Navy medic Peter Gould is grateful to be alive. When the 24-year-old wounded warrior threw out the first pitch at USO Night June 9, he did so in thanks and gratitude to those who saved his life last July.
Less than one year ago, in the Helmand province of Afghanistan, Gould was seriously hurt in a roadside bomb explosion. About 12 members of Camp Pendleton's 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines Weapons Company, had been ambushed by some three dozen Taliban insurgents.
"Our platoon had pushed down farther south than anyone had ever gone before," Gould recalls. "We started taking contact from the front and pushed a squad out across the other side of the field so we could engage from two different directions. There was firing from three sides."
The group's machine gunner, Lance Cpl. Jake Henry, was shot in the thigh. "Myself, another Marine and Larry (Cpl. Larry Harris Jr.) picked him up under heavy fire," Gould says. "We carried him behind cover, behind a wall, and word came that we needed to get out. I had his arm around my neck and was helping him walk and it started getting more painful for him. Corporal Harris helped me and we were both carrying him and that's when the IED (improvised explosive device) detonated."
Gould remembers hitting the ground. Another Marine came to help. "He was a little distraught and he wasn't sure what to do," Gould says. "I could feel the bleeding coming out of my neck pretty good and told him to take the gauze out of my pocket and stuff it down my neck and go check on Jake and Larry. I knew they'd been hit."
Gould's injuries were serious: he was bleeding profusely, the right side of his face was shattered and his right arm was broken. But he managed to talk his fellow Marine through CPR and relay emergency medical procedures in a desperate attempt to save his friends. "I knew Jake was pretty banged up but not as bad as Larry was," Gould says.
In those fleeting moments, Gould says he could hardly see or hear because of the explosion. He later learned that Harris was killed on impact. "Larry was kind of like the big brother for everybody," Gould says. "He was real stocky, a calm and quiet guy who looked out for everyone." Harris was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, the third-highest military decoration awarded to a member of any branch of the United States armed forces for valor in the face of the enemy.
Gould was also bestowed the honor. "I believe I was chosen to receive it on behalf of the entire platoon," Gould says. "Every single guy who was there that day did extraordinary things. They were the ones who kept me alive while I was bleeding on the ground. They can only give it to one individual but I would like to say they gave it to the platoon collectively because everyone deserves it."
Today, Gould serves with the Marine Wounded Warrior Battalion West, some of whom were special guests at the USO San Diego 70th anniversary gala last April. A prize was placed on the auction table: the opening pitch on USO Night at PETCO Park. The purchaser was TriWest Healthcare Alliance, a USO sponsor and military health-care provider. The executives at TriWest won the auction and gave the prize to the table of wounded warriors. Gould's fellow heroes gave him the honors.
John Dooley, USO San Diego president, says it's only fitting. "It is very elegant that our Premier Title Sponsor, TriWest Healthcare Alliance, won the bid for the opening pitch and donated it to wounded Marines in attendance who all agreed "Doc" Gould should receive the honor."
From accepting the Silver Star to throwing out the first pitch, Gould's heart remains grateful. But what humbles him the most is that everyone went above and beyond the call of duty that early morning in July. As he lay wounded in the dirt, an Army helicopter flew in to rescue Gould and his fallen brothers-in-arms. "It touched down maybe 100 feet to our right and as soon as it touched down, started taking fire," Gould says. "I could hear over the radio that it was being told to leave."
The helicopter took off. "I had kind of given up at that point," Gould says. "I knew I was bleeding out of my neck and I was kind of making my peace."
But then the helicopter came back: "We told the pilot to leave for his own safety and he came back on his own," Gould says. "He did not have to do that."
The Padres and USO San Diego both celebrate that commitment to service. Gould, meanwhile, has undergone numerous surgeries and continues to recover. He was be honorably discharged from the military June and began his education; he plans to attend medical school.