Soldier, 21, Severs Own Leg to Save Crew After Tank Crashes: 'Either I Step Up or We All Die'

Jason Duaine Hahn

A freak accident following an Army training exercise led to a seriously wounded soldier heroically coming to the aid of his injured crewmates.

Army Spc. Ezra Maes was deployed to Poland last year to participate in a joint training exercise as the main cannon loader for a 65-ton tank, according to the Department of Defense.

One evening, following a week of intense drills, Maes and his two crewmates fell asleep in the tank, but were awoken a short time later when the vehicle’s parking brake failed. To their horror, the massive machine was screaming downhill, and there was nothing to stop it.

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“I called out to the driver, ‘Step on the brakes!'” Maes, 21, recalled. “But he shouted back that it wasn’t him.”

All he and the crew could do was hope they survived.

“We realized there was nothing else we could do and just held on,” Maes said.

The tank sped downhill at 90 mph until it slammed into an embankment. Maes was sent flying in the chaos, and his leg became trapped in the gear of a turret.

Despite the situation, all Maes could think about was breaking free to help his crewmates — the tank’s gunner was bleeding from her thigh, while the driver had a broken back.

“I pushed and pulled at my leg as hard as I could to get loose and felt a sharp tear,” Maes told the Department of Defense. “I thought I had dislodged my leg, but when I moved away, my leg was completely gone.”

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Army Spc. Ezra Maes | Corey Toye/ Army

With his right leg completely severed from his body, Maes made a tourniquet to stop the bleeding and help the others.

“I knew I was going into shock. All I could think about was no one knows we’re down here. Either I step up or we all die,” he recalled.

“If I didn’t help myself, my crew, no one was going to,” Maes continued. “I knew I had to do everything I could to survive.”

Tank gunner Sgt. Aechere Crump, who placed a tourniquet around her own bleeding leg, managed to make her way through the wreckage to toss Maes his phone, which was the only cellular device to survive the crash.

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Help soon arrived, and all Maes remembered from that point was seeing his sergeant major carrying his severed leg.

“I wanted to keep it,” Maes told the Department. “See if it could be reattached, but it was pulverized.”

He would spend the next four months in the ICU, and is now participating in physical and occupation rehab at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas.

Army Spc. Ezra Maes | Corey Toye/ Army

“I feel super lucky,” Maes said, according to the Department of Defense. “My crew all does. So many things could have gone wrong. Besides my leg, we all walked away pretty much unscathed.”

“When something like this happens, it’s easy to give up because your life won’t be the same, and you’re not wrong,” he added. “Life will take a 180, but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Don’t let it hinder you from moving forward.”