Saturday, January 5, 2008

Re-Hash of Military Days

It has been awhile since I have written much on my blog so I thought I should do a little re-hashing of my military days. I had connections at the Draft Board so I knew when it was close to being drafted. My Dad was in the Navy along with my Uncle so I enlisted in the Navy but said I wanted to go to boot camp in San Diego. Being from Michigan, I wanted a warmer climate to train. The first available spot was in April of 1966 in San Diego so I waited until then to go into the Navy.

Let me interject something at this point. I am a strong believer in military service and how it prepares young people for the rest of their lives. Having a system similar to Israel where everyone must spend some time in the military is a good system. Spending two years in the military for both men and women would probably create a healthier and more disciplined population.

Enough of my soapbox rhetoric let us continue with my military days. I spent my boot camp days in San Diego’s wonderful weather where we could march all day in the hot sun. It is better than marching in the snow. Besides marching, there was a lot of military training in the classroom and teaching us the Navy Regulations. We also took tests that helped the military decide what specialty we would be best suited. I got high marks in the new computer field and in medicine. I should have taken computers. At the start of boot camp, we were a disjointed bunch of guys but by the time of graduation, we were a well-oiled machine.

After boot camp, I was sent to Hospital Corps School in San Diego. U.S. Naval Hospital in BalboaPark, San Diego is a beautiful facility. The whole area was nice. Sun, surf and beautiful women. What more could a sailor ask for? I graduated first in my class even with all the distractions.

From San Diego, my next duty station was U.S. Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia. It was a nice setting on a bay but it overlooked shipyards and Navy ships. I worked in the Operating Room and help train OR Techs in Pack Room Procedures. That included how to create sterile packs for surgery and how to clean and prepare surgical instruments for the next operation. I was an OR orderly while going to College so I had some previous experience in the field. On most of my duty periods, I was an ambulance driver. Boy did I get lost in Portsmouth and Norfolk but I did learn to get somewhere fast on a code 3 (lights and sirens) was to go down one-way streets the wrong way. People could see you coming and got out of your way very quickly.

One of the memories I had of my duty at Portsmouth was a bad accident that happened in Norfolk. They have helicopter carriers and a helicopter was taking off from one, lost control, and crashed back onto the deck of the carrier. I do not like being around helicopters during takeoff or landing. When a helicopter goes down, the blades break off into thousands of little pieces that are traveling at high rates of speed. You do not want to be around when the pieces of the blade are flying by because it does major damage to human tissue. We were just getting ready to leave the Operating Room about 3 PM, the word came in about the accident, and that casualties would be arriving soon. Portsmouth had eight surgical suites and we filled them all with severe trauma cases. There were limb amputations and very bad wounds causes by the flying debris. One patient took over 50 pints of blood because of a large abdominal wound. Sorry to say he did not make it. It was two in the morning before we finally got the OR ready for the next morning’s surgeries. We were a little tired working that next day. I only got about 3 hours sleep before being back to work.

I was scheduled to go to Pharmacy School at Portsmouth but by the time the next class started, they wanted me to extend my service by another year. No way. Got my orders to Nam a few months later. From Portsmouth, my next duty station was Camp Lejuene for Fleet Marine Force training. That training included shooting a rifle (a type that was NOT in Nam) and the 45-caliber pistol. In addition, we got a lot of physical training, nighttime patrols, patient care in the field and taking care of snakebites. I never saw a snake in Nam. The best thing the Marines did was to get us into great shape physically. I hated Gunny then but thank him now for getting us prepared for combat.

After a 30 day leave at home, I was then off on a full expense paid trip to Vietnam. Read some of my earlier blog about my misadventure on the way to Nam. I think it is under my fear of flying section. I arrived in Nam around 1 July 1967 and was assigned to Bravo Company 1stth Marines. Battalion 4 I was then injured on Friday the 13th of Oct. 1967 and finally arrived on Guam on 2 Dec. 1867. Spent three months in the hospital on Guam until my orders came through to go back to Nam on 3 March 1968. I arrived in Saigon on 3 March 1968, flew to Da Nang 4 March 1968 and then flew to Phu Bai on 5 March 1968. I was assigned to 3rd Shore Party Battalion in Gia Le outside of Phu Bai on 5 March 1968. I left Nam the first part of July 1968 and headed home for a well-deserved 30-day leave.

My last assignment for the Navy was another FMF duty. I was assigned to Camp Pendleton and luckily got picked to replace a retiring Chief in the base Medical Supply. That turned out to be great duty. I only had to stand duty about every 17 days and then I was in charge of a clinic on base (it is always good duty when you are the boss). I rented an apartment on the beach in Oceanside so my stay in California was very pleasant after the previous year’s duty in Nam. I got an early out of the Navy to attend college in January 1970. Did you notice that after 4 years in the Navy, I never once got on a ship?

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