it is a 24/7 throughout the year thing?

CINDY LOHMAN, SGT. BAUMANN'S MOTHER: Memorial Day weekend, like most of the patriotic weekends, are definitely more special. You remember the soldiers, you remember -- and that's what Memorial Day is all about, honoring and remembering soldiers. You remember the soldiers, but you also remember your own soldier that was killed. Yes.

KING: This is -- this is a very -- Iraq and Afghanistan are very rare in our history in the sense that because of technology, parents and families are in touch because of e-mail, because of the ability to have telephone contact.

In terms of Ryan saying, you know, dad, if I'm not back, tell the people the good things we're doing. Talk about how that happened and your communications during the war.

GARY LOHMAN, SGT. BAUMANN'S STEPFATHER: Well, he would call frequently. It was a nice thing to actually have cell phones. So, he was able to call. And that is nice having that connection.

He was very proud of the work that they were doing. He would talk about the wells that they were installing and really the people, the focus was the people they were helping.

We tend to see all the explosion, talk about that, but interestingly enough that was just sort of the hazards they have to avoid each day on their way to the mission, their way to work, if you will, from their perspective. So, it was a very powerful human story what they were doing.

It's -- it kind of strikes us, too, to sit back and realize that Ryan and a lot of his friends joined after 9/11. They were very -- you know, they were brought up in homes that -- where they learned to care about others. And they took that to the next step. They were impacted by the events of 9/11. And they joined knowing they were going to go over there.

KING: I have been in several Gold Star homes in recent years. When you see the banner hanging in the window and go inside and hear the stories, the moment that often numbs you is when people recount the knock on the door.

C. LOHMAN: For us, it was a little bit different. We actually got notified accidentally. Our casualty assistance officer couldn't find me because I was at work. But when they did find me, I was notified by a family member and when they did actually come and notify me, yes, it was -- it was numbing. It was -- it was hard to imagine. It seemed as though the world stood still at that point.

KING: And one of the questions is the support you received. Obviously, there is support in those early hours and early days. You're approaching two years now.

Is there still a support network available to you? And you do some work on your own. What is it like for the families left behind?

C. LOHMAN: Yes. For us, we've been lucky. He was part of the 101st and his commanding officers were phenomenal. They wrapped around us literally. They made phone calls to us frequently just to make sure that we were OK. His fellow soldiers did the same.

They still do. I've gotten several phone calls and text messages coming up on this weekend just wanting to make sure that I'm OK. I'm also part of Gold Star Mothers, the Maryland chapter, which is good. That gives a lot of support and it gives us a mission to be able to help and do things for other soldiers.

I have also been part of the TAPS, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. And that's a phenomenal program out that's there that reaches out to any families whose children or any families who have a military death. They just do -- I mean, they do a wonderful job.

So, actually, for us, we've been lucky. You know, it's been good. It doesn't take away the fact, though, that there's always this empty spot. There's always this hole, somebody that's missing.

KING: Iraq more than Afghanistan, but both of these conflicts have been caught up in our politics from time to time. Iraq is incredibly unpopular. Your son served there first. Afghanistan, people tend to understand it better, the goals of the mission at least initially -- although there is some impatience that why so long? Why has it taken so long? Why are there -- now more troops going in as opposed to the troops coming home.

Do you get caught up in that at all? Are you around people who start having a political debate about the war and do you find yourself being drawn into it? Or is that something you try to get away from as best as you can?

G. LOHMAN: There's always a political aspect, but in reality, again, you focus on what they were doing. At the -- at the boots on the ground, the eyes to eyes level, they were helping people. And that's -- in that spirit, like I said, they joined knowing that is what they were doing. That's what they wanted to do.

And I think regardless of any other higher level politics, at its most basic level, that's the spirit the common American level that makes America great as a country -- the willingness to reach out and help others and both at home and abroad. I think these soldiers, all of them, not just -- as a good friend of ours said -- that they are heroes because they served, not because they died.

KING: Ryan is just shy of getting married. And he has a sister. I'm sitting here with their parents. How do siblings and loved ones deal with this?

C. LOHMAN: It's very difficult for siblings. I hate to say -- very often, they feel left out. They're the ones that are holding the parents together and trying to deal with their own emotions, at the same time that the siblings are realizing that the very person they have spent their entire life with is no longer there. That's very difficult.

Lauren, Ryan's fiancee, that was the only boyfriend she had ever had. So, she had to have -- she had to make drastic changes in her life plans. Thankfully, she's gone on, completed school. But it's been very difficult. It's been very challenging for her. It's hard.

KING: If there's someone out there who doesn't have your experience, maybe doesn't have a friend in the military, how can they honor Ryan and his brothers and sisters among the fallen on this Memorial Day? C. LOHMAN: First of all, respecting the soldiers, attending a Memorial Day ceremony, understanding what Memorial Day is. It is not about picnics and barbecues. It is honoring and respecting the fallen.

There are many VFW groups that are having ceremonies. There are many ceremonies across the country. That's an important thing. We need to know that these soldiers have died for our freedom. So, yes. That's what I would suggest.

KING: Thank you for coming in and sharing your story and the story of your son's remarkable heroism. Thank you very much.

And next, you're going to meet an American hero who was shot in Iraq. He flat-lined for 15 minutes. Many doctors would have given him up for dead, but his doctors didn't. Because of that, he's still alive, still serving, and still a remarkable inspiration.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: No matter what your politics, no matter what happens to you this week, no matter how you feel about your job, some things put life in perspective. Thee years ago in Baghdad, a sniper shot Army Captain Joshua Mantz. He died, flat-lined for 15 minutes, no heartbeat, no breathing, nothing. But his buddies and doctors wouldn't give up. And because they didn't, Captain Mantz is both a hero and an inspiration.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: You were flat-lined for 15 minutes, no breathing, no pulse. And you say you remember the last minute?

CAPT. JOSHUA MANTZ, U.S. ARMY: Absolutely, sir. You're taught in emergency catastrophic injuries that your body pools blood to the vital organs to protect -- to protect itself. I could actually feel that happening. It started with my legs, and as the blood crept up my legs and all the blood left, they locked off. Then the feeling crept to my quads. When all the blood left my quads, they locked up.

As the blood-creeping sensation moved towards my chest cavity, it became harder to breathe. When the feeling got to my stomach, it felt like I was running wind sprints around a 400-meter track breathing through a straw and unable to stop. And then when the feeling got to my chest, I knew that was it. I consciously said my last thought, took my last breath and died.

KING: And at that moment, you know, some people say that there's -- there's lights or there are some internal music -- anything?

MANTZ: Sir, I get that question a lot. I actually had no out of body experience after I took my last breath. So that either means it doesn't exist or it means I need to seriously reconsider the way I'm living my life. So --

KING: And then you woke up in the Green Zone and - MANTZ: Sir, I woke up in the Green Zone two days later to learn I flat-lined for 15 minutes straight. The vascular surgeon in the Green Zone who performed a perfect vascular surgery on me gave me nearly 30 units of blood to save my life. What was interesting about this and why I consider this injury a gift today is because I can remember every detail from the moment I woke up.

Being flat-lined for that long, they expected me to not wake up at all, first of all, but if I did wake up they expected me to be seriously brain damaged and I had absolutely no trace of it.

KING: I want to go back, because you've shared some photos with us.

MANTZ: That was the last picture taken of Staff Sergeant Marlin Harper (ph) and I actually took that picture about 16 minutes before he was killed. The bullet was similar to a 50-caliber round. It went through Staff Sergeant Harper's left arm and exited out his chest, fused to his plate on the way out and a chunk of metal about the size of my fist ricocheted to my upper right thigh and severed my artery.

KING: And you tried to save him?

MANTZ: I did, sir. And it wasn't -- it wasn't a conscious thing. It was purely a result of the great military training we received. It was -- it was a pure instinctual response.

When I severed the femoral artery, I did drag him out of the way, about 30 or 40 feet, and begin to perform aid on him, 275-pound guy, dead weight, plus my gear. And he felt like a feather. It was a pure adrenaline rush.

KING: And when you tell your story now, you don't just tell your survival story, you talk of the field medic who had to make a choice --

MANTZ: Yes, sir.

KING: -- when he found you and Staff Sergeant Harper.

MANTZ: Sir, one bullet took out two men within five seconds. My medic was 19 years old. And he had two catastrophic injuries to deal with.

He had had to -- he had about 10 seconds to make a decision that would -- he would have to live with for the rest of his life. He had to assess us both and determine who he was going to try to save, knowing that one man would live and the other man would die. And at 19 years of age, he had to make that decision.

Now, as far as the physical -- as far as the psychological counseling that that medic may have received after that traumatic incident, he really didn't. So, this may or may not go on to haunt him but because he was not physically wounded, because the medic was not physically wounded, he really doesn't have -- he really didn't have anyone pushing him to go to psychological care, just to make sure he was OK.

KING: And you view this as part of your mission now. I mean, you're a miracle? You are a miracle in many ways.

MANTZ: Yes, sir.

KING: And do you this as part of your mission?

MANTZ: Yes, sir. It is -- what we are trying to do to use this story for the good. Our wounded warriors, our physically wounded warriors, are in great shape over at Walter Reed and across our Army. They have immense resources. They have streamlined access to the best medical care in the world.

But my question is: what about the soldiers who are not wounded but who still suffer from the emotional consequences of war? That's what I'm talking about my medic. How is that going to affect him for the rest of his life?

KING: You insisted on going back and your doctors and others told you -- no, sir, no, sir, no, sir. And you insisted on going back. And not only did you go back, you will rotate back overseas again in the near future. When you first went back, you had to be afraid.

MANTZ: Sir, I absolutely was and I went back for two reasons. The -- I redeployed to Iraq only five months after this injury, despite everyone telling me not to.

But there's two very good reasons for that. The first was for my men. They lost two of their senior leaders in five seconds on one day.

A month later, our platoon sergeant was struck by an IED and he was medivaced out of theater. This left a group of junior staff sergeants to run a complex sector in a complex counterinsurgency environment. They did a great job but they needed leadership and they needed a morale boost.

The second reason was more on the personal side. I needed to know for myself, as an infantry officer, that I would be mentally capable of continuing to perform my duties as an infantry officer. You can say you're fine all you want back here in the States, but the true test happens when you are sitting in that truck and you are ready to leave the fog to go out on a mission again. And I thought I was fine, up until the point that I left the wire, at which point, my first control back, I completely froze up.

KING: This is on your -- you're on the road to recovery here. When you look back at these pictures -- most men, most human beings, if they flat-line for five or six minutes, the doctors give up.

MANTZ: Yes, sir.

KING: As you noted, most don't survive; those who do usually have significant brain damage. When you look at these pictures and remember these moments and think of where you are now -- what does that do to you, your faith, your inspiration, your motivation?

MANTZ: Sir, the toughest question I have had to ask myself after this happened is why am I still here. And, fortunately, we've been able to use this -- use this story for the good, to help benefit other people.

KING: Captain, you're an inspiration to us, and it was an honor to meet you at Fort Riley. It's more of an honor to have you here in our little universe, and I wish you the best as you go ahead. And you're a hero, sir.

MANTZ: Sir, it was an honor to be here. Thank you for the opportunity.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Memorial Day is first and foremost a day to remember those who paid the ultimate price. But, of course, we should always pay tribute to our veterans and those serving in the military now.

Our offbeat reporter Pete Dominick is looking into what you think is the best way to say thanks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: It is Memorial Day. Priority one, of course, is remembering those who have given their lives in service to this country. But it's also a great time to say thanks to those who are currently serving.

So, we asked our off-beat reporter Pete Dominick to hit the streets to find out what could people do to say thanks -- Pete.

PETE DOMINICK, CNN OFF-BEAT REPORTER: John, I think anybody can relate to the idea that when you're away from your friends and your family, a long way away, especially in, you know, war time, a care package is a great idea. So, I went out to get ideas about what people could put in care packages as well as a few shout-outs to the troops as well.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOMINICK: Can I get you to say Happy Memorial Day to the troops?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Happy Memorial Day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy Memorial Day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy Memorial Day. Hope you guys stay safe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Happy Memorial Day, troops.

DOMINICK: Give them a nice, a pretty --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy Memorial Day, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy Memorial Day out there, guys. You're doing a good job.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, guys. You guys are the best.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Happy Memorial Day. Be careful and come home safe.

UNIDENTIFIED KID: Happy Memorial Day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy Memorial Day to the troops. You're doing the best thing in the world, protecting us.

DOMINICK: You look like a lady who can send a care package to the troops overseas. What are you putting in it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cookies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the thanks we can.

DOMINICK: All the tanks. You're sending them tanks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was thinking of sending them a whole lot of love and wishing them home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's what I'm talking about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cupcakes.

DOMINICK: Some underwear, socks --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anything you need.

DOMINICK: Facial powder, your girl.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. That's the only thing I've got to keep.

DOMINICK: This woman has come back. She thought of one more thing, you want the most.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think books are very important.

DOMINICK: Books!

New magazines. Clean, of course. Nothing --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Brownies.

DOMINICK: Highbrow, intellectual magazine or something.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, whatever you guys need, I'll try to help.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cookies. Candy.

DOMINICK: Yes. Cookies, candy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My love. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: American magazines.

DOMINICK: American magazines and newspapers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. We'll do that.

DOMINICK: And you're going to be sending a laptop? That's so nice. Sending a laptop.

(LAUGHTER)

DOMINICK: Would you consider wrapping yourself up? Is that possible?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. I'm off-limits.

DOMINICK: OK.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOMINICK: John, if you do an Internet search, troops, care packages, there's a whole bunch of organizations that put these care packages together, and I think you and I, John King, should create our own care package to send over. What do you think?

KING: Amen to that. I think you should get a couple of those pretzels off the New York City streets there and put them in. That would be welcomed overseas.

DOMINICK: I don't want guys to break their teeth.

KING: Pete Dominick for us, paying tribute. Pete, thanks.

And remember, they're out there, if you're watching, it's Memorial Day. It's not just about barbecues and grilling. It's about saying thank you to all of those who have given their lives in the past and to all of those who are still serving.

That's all for us tonight. Hope you enjoy this Memorial Day weekend. I'm John King in Washington.

The news continues right here on CNN.