From 1st Battalion 6th Infantry

A Medic’s View

By SP5 Daniel Gonzalez,   31 March 1971

[Background: SP5 Gonzalez served as a medic with the 59th Engineer Company (Land Clearing), 39th Engineer Battalion.  During 1970-71 he served side by side with soldiers of the 1st Battalion 6th Infantry during land clearing operations in the Batangan Peninsula in the vicinity of Hill 43, Hill 128, Hill 76, and Hill 109.]

 

Department of the Army
 59th Engineer Company (LC) 39th Engineer Battalion
APO San Francisco 96325

 31 March 1971

Commanding Officer
39th Engr Bn (Cbt)
APO SF 96325

A Medic’s View

I have been in Vietnam a little over a year now and looking back over the past twelve months, many things come to mind.  Vietnam is a tragic land, both to the indigenous inhabitants, and to the American Servicemen.  Yet, strangely enough, it is a land of breath-taking beauty.  The one flaw to this beauty is the danger to one’s life that exists in the form of the Viet Cong, the North Vietnamese, and perhaps more significantly for my unit, booby-traps and land mines.  I do not
mean to infer that the former have not been an imminent threat to GI’s throughout Vietnam, but speaking from my experience with the 59th Engineer Company (Land Clearing), the majority of our misfortunes have been a direct result of the latter.

Arriving in Phu-Bai, I was told I would be in a Land Clearing Unit, and that I wouldn’t have it bad at all.  I was lucky in that I was one of four medics in the company, and needless to say, the “cruit” among them.  This is quite significant to me, because these guys taught me to have
confidence in myself and were always near by whenever I had a question pertaining to my job.  To be completely honest, I was scared (although that does not completely describe my feelings) and was inexperienced as a medic.  My peers assured me that when the time came to prove myself, I would be there doing what had to be done.

Before moving to Chu Lai, we were working in an area northwest of Quang Tri (near the village of Mai Loc).  While in this area, most of my patients consisted of minor burns, cuts, colds, and the common illnesses of mankind, but the majority of them were the results of enemy action.

In July of 1970 we arrived in Chu Lai.  Little did any of us realize how many of our men would be hurt.  Numerous rumors had circulated throughout the company that our new area of operations was heavily mined and these rumors proved to be true.  A group of us remained in Chu Lai, one platoon was still up north finishing a job, and the core of the company: two platoons of dozers, maintenance, and communications personnel went to the Batangan Peninsula.

The first day in the filed, we had a medivac when one of our dozer operators hit a booby-trap.  I had to stay in Chu Lai for a month before going to the field.  While in Chu Lai I set up, as best I could, a sick ward for our men who were released from the hospital.  My job was to care for them until they were ready to return to duty, and to provide the medics in the field with medical supplies.  Everyday, I awoke with the same question on my mind, “Who will be hurt today?”  And
everyday for weeks at a time, someone would be medivaced due to shrapnel inflicted by land mines, booby-traps, or some other VC invention.

One man died (non-hostile casualty) when the dozer he was operating rolled on the side of a hill. Doc Thomas, another medic, had rushed to him and even boarded the medivac giving mouth-to-mouth, but when the chopper reached 91s Evac Hospital, he was dead on arrival.  This incident was a heavy cross for the members of our unit, for we had lost a real friend.  They say death is a blessing, but that doesn’t keep us from asking why.

Right after this incident, I went to the field.  One particular day right before noon another operator hit a booby-trap.  To go out on the cut and sit on the M548 and watch the dozers clear land isn’t very interesting after you’ve seen them do it week after week.  However, one thing is always present in my mind, and that is the fear that one of my buddies will get hurt and possibly die.  These were the thoughts going through my mind when I heard the explosion.  It is a terrible, empty, weak, and sickening feeling when an explosion goes off and you know someone is hurt. The M548 was some distance from the casualty, and could only get so close to the victim due to the terrain.  Before I realized what I was doing, I had jumped off the M548 and rushed to the
casualty.  After he was medivaced, I realized that it had been as my peers had said, “One acts without realizing it”.

Everyday since arriving in Viet Nam, I’ve started out with a silent prayer to God asking for his help and protection for all the men in our unit.  The cut, as the daily operation of clearing is called, begins at around 8:00 a.m. when we leave the NDP.  The dozers lead the way followed by the APC’s and a Sheridan for security.  Then comes the M548 carrying the officer, NCOIC, demolition personnel, and medic.  The cut is set up by the lead dozer which has radio communications with the M548 and the men begin to tear down shrubs, trees, and whatever else that may stand in the area to be cleared.  The M548 stations itself so that one can see all the dozers.  This way, their progress can be watched and more specifically to locate a dozer in the event of an accident or injury.

As if the hidden dangers weren’t enough, the terrain often presents numerous problems, especially muddy areas and rocky terrain.  Often a dozer will roll or turn over on its side causing injuries to the operator.  So the best feeling comes when I expect the worst, and find the operator with only a scratch or two, everyone has a sigh of relief and the jokes start.  Finally the task of setting the dozer up right is tackled and the operator is back on his way.

Numerous tunnels have been found during daily operations.  Here is where the demo man earns his keep. Once he checks out the tunnel for enemy supplies or ammunition, he then blows the tunnel with a charge of C-4.  We have found caches of food (rice and corn), articles of clothing, ammo, and various types of enemy ordnance.

At chow time everyone comes together to talk about a million and one things.  During this time the soda girls or soda dollies as they are also called, make their appearance if they haven’t already
done so by now.  And the old familiar tones are heard, “You buy soda from me?”  For some strange reason the girls think that an American GI’s stomach is bottomless, for no sooner do you drink your soda, than the girls are on you again, “Why you no buy soda from me, you buy soda from her.”  Why we pay fifty cents per soda is still beyond me, when we can get them from the company for fifteen cents but then the girls’ sodas are cold, and the girls are quite cute, and once again, a woman’s charm is a man’s loss.

Work continues until four o’clock and then we start back to the NDP.  The operators pull maintenance and another day is done.

SP5 Daniel Gonzalez,   31 March 1971