Medics to the Rescue!

By Rigo Ordaz
Copyright 2003: Ray Sarlin. All rights reserved. (Copy permission at bottom)

Webmaster's Comments: Rigo Ordaz, an Infantryman with the 1/50 (M) Infantry has nothing but respect and admiration to the Medics who patched us up and a lot of times saved our butts.

Most soldiers who have been in combat have a high degree of respect for the Medics who are out there with the grunts, in harms way, rendering aid to the wounded.

They are not exempt from getting wounded by enemy bullets, mortars, mines, and booby traps or by friendly fire.

Aside from tending to battle wounds Combat Medics in Vietnam were also called to perform many other duties. They were also required to keep the health of the platoon in check by administering Malaria pills, salt tablets, applying various ointments, checking feet and crotches and in general an abundance of first aid for scratches, cuts, bites, abrasions and keeping diseases in check.

They carried a medic's bag, which could weigh quite a bit. Most carried a rucksack also, with change of clothes, c rations, and extra water for the platoon and whatever else the average grunt needed in the bush.

Sometimes they were called upon to perform out of the ordinary duties as Combat Medic Pete Tovar recalls. "We had been operating in the coastal area near some villages where we had been in earlier firefights. We were maneuvering around those villages with our APCs, when one of them hit a medium size mine. One of the troopers who was riding on top of the APC was catapulted into the air by the explosion." Unfortunately, the trooper landed on a large cactus plant, which were abundant in that area. Medic Pete Tovar remembers that "We were still pretty wired up and jittery from the ordeal of the Battle of Tam Quan, when I heard an explosion. We knew it was either a B40 or land mine. Medic Ron Provencher and I ran to the track which had run over a land mine to check for casualties. To my surprise one of the wounded was the guy that got blown off the top of the track and landed on a huge cactus. We answered the call of duty, with a smirk, as we proceeded to extract thorns from the trooper's butt, back, and arms. If there would have been a "Purple Butt" award, I would have put him up for it."

Another incident happened when D 1/50 was operating close to a village in another area, when Medic Pete Tovar was called into a Vietnamese village to help deliver a baby. Here is how Pete remembers it. "I recall once we were working somewhere north of LZ English and we had just made our FOB for the night when a bunch of nearby villagers came to the perimeter requesting a Boxie, which in Vietnamese means Doctor or Medic. The LT dispatched me, Pablo Luna (medic later wounded and evacuated) and a squad. When we got to the village we were surprised to find a women laboring with childbirth. It surprised me as I thought they just dropped these kids out on a daily basis with no trouble at all. Sure enough she was lying on the floor with legs wide open and other women hovering about. A couple of mama sons were trying to help but the baby's head was stuck at the opening. I didn't recall taking any pediatric courses at Ft. Sam Houston."

"We could see the top of the head, hair and all. I tried pushing my hand between her and the baby's head but it wouldn't budge. This went on for about an hour and we feared for the welfare of both the baby and the mother who was in serious distress. At that point we decided to call for a Medivac. The chopper arrived with a doctor on board who advised she wasn't quite dilated enough and took her to the Medical Aid Station back at LZ Uplift. Never saw her again."

There were many incidences and stories to include one where an ARVN got an M79 round stuck on his thigh or buttocks.

Another incident having to do with an M79 is one where a young trooper accidentally fired his launcher while walking in a column down a very steep hill. The round hit a guy in the thigh not more than five feet away and flipped him backwards like a somersault. "When I got to him he had a very serious bruise but no broken bones. We sent him back to the aid station later on due to sever pain, stiffening and I am sure torn muscles. Fortunately the round did not go off. Another more serious incident happened around that time also. While going through heavy brush, a trooper had a grenade pin pulled off his hip by the heavy foliage. The explosion taught us all a very serious lesson off of survival. It was then that I quit hauling grenades; the only ones I carried from that point was smoke.

Depending on the mission, the medical bag could weigh just as much as a full rucksack. Russ Roth, Medic with D, and A Company recalls that he was getting a good natured ribbing from his friend the RTO, and how easy the medics had it carrying a medical bag. They exchanged the radio and medical bag for a while. It wasn't long before he wanted his radio back and never again complained about his load.

Aside from being called to perform out of the ordinary duties, Medics were also in harms way without shooting back because they had to tend to the wounded. They went through the same hairy situations as a Combat Infantryman. Russ Roth recalls one incident when they were almost left behind in a firefight.

"We (Delta 1/50) went on an air combat assault on 505 Valley on March 18, 1968. We were supposed to execute a "stay behind" ambush, but instead we were ambushed and receiving fire from all directions. As the different platoons scrambled and maneuvered for a better fighting position, several attempts were also made to secure an LZ for extraction. By this time we had two kia and several wounded. Finally, as we tended to the wounded, an LZ was secured and most squads started moving promptly in that direction. We were carrying a severely wounded soldier in a makeshift litter but the Bn. CO dropped off a litter. We started moving in the direction of the LZ also. Suddenly we started receiving fire and we scrambled to get behind a hedgerow. Adrenalin was running very high as our hearts sank when we realized there were no other friendlies around. We had been left behind and with nothing to defend ourselves. Moments of panic were multiplied and our hearts sank as we saw a Chinook taking off. For sure we had been left behind and nobody knew about it. All of a sudden, we saw some moment close to us and we expected the enemy to show up. We were very relieved to see David Jones and his squad, Lowell Miller, Thomas Ramey and a fourth man coming toward us. We all got together and started moving to the PZ. We were sure glad to see them as they saved our butts. Within minutes we were extracted and back at LZ Uplift.

These are just a few of the many stories that Combat Medics can and should tell. Hats off to the Combat Medics of the 1st Battalion (Mechanized), 50th Infantry.


© Rigo Ordaz, 2003-2005. All Rights reserved.

This article may not be downloaded, copied or used in any manner without the express written permission of the author.