By Ryan Richardson
NEOSHO, Mo. —
Before receiving the Soldier’s Medal Saturday, Staff Sgt. Michael Byers of the Missouri National Guard took time to reflect on his actions on the evening of May 22, 2011.
Immediately after the tornado hit Joplin, Byers and his cousin Brian Hamlet were on the ground helping out emergency responders. Byers helped pull Mark Lindquist from the rubble of a group home for the developmentally disabled at 2302 Iowa Ave., where Lindquist worked.
Every rib in Mark’s body was broken. His lungs were punctured. His sternum was broken. His right shoulder was gone.
Byers and Hamlet thought Lindquist was dead at first. When he was revived and picked up and laid on a door to be taken to the hospital, bones from Lindquist’s right shoulder fell into the rubble. He was in a coma for several days and his family couldn’t find him; Lindquist was so badly injured friends and family had difficulty recognizing him.
Because of his actions that night, Byers, of Diamond, was awarded the Soldier’s Medal during a ceremony at Camp Crowder in Neosho. The medal is the highest honor a soldier can receive for non-combat heroism. To receive the Soldier’s Medal, a recipient must be nominated for a situation involving personal hazard or danger and the voluntary risk of life under conditions not involving conflict with an armed enemy.
Byers was not only recognized for helping save Lindquist, but for other action that night, which included helping set up a casualty collection point in Joplin.
“I’m not the type of guy to take glory for myself,” Byers said. “This is an honor for the unit. We protect good people from bad things and that’s what we did after the tornado. We all worked hard during that time and I’m proud of what we did for our community.”
Byers was awarded the medal by Brig. Gen. Dave Newman.
“This is an honor to recognize Sgt. Byers because his actions truly reflect what the Missouri National Guard does,” Newman said. “We are about service before self and his actions more than reflect that. He was in his hometown and he took action. He did exactly what a guard soldier would do when put in that situation and he rose to the challenge before him.
“Even out of uniform, you are still the same person from the Guard and he stepped up to do what needed to be done,” Newman said. “He wasn’t in uniform that night but he was still a soldier. That’s the kind of story we tell people when they ask what we do.”
Byers, who served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, said what he saw that night in Joplin was different what he had witnessed in combat.
“Joplin was worse than a war zone that night because of how damaged everything was. We didn’t have supplies so we were doing triage with literally the clothes off of our backs,” Byers said. “In that situation, your instincts and your training just take over. You try and get help to the people who need it the most.”
One of those watching the ceremony Saturday was Lindquist and some of his family.
“If it wouldn’t have been for Mike and Brian finding me, I wouldn’t have made it,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Mike Byers. I think so much of Mike Byers.”
Mark Lindquist, in an interview with The Globe in 2011, said the only miracle bigger than his survival would be if the St. Louis Cardinals made the playoffs for the World Series that year. The Cardinals not only did, but they hung on against the Texas Rangers and then tied up the World Series at three games each. Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor in St. Louis, Lindquist was given two tickets to the game. He took Mike Byers. The Cardinals won.