The other day, while going through my old Vietnam slides, I ran across one that bought back fond memories. It was a slide featuring the Bob Hope Christmas USO Show, and just seeing it took me back in time.
In late December of 1966, I was attached to Second Battalion First Marines. We were located 26 miles south of Da Nang, Vietnam. The weather was rainy and only increased our feelings of melancholy. That evening, a patrol returned from a search and destroy mission and informed us that their corpsman, Doc Henry Fast, was shot and medevac to the Da Nang hospital. This disquieting news added to our anxiety and increased our depression. No one knew his prognosis, and we were all very concerned about his well-being. I was definitely worried about Doc Fast, but I was also troubled. As the lead corpsman, I was responsible for assigning corpsman to each patrol. We were already short on men, and without Doc, there would be even more trouble filling positions.
I immediately went to the Commanding Officer and stated my concern. I asked if I could visit Doc at the hospital. I wanted to see him, and I also needed to pick up additional medical supplies. We were running low on battle dressings, tourniquets, sulfate patches, morphine Syrettes, and other items. I also needed to know if it was going to be necessary to request another corpsman. The CO gave me permission to leave the next day. I would be traveling with the supply truck that delivered water and C-Rations to our company.
The 6X6 truck dropped me off on Highway One near Dog Patch. From there, I hitched a ride to the Naval Support Activity Hospital near Marble Mountain. This facility was usually called the Da Nang Hospital; the hospital was situated between the Han River and the South China Sea, the hospital set near the Marble Mountains just to the south. These five outcroppings dominated the landscape. The hospital was located about five miles from First Marine Division Headquarters.
When I arrived, I located a corpsman friend of mine, Mike Lamb; the two of us had been stationed at Oakland Naval Hospital for a year. After that, we had been transferred to FMF Field Medical School Training at Camp Pendleton, CA. for five weeks. Together, we then went to Okinawa and from there to Vietnam. We received our duty assignment in Okinawa and were separated when we landed at the Da Nang airport. After a short visit, I told Mike about our corpsman being wounded. I wanted to know if Doc Fast was still there as a patient. He was, and Mike escorted me to his bunk. Henry was sitting up in bed and fortunately recovering nicely. He was scheduled to be released within a couple of weeks.
The open bay wards were very large; they treated 60 or more patients per ward. I remember many of the patients were being treated for malaria. Most of the marine grunts were in good spirits as the ward provided a real bed, hot chow, showers and flushing toilets, and excellent medical care.
After seeing Henry, Mike and I went to the chow hall, the food was great. In the field, we lived on C-rations, and this was the first time since I had been in Vietnam that I eaten a hot meal. I also was amazed at the size of the hospital. This large facility occupied over fifty acres. Not only was it the largest hospital in Vietnam, but it was also the largest causality receiving hospital and blood bank in the world. There were over 700 beds! I was really impressed when Mike told me over 90 percent of their in-coming wounded survived. Depending on the severity and type of wound, their patients were sent around the world for treatment and recovery. This hospital had opened the same year I arrived in Vietnam. Mike said over 800 staff personnel were assigned there. They even had a doctor for every needed specialty. Over 35 percent of their wounded were able to return to duty in Vietnam. It was clear medical care had come a long way since M.A.S.H. in Korea. Moreover, this state-of-the-art facility eventually treated over 27,000 patients!
That evening Mike and I also went to see a movie, the hospital offered a new film daily. It was an amazing place and seemed to have all the comforts of home. During our conversations, Mike mentioned that he was going to the USO Bob Hope Christmas production the next day on Hill 327. He wanted to know if I would go with him. I thought about calling my commander to get permission to attend, but he said, “What’s he going to do? You’re already in Vietnam.” We both laughed, and I told him I would be happy to go. To me, it seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime. The USO, which stands for the United Service Organization, coordinated and presented these shows. Of the more than 2.5 million troops who served in Southeast Asia, less than one percent had the opportunity to attend one of Bob Hope’s shows. I felt privileged and extremely lucky.
The following day was beautiful with a bright, clear sky. We took an ambulance jeep to the show and also brought along the driver and two patients from the hospital. The trip only took about thirty minutes, but it was very crowded with several hundred Marines and other branches of service. The first thing we did was visit the chow hall. I ordered a cheeseburger and French fries. It was the best burger I have ever eaten. It just melted in my mouth! It was also the first cheeseburger I had eaten in months. Afterwards, at the open air amphitheater, we were seated in front since we had two patients with us. The stage was set up at the base of Freedom Hill 327—seven miles southwest of the town of Da Nang. Located there also was the USO headquarters, the American Red Cross headquarters, a large beer garden, a movie theater, and a very nice Navy/Marine PX. I believe they also had a bowling alley.
Finally, the show began. Bob Hope walked on stage swinging his golf club, and the crowd went wild! After a couple of minutes of applause, Bob Hope started his monologue with his rapid-fire jokes. I was amazed he could remember so much without notes. When I thought it could not get much better, Anita Bryant walked out on stage. Once again, the crowd went wild. Other stars who attended were, Vic Damone, Phyllis Diller, Joey Heatherton and Miss World. There were many talented singers, dancers, and musicians that performed. For over two hours, they all did a fantastic job and created a memory for a lifetime.
Bob Hope’s show definitely boosted the morale of the troops, but I also remember we could hear mortar rounds exploding several miles to the south while the show was happening. The explosions reminded us we were still in a war zone and 12,000 miles from home. That was the reality, but for a couple of hours it was nice to escape and to remember what was waiting for us back in the world.
To end the show, Anita Bryant sang “Silent Night.” She sang the first verse alone, and then she asked the troops to join her for the second verse. I don’t believe there was a dry eye in the crowd. I know I shed a few tears.
I remember as a young boy in the early 50s seeing Bob Hope on TV entertaining the troops during his Christmas tours. He started performing for the USO entertainment for solders from WWII, Korea and Vietnam wars. He spent most of his life entertaining our troops! He became a legend and was loved by millions of veterans. For many of us, Bob Hope was one of the greatest Americans ever.
I mentioned in my story that we could hear bombs exploding miles to the south, this was where my company was located, I should have been there with my company, knowing they were short handed of corpsman. The bombing triggered my fear and apprehension of returning, but I knew I had no choice. However, it made me feel good that we had two patients with us who were taking their mind off the tragedy they experienced that led them to be medevacked to the hospital.
The CO was gracious enough to give me a day to check on our Corpsman, I took advantage of that and stayed an extra day. Besides, I left the company with only one Corpsman and that was not fair to him.
Now, I have two problems facing me, the Commanding Officer and the trauma of running patrols again. No matter the consequences of my decision, I would do it again in a minute. For over fifty years I have treasured that time, Bob Hope provided not only a temporary, but a memorable escape from the realities of war. “Thanks for the memories, Bob.”
HMCM Ronald C. Mosbaugh
Master Chief Corpsman (E-9)
USNR (retired) 31 years