By SP5 Daniel Gonzalez, 31 March 1971
[Background: SP5 Gonzalez served as a medic with the 59th Engineer Company
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
EGD-LC 31 March 1971
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 through-out 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 filed. 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. The 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 after 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.
[End of report by SP5 Gonzalez]
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