After all, one battle or one patrol in Vietnam was not much different than another. More than anything I didn’t want to be redundant in my writing. I think, however, that flashbacks are topic worth covering. Even though I have not written anything for the past three months, I feel I must pursue this recent occurrence.
I have always had flashbacks and nightmares from my time in Vietnam. Most of these have been repeats from previous events, but this recent flashback was from an entirely different trauma. It is strange that I haven’t thought about it since 1967!
This flashback was spontaneous and only lasted a few seconds. I was involuntarily transported back in time. Even though it only lasted for a short time, a lot happened during that period. I was not only remembering the event, I was living it!! I was there—surrounded by images, smells, sounds, feelings, and facts. The sad story is, “I don’t live in Vietnam but Vietnam will always live in me.”
I asked myself, why did this event pop into my mind now? What triggered this memory? What bought it on? It was not something I had contemplated or considered; it just happened. I was sitting in my chair in the living room, resting from my morning walk, and nothing had distracted or bothered me. It was just a normal, typical day, but, from out of nowhere, it was there.
Before I recount this flashback, let me give you some of my background. I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, which is a mental health condition characterized by witnessing and experiencing traumatic events from the Vietnam War. Common symptoms include nightmares, severe anxiety, flashbacks, and uncontrollable thoughts. My PTSD was caused by combat exposure, but many of my symptoms occurred later in life.
This particular flashback involved a battle with the Viet Cong in Nui Dat Son, near Hill 55. It was a fierce battle, and we sustained several casualties. I especially remember treating a young African-American marine. We were in a rice paddy, and the water was covering the lower half of his body. He was in pain, due to a gunshot wound in his upper left leg, and he was yelling in agony. It was difficult for me to locate his exact wound location due to the low light conditions, his dark skin, and the muddy rice paddy water that covered and camouflaged his wound.
With this soldier, I needed to find the entrance wound and the exit wound, if there was one. Some bullets stop in the tissue or bone, but others travel straight through the leg. Sometimes the bullets even ricochet off bones and come to rest in places you might think not even possible. In short, there is much to consider and evaluate in treating a bullet or shrapnel wound.
After my initial body assessment, I applied a battle dressing and a tourniquet to his leg to stop the bleeding. I was seriously concerned about infection, due to the rice paddy water, but there was not much I could do about it at that time. I remember writing a “T” on his forehead so the medical staff would know I had applied a tourniquet. I also administered an ampoule of morphine to reduce his pain.
All this time, we were receiving rounds from the VC. After a few bullets splashed very close to us, I knew I had to get this soldier out of the area as soon as possible. I grabbed him from behind and put my arm around his chest, so I could drag him to a nearby dike. A couple of Marines witnessed our struggle and helped me to pull him to the back side of the dike.
Once we were settled, I grabbed his dog tag and started writing on a casualty card. I knew this card would provide all the pertinent information the trauma team at the B.A.S. would need to continue his care. There are spaces on these cards to list the Marine’s name, service number, race, religion, date, and time of injury. There is also space for the location of a wound, which I listed in his case as “Upper left leg, frontal side.” The card had two 4-inch wires attached, so it could be tied to his clothing. I noticed this Marine was only 18 years of age. He had only been out of high school a year. It hit me that he was just a kid, but in Vietnam, you had to grow up fast. Your life depended on it! While I was filling out the card, other Marines were securing an area for medevac to arrive so this soldier could be transported to the Battalion Aid Station. After I wrote all the pertinent information on the card, a couple of Marines helped me to move him to the dust-off area.
While we were waiting for the medevac to arrive, I tried to calm this young fellow down, as he was still confused and in a lot of pain. He was cussing God for what had happened to him. Actually, I remember several wounded Marines blaming God for their injuries. I never did understand why they never blamed Satan?
These were the darkest hours this Marine had ever experienced. His injury, pain, and fear of dying were overwhelming. I tried to calm him down and witness to him, knowing this could be his last chance to accept the Lord as his personal Savior. I tried to be strong and positive. As a corpsman, I knew very well I could be his last contact in this life.
Obviously, I don’t remember exactly what I said to this Marine, as it had been over fifty years since this event happened. However, I do clearly remember parts of what I said. It is very important that I get this right or as close to the truth as I can, because this next paragraph of my synopsis/story is centered here. This is the reason I am writing my story, I want the reader to understand the importance for me to answer the Marines question.
He asked me why God would allow this to happen to him. I told him that, one day, God may reveal the answer to him. I told him even if God did not provide him with an answer; he would still have to deal with it. What you must remember, I said, is that even if you do not get the answer you want or need, or if you get no answer at all, you are still in God’s hand.
After a while, we heard the whop-whop-whop of the Huey arriving for the medevac. Four Marines picked-up the litter and transported this injured soldier to the chopper. I never heard another word on how he was doing, but then we never did hear anything from any casualties that were medevacked. They were either transported back to the states or reassigned to another company.
After many years, I still question “why” bad things happen, but I know we live in a world of uncertainties. At least now, I believe I am much wiser then I was in my early years. We witnessed the trauma back then, but overlooked the grace. Adversity is difficult, but in time, it is common to find that the more we come to know, the more we seem not to know.
We must remember that when bad things happen, Satan and his minions also want to keep us from knowing why they happen. It is Satan who can spur us to shake our fist at God and to blame Him for tragedy. Often it isn’t that God doesn’t provide answers, it is that we do not understand what He is telling us.
Thinking back on this case, I remember most of it vividly, even though it occurred so long ago. It is strange that I can’t remember what I had for supper three days ago, but I remember this episode like it happened in the last hour. The mind is a quite remarkable in what memories it elects to preserve. Although, this flashback was traumatic and disturbing for me to relive, I believe there is a reason this memory has stayed with me. In a strange way, I think it is helping me to better understand what happened so long ago. It is giving me another chance to make my peace with myself, with my life, and with my God.
John 16:33 "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (NIV)
HMCM Ronald C. Mosbaugh