Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Quang Tri, Vietnam

On my first tour, I was not at Quang Tri for very long. Maybe a month to a month and a half and I do recall we got a lot of rain. Bravo and H&S Company of 1st Btn 4th Marines were the initial military group to secure and prepare the area for the new air base. Dong Ha further north was too close to the DMZ and was in range of artillery. Quang Tri was level and further south and was less vulnerable.

My first day there was miserable because of the heavy rains. We setup in a Vietnamese cemetery. The dead were buried under mounds so a lot of us setup our tents on top of these mounds. The water drained off nicely. The next day, the villagers marched on our camp in protest of what we were doing. The villagers were informed that a base was going to be built here and the cemetery could stay inside the base or they could move their cemetery. Guess they decided to move the cemetery.

We did patrols from this small camp going west out onto the rolling plains. There was not a lot of farming out in this area and it was rolling hills and tall grass. The area had a few small villages between the camp and the mountains jungle. Most of these villages were the enemy and we would come under sniper fire when we approached them. Thank goodness, we had patrol dogs with us on these wide-open plains. They warned us of sniper fire before the rounds got to us. It was out on these plains that I stepped on a booby trap. A grenade went off next to my left foot. Twenty Marines went through the same spot before me but lucky or unlucky I am the one that set it off.

Before I jump ahead to Friday the 13th of October 1967, I will talk more about the early Quang Tri base. As I said before, there were very few of us at the start but everyday more and more would arrive with wire and fencing. Once the engineers arrive, things start to more fast. Around the wire, we had many small tents and the Headquarters had a large tent. During the heavy rains, the large tent was the place to go to get warm and to stay out of the relentless downpour.

This area backed up to a river, which we used to bath every now and them. One of the guys in our platoon was married and one day he lost his wedding ring in the river. We all tried diving to the bottom looking for that ring. Two days later after the rains had stopped, there was his ring sticking out of the mug on the edge of the river. How cool was that? He was about 21 and he had been married for 6 years. He was about 16 and she was 14 or 15 when they got married. He was a Southern boy from Tennessee or maybe West Virginia. I do not remember now. I really like that guy and how he loved his wife so much. He wrote her everyday and she did the same. He was short but very stocky and must have carried 20 clips of ammo on his belt. He was ready for anything. (Sadly, I heard that he was KIA from a mine.) Wish I could remember his name to leave a remembrance at The Wall.

While at Quang Tri, I had two to three days a week that were not spend on patrols so I volunteered to go to the Quang Tri Provincial Hospital in Quang Tri. Two of us Corpsmen would take a jeep and follow the engineers into the city. The engineers were sweeping for mines so it was not wise to go pass the engineers. Once we got to the hospital, our job was to work mostly with the children. There was a Norwegian Red Cross group working there running the emergency room and surgery.

Much of what we did was to lance and treat boils. The rice paddies were also their bathrooms so the water was a little bit contaminated. It the kids were cut or bite by a leach the wound could turn into a large boil. Boils are not a big deal in the states but in Nam, it took the lives of many children. We would lance and pack the area and give an injection of antibiotics. The next time we were there, we would give another injection and change the dressing. I hope that we saved many kids by doing this on our days that were somewhat free.

Hospitals in Nam were very different then what we are used to stateside. In Nam, when a patient was in the hospital, the whole family also moved in with them. There is not a food service at these hospitals so the family cooks the patients and families meals out on porches that surround the wards. The patient area is a little smoky from small fires but does smell nice from all the cooking. Even though there was a war going on, the people were friendly and so thankful for our help.

While at Quang Tri, you might say that I got promoted by moving up to H&S Company from Bravo Company. I was now in charge of the Corpsmen in Bravo Company. Now I did not have to go on patrols all the time but I did have to go out on Operations. After two weeks with H&S Company, we went out on Operation Granite and four hours into the Operation, I stepped on the booby trap. I was Med-Evaced out by a UH-34. Usually you see the Huey as a Med-Evac chopper but I was picked up by the old UH-34. I thought I was going stateside. Oh how wrong I was.

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