4:37 | It was just like the show MASH, says Army doctor Quinn Becker. He served as a surgeon at an evacuation hospital in Vietnam where it was not unusual to operate for eighteen hours straight. There was also a tremendous physical and mental strain on the young nurses, who had volunteered to come help take care of the troops.
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Quinn Becker's father was a country doctor and he decided that was the field for him as well. After medical school at LSU he took a regular Army commission because he was DMS, Distinguished Military Student, of the campus ROTC. Orthopedic surgery became his specialty and he began to think about an Army career.
As Quinn Becker advanced in the ranks as an Army doctor, he had two assignments in Germany dealing with readiness and training for medical operations there. He then went to Walter Reed where he was surprised at the number of casualties from Vietnam and the severity of their cases.
Army surgeon Quinn Becker didn't know much about Vietnam. As a professional soldier, he didn't weigh whether it was right or wrong. He had a job and he went to do it. Assigned to an evacuation hospital in Phu Bai, he had a memorable arrival by helicopter.
His second assignment in Vietnam was the command of a medical battalion for the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile.) Quinn Becker was an orthopedic surgeon but his main job there was to manage the fleet of Medevac helicopters and their crews. Their ships had a feature that other units did not have, machine guns.
Quinn Becker was the medical battalion commander but he was also a surgeon. He describes a heart wrenching experience in the operating room regarding a man he had sent to the field earlier in the day. A lot of the injuries treated there in Vietnam were caused by booby traps and there were also a lot of gunshot wounds through extremities.
Quinn Becker describes the primitive sterilization units he used in Vietnam at an Army hospital. Smokey Joes, they called them. It was a demanding environment for medical personnel who were tasked with quickly getting casualties off the battlefield and into care and treatment.
He felt like a whipped dog when he returned from Vietnam. Quinn Becker couldn't wear his uniform and he practically had to sneak in at night. The next assignment for the Army surgeon was at Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii where he met a most remarkable young man who was severely wounded.
A lot of good people fought and died in Vietnam and we have to take care of our veterans who served there. That's the message from LTG (Ret) Quinn Becker, who saved some of them as a surgeon. He recommends you read the book A Different Face Of War written by another Medical Services officer who was an advisor there.
Army surgeon Quinn Becker almost retired but he was selected to attend the War College. That usually meant they were grooming you for higher up. As he moved up to higher commands, he set out to modernize antiquated field medical equipment, a need he had first noticed years before.
Can I cut the mustard? Tom Agnew was apprehensive on the way to Vietnam and wondering if he was up to the task. He was assigned as a medic in a helicopter evacuation unit, known as Dustoff. On one of his first missions, he learned not to triage the wounded too quickly. (Caution: coarse language.)
When a new pilot checked in, David Farthing asked where he was before. The answer caused him to bite his tongue. They were always short of pilots in the assault helicopter company, but he didn't think this guy was going to work out. Overall, though, things were getting better and it was his opinion that it had a lot to do with the new top commander, Creighton Abrams. (Caution: coarse language.)
His first day in the jungle was memorable. American advisor John Le Moyne saw his South Vietnamese paratroopers stage a daring frontal assault, called in his first air strikes and Medevacs and, after it was over, he wondered if every day was going to be like this.
It wasn't any ragtag Viet Cong, it was a battalion of NVA that was assaulting the artillery battery where Sammy Davis was stationed in the Mekong Delta. After an RPG hit his gun, he regained consciousness and found his position nearly overrun. After firing every round he had, he saw a wounded American on the other side of the river. He knew what he had to do and his actions brought him consideration for the nation's highest military honor, the Medal of Honor.
Following a harrowing first day of combat, Tom Buchan was surprised to find hot food flown in and cots to sleep on. He managed to finally get himself on a tank crew through sheer will and intelligence. It was the day he helped out one of the APC crews, though, that earned him recognition.
Six months after John Le Moyne had battled entire regiments of the NVA in the Tay Ninh area, there were only isolated small groups operating. The war had changed. As a new company commander, he had a lot of questions and he was fortunate to have superiors who were patient.
It could be tough getting resupplied in the field in Vietnam. Medic Marvin Cole nearly had a Chinook land on top of him in the fog. He and his medical platoon performed missions treating civilians in their villages and he relates a chilling story of a child used by the enemy to attack one of these operations.
When someone at work made a comment that America had lost the Vietnam War, Roye Wilson was shocked. Our soldiers never lost a battle there. The politicians decided they would leave and they did. To him, it was an honorable enterprise and the only right course at the time and it is his belief that it contributed to the fall of Soviet communism.
It was the most intense action he saw during the war. Mike Morris describes the hour long battle with an NVA unit that made an unusual frontal assault. When daylight came, it was a grim scene, with hundreds of enemy dead.
While he was beginning his shift as the night duty officer, Lawson Magruder would marvel at the wrecked helicopters brought back to base. The brigade had moved and tactics had not been adjusted for the fact that there were anti-aircraft batteries up near the DMZ. He relates the story of LT Dick Anshus and a downed pilot who were captured.
His first assignment was in a Davy Crockett platoon, but that field nuclear weapon system was short lived and John Le Moyne began training to be an advisor in Vietnam. When he got there, he walked out of in-processing and went looking for the unit he wanted.
The Air Force rescue crews flying the big helicopters known as the Jolly Green Giants began to get respect among the pilots of other services because they excelled at retrieving downed airmen. Pilot Dave Oliver was on one such mission, which was going badly, when the commander asked if was he willing to go in without waiting for backup. The situation was dire for the men on the ground so the answer was affirmative. He would be awarded the Silver Star for this action.
Platoon leader Bill Pearson sent out a squad to set up a night ambush and when they made contact, it was with a much larger VC force. With the rest of the platoon, he set out to find them and bring them back. When he located the besieged squad, the battle became intense and they were in danger of being wiped out. In a desperation move, he called in artillery on his own position.
Advisor training gave John Le Moyne a good grounding in Vietnamese language and culture. Reading books like Street Without Joy and The Ugly American gave him an idea of what to expect as an outsider in a nation at war. Once he was there, he found out that he had been taught the language with a North Vietnamese accent.
His company command at the Cua Viet River was just the way Richard Jackson liked it. He was given free reign to take care of his area. He describes the tactics he used to fight the enemy and recalls one memorable fight in which his men and an NVA unit charged at each other in darkness.
After the column was devastated by an NVA ambush, wounded Americans were scattered in the darkness. After his captain heard one such group calling for help on the radio, Freddie Owens joined a patrol to find them, guided by a gunshot every few minutes. Once there, medic Daniel Torres volunteered to stay with those who couldn't move and protected them through the night with medicine and a machine gun.
The VC were scarce. After the Tet Offensive severely reduced their numbers, the battle for John Le Moyne was with the NVA. He had access to a range of supporting fire, and when he called in air power, he preferred the A-1E Skyraider, a powerful prop plane that was more suited to close support than jet aircraft.
One night, while Laurie was eating dinner, the USS Sanctuary got a call about a plane crash. She vividly remembers the patients coming aboard, and the aftermath of this incident, including one boy who was MIA. However, as difficult as this experience was, this was nothing compared to the Tet Offensive. They had new wounded coming in constantly, and trying to care for all of them at once was emotionally exhausting. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the Military Heritage Museum- https://freedomisntfree.org/.)
It was hard to find the enemy. Charlie would disappear into his holes and only come out once the Marines of Mike company had left. Richard Jackson's men tried probing the ground with sharp sticks, but they broke too easily. What they needed was steel. Thus was born the "Mike Spike." Part 1 of 2.
The enemy was mainly NVA regulars where American advisor John Le Moyne was working with a South Vietnamese Airborne battalion. They would pour out of Cambodia every couple of weeks and attack. Some of the men with the Airborne had been fighting the Communists for twenty years.
In a letter home, Tommy Clack expressed his worry that something bad was going to happen and it did when his unit engaged the NVA near the Cambodian border. He saw the enemy soldier stand and fire the RPG that changed his life forever.
American advisor John Le Moyne didn't give the South Vietnamese Airborne unit much advice. He was there to call in air strikes, artillery, Medevacs and resupply. He marveled at the toughness and courage of the fighters who traced the unit's lineage back to the French Colonial Airborne.
As Marine Captain Ron Christmas fought to regain the city of Hue, he found the enemy adept at concealment and surprise. Every soldier in a spider hole was armed with a rifle and a RPG launcher. His action during this time earned him the Navy Cross.
The RPG that severed Joe McDonald’s foot didn’t kill him. The machine gun fire that hit him as he still tried to help others didn’t kill him. The grenade taped to his hand might have killed him if the VC had found his hiding place.
They were hunkered down after fierce fighting when the call came from "Ghost 4-6." It was a group of wounded men who had pulled themselves together after the ill fated march to LZ Albany and were lost in the dark. George Forrest sent a patrol to find them, and in an incredible act of bravery, medic Daniel Torres stayed through the night with them and saved many men. Captain Forrest still had to write a gut-wrenching letter to the mother of a missing soldier. Part 3 of 4.
Vietnam was full of important lessons for John Le Moyne, who tried to pass the knowledge on throughout his career. Should we have been there? Maybe not, when you consider who was in charge at the time. At least he missed the ill treatment that many experienced when he returned.