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Grunt Medic in Vietnam

M

MikeL

Guest
saw this on the militaryphotos.net forum was a good read an thought some of you may be interested in it

By MontanaKid over at History Channel - A personal Account.


Quote:
I enlisted three months after high school graduation. I was 18 and I entered the Army September 16, 1968. I enlisted at Missoula, Montana and was processed at the AFEES station in Butte. I signed up for three years so that I would be guaranteed medic's school. My recruiter tried to talk me into going after a medical specialty, saying I would likely just be put out there with the infantry in Vietnam, but that's what I was after.

We went by train to Fort Lewis, WA where I took basic training. I was then sent to Fort Sam Houston TX for 91A AIT. Training was mixed. A lot of hospital skills were taught including bedmaking, with and without a patient, patient bathing and base subjects such as anatomy, infections diseases, pharmacy, etc. We also learned rescue procedures, how to treat wounds in the field.

I received orders to Vietnam before my graduation from Fort Sam at the end of February, 1969, and was routed to "RVN Familiarization School" during the last week of AIT. This was great because everyone who didn't have orders to Nam had to do the various details that came with the end of a training cycle.

The school was three days long. Much of it was classroom, and much of the classroom was movies. It gave us heavy eyes but the instructor told us anyone who went to sleep at the movie would be the first in the class to get killed in Vietnam. One day was spent at Camp Bullis for field exercise which included record fire on the M-16 and a walk through a "Vietnamese" village, riddled with fake booby traps.

Since my AIT cycle was broken up by a two week Christmas leave, I got just two weeks leave before shipping to Vietnam. I reported to Oakland Army Base and was shipped to Vietnam three days later. We boarded a flight at Travis AFB that landed at Anchorage, AK and Japan before arriving at Bien Hoa RVN. I was just a few hours at the Long Binh Replacement Center before my name came up on a manifest for Chu Lai. I learned the Americal Division was there. I had never heard of them. We took off at dawn on a C-130 on my second day in country and were in Chu Lai by noon with a couple of stops on the way to off load and load more passengers.

I was at the Americal Combat Center for three days before getting orders to HHC 1/46 infantry. All those assigned to combat units then had to do a seven-day school before being sent to our units. Guys who were going to stay in the rear with the gear only had to go the first three days. It included a range where we were introduced to other weapons, like the M-79 grenade launchers, the LAW anti-tank weapon, M-60 machine gun etc. It was a refresher for the guys who went through infantry AIT, but was new to me.

On the last day a 1/4-ton (jeep) picked up me and a couple of others and took us to the 1/46th TRAINS area, or rear area. There, Headquarters Company issued me all my TO&E gear. I spent the night in the battalion aid station and was packed into a C-47 Chinook helicopter (we called it a "hook" and other names I need not repeat here) with some 20-odd other guys for a trip to the battaliion's forward operating base at LZ Professional.

LZ Professional sat on a steep saddled hilltop in the middle of a narrow mountain valley. We were about 10 clicks southwest of Tien Phouc, the nearest village. Our valley was at one time occupied, with the ruins of several small buildings scattered through out the valley. But since 1967, it had been cleared (supposedly) of people and declared a "free fire zone." Others can give you the official discription of a free fire zone. Suffice it to say we took it to be mostly a "shoot first, ask questions later" proposition. The valley did have inhabitants. Sometimes we evecuated them, sometimes not. We assumed they must be working for the other side. We did not know much about Vietnamese culture and the ties they might have to ancestral lands.

I wondered if being assigned to "Headquarters and Headquarters Company" meant I would be working in the rear. I was disabused of that notion at TRAINS. All medics belonged to HHC's medical platoon, but we would be assigned out to one of four infantry line companies, or the recon platoon for at least the first six months of our tour. Our replacement date in the field would depend on when new medics joined the battalion.

A light infantry battalion has four line companies Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, a direct support company, Echo, and a another support company, Headquarters (the battlaion commander and his staff) and Headquarters Company (various support platoons, like commo, medical etc.

I was with two other new medics when I arrived at LZ Professional. We were directed to the battalion aid station at the fire base and the Battalion Surgeon, an MD captain, arbitrarily assigned us to two line companys and recon. I went to Charlie company, another went to Alpha Company and the other guy went to recon.

Since our AO was mountainous and covered by heavy jungle, the battalion found it was too much trouble to carry heavy weapons in the field. Normally an infantry company had three rifle platoons and a heavy weapons platoon. But we eliminated the heavy weapons platoon. The 81 mortars were grouped as a battery on the fire base, the M-2 .50 cal machine guns were mounted on perimeter bunkers, etc.

Our usual routine was that we would go out on company-sized patrols. These would last at least three weeks, sometimes longer. We would then get a "break" by pulling perimeter security at the fire base for five days.

A line company is supposed to have some 150 members. We could raise barely 100 and when things got tough in May 69, all the line companies were below 100 men, often with 70-80 or half strength. Alpha Company was reduced to 33 and the recon platoon to just nine after two days of battle May 13-14, 1969.

We would rise at dawn in our night defensive perimeters, which we called a "night laager." We would move out in single file to an area we were to patrol and set up a "day laager." From there, platoon or squad-sized patrols would fan out over the area. We would exit the day laager at different times in the afternoon, depending on what we were to patrol and where we were supposed to be for the night laager. We tried to get to the nightlaager in just the last hour of light so that enemy forces would be less likely to pinpoint where we were.

We would put ambushes out on nearby trails. We would also have forward observation posts. Each foxhole on the perimeter would have all-night guard.

I was aidman for the third platoon. As such I was with the platoon CP or command post. The CP consisted of our platoon leader, platoon sergeant an RTO for each one and me. We were just back of the platoon on the perimeter. We pulled an all-night radio watch.

The Company CP had more. The company commander, three RTOs, one to carry the battalion net, one to carry the company net and one who carried a scrambler for the battalion net. Then there was an artillery officer from our supporting artillery battery, called an FO or Forward Observer. The FO would have his own RTO and sometimes a "recon sergeant" who would go out on some of the the small unit patrols.

There also was the senior field NCO, the "field first sergeant," and the senior medic. Sometimes a new medic would stay with the headquarters and work under supervision of the senior aid man. But we usually didn't have enough medics for that luxury and like me, most medics went straight to a rifle platoon where we learned as we went along.

We forded any streams we would cross. Bridges had been long ago destroyed. The AO had two rivers and a multitude of creeks. In wet season, the rivers were unfordable, in dry season they were sometimes not much more than ankle-deep. Sometimes even the creeks would have too much flow to cross. We usually took our water out of these streams, sometimes putting purification tablets in, sometimes not. If it was running fast and clear, we usually didn't drop the ill-tasting "pure-tabs" in it. Not a wise decision, by the way.

We ate C rations and soemtimes LRRPS or "Long Range Patrol" rations, which were freeze dried. On most resupply days, in which a helicopter would fly in every three or four days, we would get a hot meal sent out from the battalion mess hall in mermite cans.

I carried an M-16, but only half the ammo load of the infantry. My weapon was for last-ditch patient protection or self protection only I carried eight magazines. The typical rifleman carried 15. We also had M-79 men. The grenade weapon was called "the tube" or "thumper" It could fire different kinds or grendades and also a cannister round (like a giant shotgun shell). Each rfle team has an M-60 machine gunner and an assistant gunner. They would each carry about 500 rounds each. Another thousand rounds would be carried in 100-round belts by various members of the rifle team. The infantry guys shared the carry of various squad weapons, such as claymores, LAWs, etc. Every man carried some hand grenades. There were also smoke grenades and items like entrenching tools to pack. We also carried at least four-days of rations on average, plus a gallon to a gallon and one half of water. Packs were heavy. We would have a poncho and poncho liner. Some carried rain gear, some didn't. If the rain didn't make you wet, the sweat inside the rain gear would. We all sweated a lot. We were always wet.

Our uniform was Army "olive drab" jungle fatigues and we always wore steel pots in the line companies. The Recon guys usually wore only soft caps.

I carried the CP's E-tool. Otherwise I carried a medical pack and a "jump kit," emegency supplies that would stay with me if I jetisoned my back pack. My backpack consisted of pharmacy items, topical ointments, tape, guaze etc, as well as extra pressure bandages, and of course my personal gear.

I improvised the jump kit with two claymore bags. They fit close to my body, slung around neck and shoulder on both sides. The army issue aid bag was just too clunky and likely to get caught on something. The jump kit would have morphine, vaseline guaze (when a bandage had to be air tight), pressure bandages, cravats (o.d. triangular bandage) tape, roller elastic bandages, heavy boot-cutting shears.

When we would take fire, I would immediately jetison my pack and try to make myself very small, while listening or watching for someone who might need me. If someone was wounded I gave him basic first aid and got him ready for helicopter evacuation. Usually that consisted of using pressure bandages to prevent bleeding, applying tourniquets for traumatic amputations or heavy bleeding that could not be stopped with pressure alone. We would place the man in a poncho, if he wasn't able to walk, and put him on the floor of the helicopters. Sometimes it was a "Dustoff" air ambulance, often it was just the command-and control "Charlie-Charlie" helicopter assigned to our battalion for the day. Since we were way out in the interior, it was sometimes better to summon the dustoff to LZ Professional and have the Charlie-Charlie hop the guy over to LZ Professional where he would have the Battalion Surgeon and clinical specialists to look after him -- give him more advanced life support if need be, before the Dustoff arrived.
For example we could do CPR in the field, but in the battalion aid station they could intubate him, put him on O2, etc. Plus it was not practical in our AO to carry 1-liter glass IV bottles in our back packs, so we did not start IVs in the field.

Otherwise I took care of everyone's everyday ailments. We might bathe in a creek one or two times in three weeks, so a lot of the little superficial scratches and cuts from thorny vines, elephant grass, branches, etc. would develop small sores. Plus there were a lot of fungal things, ring worm, etc. There would be smaller cuts that I would treat, sometimes apply butterfly stiches, but if it needed regular stitches, we would send him to LZ Professional.
Many guys would get loose bowels, etc. We had occasional hepititis cases, a lot of malaria. A heptitis case would result in the entire battalion getting gama gobulin shots. Malaria was just always with us.

I caught one variety of malaria, falciprum. It was when I had been in country almost 8 months. It involved three weeks of hospitalization. When I got back I was reassigned to the aid station on LZ Professional, but got to spend six weeks of temporary duty at a hospital in Chu Lai.

Our enemy was usually the regular North Vietnamese Army or Peoples Army of Viet Nam (PAVN). The troops in the populated areas would deal more with the local yokels but we were fighting regular troops. They would be armed with SKS semi-automatic rifles or AK-47 automatic rifles. They would have Chinese RPD machine Guns and even our American Browning Automatic Rifle or BAR. They would have 60 mm or 82 mm mortars as their usual artilley.

If we captured wounded enemy, I would treat them as well as I would our guys. I would talk to them through an interpreter, ask questions, give a reassuring word. Often they would just stare blankly, probably stunned by their situation. Sometimes I could see the gratitude in their faces.

I depended on my grunts and they depended on me. Us grunts may argue and fight among ourselves, but as far as outsiders were concerned, we were family. When I go to reunions they still call me "Doc" and it's an emotional thing with me. We have a lot of guys on the Vietnam Memorial wall from our battalion. Some of them took their last breath when I attended them. I closed their eyes.

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"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13 
 
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