"Sharing can be a way of healing. Grief and loss can isolate,
anger even alienate. Shared with others, emotions unite
as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

Through our writing, we walk out of the darkness into the light
together, one small step at a time, recording history, educating
America, and we are healing.
~CJ/Todd Dierdorff

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Combat Medic

"And I'm proud to be an American,
where at least I know I'm free.
And I won't forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me."
~Lee Greenwood

This story was compiled from members of:
34th Public Information Detachment
101st Airborne Division (Airmobile)
1971 Republic of S. Vietnam.

Members of the 34th PID were:
Craig Latham
Charles Kahn
Mike Van Strien

The sharp crack of an enemy rifle and the groan of a wounded Screaming Eagle trooper break the jungle's silence. In one simultaneous movement, everyone in the platoon hits the dirt to look for the enemy. All remain motionless, except for one man. He crawls through the low vines and shrubbery to the wounded trooper.

While the two forces exchange fire, the medic quickly throws off his rucksack and begins treating the bullet wound in the trooper's lower leg. After cutting away the man's pant leg up to his knee, the medic reaches into his aid bag and pulls out a pressure bandage, places it on the wound and winds and ties the two straps around the man's leg. He reaches into his green bag a second time, pulling out an intravenous set and a pint bottle of clear saline solution. Ripping apart the sterile plastic bag that houses the set, he takes out the needle and tube, connects the tube to the bottle of solution, and then to the needle. After rolling up the wounded man's sleeve, a tourniquet is placed around his upper arm. Then the medic inserts the needle into the soldier's forearm. The bottle of vital, blood-replacing liquid will flow into the man's veins for 25 minutes, enough time to sustain the soldier until a "Medevac" helicopter can fly in to take him to the hospital.

With three pieces of equipment -- pressure dressings, a bottle of saline solution, and an intravenous set -- Screaming Eagle medics have saved the lives of countless comrades. That's their job -- "to conserve the fighting strength".

There is one combat medic in every infantry platoon. Almost without exception, the medic is called "Doc" by his friends, a title which he earns. He is the infantryman's family doctor, helping the sick and injured, soothing the distraught, and befriending all.

A soldier can become a combat medic in one of two ways. He either volunteers, or he has an aptitude for it, which makes it imperative that he be trained to become a medic.

The combat medic arrives in Vietnam after 10 weeks of training at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. Half of his training is devoted to hospital work. The other half is spent on doing tourniquets, intravenous injections, pressure dressings and splints. A large amount of his time is spent practicing the life-saving steps on another trainee.

The last week of training is spent on a field training exercise, climaxed by a life-saving trek. The class is divided into four-man litter teams, which have to carry a wounded man one quarter mile in the dark through thick foliage, barbed wire, and streams, keeping the patient protected at all times.

"You don't have much need for a litter team in the 101st with the Medevac helicopters," said one medic, "but the exercise enforces the importance of doing your job in spite of all obstacles."

"You get a short familiarization course in medications and minor ailments," said another medic, "but when you get to Vietnam, you have to become skillful at treating the ailments peculiar to this country. You have to learn which medication works best on a particular fungus, on a particular man. Some men will even tell you what medication to use, because it has worked for them in the past. You also pick up other bits of experience from other medics who have already been in the field for awhile."

A green, zippered aid bag one-and-a-half feet long by a foot wide by six inches deep, strapped to the medic's rucksack contains everything he needs to treat anything from a combat casualty to an infected boil. Fully-loaded, the aid bag weighs 25 to 30 pounds and not an ounce is wasted. The medic has to work with what he carries on his back. And to be sure he has all he can carry, he uses his rucksack to hold extra bottles of saline or dextrin solution, giving up space that would normally be used for some of his personal items. Strapped to his rucksack, he also carries extra canteens of water for heat casualties in the summer, and for fever or chills during the winter monsoon.

A normal day for a combat medic begins at dawn with sick call. Several troops gather around his rucksack. The "Doc" quickly washes the dirt from a cut on the first man's arm with hydrogen peroxide, dries it with gauze, and bandages it.

"Let me dress it again tonight," he tells the man as he leaves, then turns to the next patient.

"How's the hand?"

"Still swollen." The medic pulls out his scissors and cuts the wrapped gauze from the soldier's hand, swollen from a bacterial infection.

"Have you been taking the penicillin pills every six hours?"


"Okay, I'll dress it again today, If it doesn't get better by tomorrow, we'll get you to the aid station and get it cleaned up."

Five or six patients later, sick call ends and "Doc" makes his rounds, passing out the daily malaria pills. Then the platoon "rucks up" to move out on patrol. He stays with the patrol wherever it goes; walking, slipping, and sweating along with every other member of the unit. As they move, he is as alert for danger as the rest but, at the same time, he is keenly aware that only he has the life-saving skills which may be needed at any moment. His only wish is that that time will never come.

Whatever the roll -- "Doc", friend or both -- the medic serves with a sense of devotion and responsibility that marks him as a "Man with a mission". Often that mission involves a life or death battle; usually the medic and life win.

Thank you, members of the 34th PID. It was a great honor to post this story. God Bless you for all you did for us.
My warmest regards,

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  1. Kay Easterling (from Facebook)
    I read your story with great interest. Was your husband a medic? That war was played into my head every night on the news, the first war to be filmed daily. I hated those horrid pictures and the horrid pictures of the civil rights movement.... But my father liked to watch the news and however disturbing it was, he said we should watch it and learn. I learned to hate war and the bigotry that was still around in the '60's. It still is today, but not with the same intensity of those days. Your story is a tribute to all those young men who gave their lives. 40,000 plus. Too many to lose in a war we didn't win.

  2. Yes, Kay,
    Doug was a medic with the army. He won seven medals posthumously. I started the blog as a memorial to him and to all of the men and women who served in Nam. I'm looking forward to more and more stories to share. People are ready to hear now.
    Hugs, CJ

  3. Mike Rearic (from Facebook)
    Now get it through email.
    Really good stuff!!

  4. Ufo Vietnam (from Facebook Messages)
    July 25 at 12:15pm
    You are a great writer. Did you ever think to write a book about Nam?

    Answer from: CJ Heck
    July 25 at 12:26pm
    Thank you sincerely for your kind words; however, I'm predominantly a writer of children's stories and poems -- I have one book already published for children and two more coming out soon. Being a Vietnam widow, the subject is just too close to my heart to write a whole book. I have one poem that I wrote about being a widow and it took nearly 40 years to write it, because again, it was too painful, too close to my heart. No, I started the Memoirs From Nam blog to give vets a healing platform in which to share with not only each other, but the entire world -- it's time. People are ready to know. People want to hear the truth, not Hollywood's slanted versions.

    Please encourage your friends to follow Memoirs From Nam. Encourage them to write and share their feelings and memories -- there's no greater gift I could give to my husband's memory. Thank you for taking the time to write to me!

  5. The Medic. What can you say? Heroes in my opinion before they ever put foot on enemy soul, before they put the first pressure dressing on a wounded comrade, they are heroes. To save the lives of members of his platoon is nothing short of miracles in many cases. Very nice writing by Michael Van Strien. Thank you for posting it.


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