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I volunteered for the draft. I knew I was going to be drafted anyway, so, when the Tet offensive was on the news constantly I went down to the Draft Board and volunteered. On 18 Mar 68 I became US 56 461 300 and did 8 weeks basic at Ft. Campbell. Ten weeks of AIT at Ft. Sam Houston and I became a Medic. They let me have a couple weeks of leave and then it was across the pond as a Cherry "Doc." So it goes.
I was sent to Chu Lai, American Div. LZ Bayonette, HHC 198th LIB. Being a brigade medic I was sent TDY anywhere a medic was needed. My first two-week assignment was to LZ Young, B Battery 1/14 Arty then on the Thein Phouc trail, a bad place. Was cherry no more.
Then I was sent to a place called "River Boat South." It was about 10 kliks south of Chu Lai on the corner of the South China Sea and the Song Tra Bong River. The MP's, boat drivers, and I patrolled the river in 16-foot whale boats with 75-horse Johnsons and M-60 mounted on a post in the bow. Days we generally stood down and nights we set up ambushes with 2 or our 3 boats. While I was there it was usually pretty quiet, and we didn't go looking for much trouble.
Practically every day I went down the hill to Med-CAP in one of our two villes, Hai Ninh or Son Tra. With 10 weeks training, Merk manual, PDR, M-79, and aid bag full of drugs I treated every medical problem that came my way. Sometimes I could do was give out a couple aspirin and not cause further harm. I even delivered 3 babies, but that's a whole different story.
Gook sores and skin problems were my main practice. Their sanitation was lousy. Clean em up, boil out with hydrogen peroxide, pack the mostimes cratered wound with bacitration and apply a clean dressing. Sometimes a shot of penicillin. I never gave the Viets any anti-biotic pills because I couldn't know where they would end up, but I knew where that shot went.
About 70% of my patients were kids, newborns I could hold in one hand up to 10 or 12 years old. Some of these kids had sores all over their little bodies. I didn't think they had ever seen a bar of soap in their lives. Sanitation was the pits. Drugs, dressings, and other meds supplies I never had any problem getting back at the aid station, but soap I had to scrounge or buy at the PX. I couldn't afford that.
In one of my letters home I mentioned my soap problem, and then forgot about it. Little did I know what was going to happen then. I had been transferred back to the aid station when I stated to get boxes of soap through the mail. We are talking SOAP. Big bars, little bars, Ivory, Lux, Palm Olive, Dial, all kinds and sizes.
I was back in the rear and couldn't get out the med-cap, at least not back to "my" villes. I had been sent out with 1st Platoon, H Troop 17th Armored Cav. My platoon and the med platoon had the best selection of soap I the Division, probably the whole of Viet Nam. I found out my mother had talked to all her friends, clubs, and church and the soap just kept coming. I'm talking boxes 10 and 20 pounds at a time full of soap. I admit I would rather have had Kool-aid, Chese-Curls, saUnited Statesges and things like that but here I had soap coming out my ears. I had become pretty hardened to the war, didn't have to time to med-cap, and I just didn't mention in my letters what I was doing with all this soap. I guess I thought Mom would just stop sending it. Soap was starting to pile up at an alarming rate.
Sometime later we were back in base camp for a three-day stand down. I was back in the med plt hooch when in walks a captain and pfc photographer from Div. PIO. My dad had written them and wanted to know what was happening with all this soap. Now it seemed that the PIO wanted some publicity. The next morning the enlisted photographer, Gary Moore another HHC medic, and I jumped in a Med platoon jeep/ambulance loaded with soap and took off. Armed with a couple M-16s, a camera, and boxes of soap, merrily through the boonies we went off towards Son Tra.
What a memorable day. We stopped in villes along the way and gave out bars of soap till we were mobbed then sped off to the next likely stop. It was like something out of a Keystone Cops movie when the Viets learned we were giving free soap. When we made it to Son Tra I saw some old friends (couple months removed), we gave out beacoup bars of soap and headed back for chow.
Altogether the operation was a total success. The soap was gone (except for a personal stash), the PIO got some pictures (publicity), Moore got away from the rut of base camp for a day, and I thought the whole thing was over.
The next day I was back in the boonies with the tracks looking for trouble, sometimes finding it. Soap kept coming. My cousin in Kenosha had a soap drive in her school, my uncle sent soap from Denver, more soap, soap, soap, soap. Everyone in my platoon had their choice of soap, water was darn scarce most of the time, but soap we had. We often were convoying up and down highway 1 and it seemed as if every roadside business and hawker south of Chu Lai had family size Ivory, Lux, Camay, etc. for sale. So even I could figure out where that soap for the kids' sanitation ended up.
I caught a bullet on 11 Mar 69 and was evacuated to the 6th CC in Cam Ranh for a month. Moore replaced me in the field and was killed two days later. I was sick of the whole damn thing. When I got out of the hospital I gave three footlockers full o soap to the An Toc Catholic orphanage, the sisters could use it anyway they wanted. I just didn't care anymore. My last couple months, in country, were with D Co. 22 Med Bn, Chu Lai, in the rear.
I try to remember the good times, and forget the bad. This story started with the best of intentions, on everyone's part, then got screwed up. Kind of like the whole war. This is a story that I have never told-I hope that my family will forgive me for the way it ended 20 years ago.
So it goes.