A corpsman’s responsibilities were many. Not only did we have to give first aid to the wounded, but we had to care for the Marines 24/7. There were always elements such as minor cuts that needed to be sutured, and diarrhea, malaria, intestinal parasites, immersion foot, fever and the list goes on. We were also their chaplains. There were always psychological issues due to losing a comrade in combat, “Dear John” letters, or coping with the hell in which we were living. We also had to keep their shot record updated and of course penicillin shots shortly after their R and R. The reason Marines called us Doc was because we were the only medical contact for miles. Some of our Corpsman were very good at what they did, others not so good. However, we did the best we could and saved a lot of lives!
By Corpsman Ronald C. Mosbaugh
2/1 Hotel Company 1966-1967
HMCM USNR RET.
Vietnam Social Programs in 1966-1967 and Prejudice
When I arrived in Vietnam, it was the first time I had ever been out of our country. Visiting a third world country was a shock in itself. Most of their mannerisms were very foreign to me. I had never seen a female squat and urinate at the side of the path or road in front of all to see! Nudity was no big deal to them. Most lived in grass huts with dirt floors, no running water, and candles for light. They lived on the barest necessities. If they were lucky, some of the kids went to a local village school up to the sixth grade. If the village could afford it, some were sent to Da Nang for further schooling.
Living in the mid-west and being raised in Joplin, Missouri, life was relatively uneventful. Even though we were very poor, my twin brother, three older brothers, and I were very content. I remember very vividly in the early 1950’s when blacks were first allowed to enter the public school system; a couple of them were friends of mine. I was not a prejudiced person and accepted them as one of us. The story I am about to tell is about my animosity toward the Vietnamese people. My hatred did not happen overnight, but over time.
As if we didn’t have enough to do, General Walt ordered the Marine Corps to establish a civic action project called, “The Velvet Glove”. The general stated that, “"A soldier has to be much more than a man with a rifle whose only objective is to kill. He has to be part diplomat, part technician, part politician--and 100 percent a human being." A lot of the Marines stated that they didn’t like his philosophy. They said the Vietnamese took advantage of the program. One of the civic action programs was called MEDCAP, Medical Civil Action Program. Personally, I do not believe that the program was a success. It probably looked good on paper and the brass was probably proud of themselves. But, to my way of thinking, that was as far as it went.
How the program worked was once a week or every other week, depending on Vietcong contact, a squad of 12 Marines would escort a Corpsman into a village or a hamlet to set up a first aid station. The Corpsman would treat the Vietnamese people for all types of ailments. The Vietnamese people called the Corpsman “Bac-si” which is Vietnamese for doctor. The villages had lots of kids and of course the women and old people were present. The adult men were never in the village as they were hiding in tunnels under the village or wherever. The objective was to win the hearts of the Vietnamese and their confidence, and they would help us in the war effort.
The problems we encountered were overwhelming. The people suffered from malnutrition, dysentery, skin rot, infections, and you name it. We had very limited medical supplies and we were not equipped to handle some of the more serious conditions. Our intentions were good but pretty much non-productive. Some of the more serious cases needed major medical care; I tried to call in a medevac on some of the cases but was almost always denied.
As a Corpsman, I tried to teach the populace cleanness and hygiene, which was almost impossible with their bare necessities. Medical treatment was mainly symptomatic, such as aspirin for pain. Soap and medication for ulcerated skin infections were most common, especially for the children. I would clean their wounds with peroxide and apply an antibiotic ointment and a band aid. Sometimes going back into that village several days later, they were still wearing the same band aid! I remember a Corpsman stating that he treated a Vietnamese and several days later this very person was killed after attacking our Marines! He was still wearing that bandage! Even then, they knew how to play the system. I remember another time after a battle with the Vietcong, we just returned to our CP when the peasants starting bringing wounded Vietnamese to us, stating that the VC shot them! The wounds were from an M-16 rifle which could only be from us; we were now expected to treat our enemy! (I have attached a picture of one of these events.)
Hotel Company was supposed to have six Corpsmen, but the most we had in my 13 months in country were three! For several weeks we only had two Corpsmen. Consequently, we were running patrols day and night.
They really didn’t have a chance for a better life. They were mostly innocent and lived each day just one day at a time.
I didn’t take it into consideration that sometimes we were our own enemy. I remember one day we were on a routine patrol, it was at day break, we were headed toward a village that had several VC living there. We were about 150 yards from the village and noticed someone working in the rice paddy. For some unknown reason, our sharp shooter took the shot and hit him. He was so proud and excited about his shot. When we got to the body we noticed he was only a small boy! We were all sickened by it, including the Marine who shot him. By this time the villagers started arriving and the wailing began. Several of the Marines said, “VC, VC”, as if the Vietcong shot him and we had just arrived. The villagers did not buy it as they knew we killed someone’s son! Events like this did not help our MEDCAP program.
Even though the MEDCAP program was new, we had always given aid to the Vietnamese people. On another patrol, we were passing through a village when a Marine came to me and informed me that one of the women was having trouble with her pregnancy. When I entered the grass hut, she was laying on a blanket on the dirt floor. She was in terrible pain as she was crying and yelling. There were several women present; I’m sure one or more was a midwife. When I examined her, a leg was leading the way out from the birth canal! The women were trying to turn the baby but to no avail. I later learned that this was called a transversal or cross birth. I had no idea on how to help her so I had the radioman to call our CP to request a medevac. The request was denied! I really felt helpless and worthless. A short time later we were told to move out and continue our patrol. I could tell by the expressions on the women’s faces, they were very disappointed in me. In all probability, the baby died and more than likely, the mother did too! Due to the extreme pain she was suffering, I administered two syrettes of morphine. At that point I did not feel worthy of the Marines calling me Doc; I had let these people down. This is one of those cases that has haunted me all these years. The self-criticism never stops. I am my own worst enemy.
In Vietnam I strongly disliked the Vietnamese people, I did not trust them; to me they all were our enemy! When you see the carnage they have created, it makes you want revenge. Perhaps they didn’t pull the pin on the grenade, but they would if they could. However, when I treated people, I did the best I could. I took the Corpsman Pledge very seriously.
In Vietnam our hands were tied! We were not meant to win that war, we accomplished nothing.
We lost 58,267 lives and several thousand wounded. Thousands of lives were changed forever, including my own.
There are no noble wars, just noble warriors. If I sound bitter, I guess I am. However, over the years my prejudice has subsided. Many of the Vietnamese I have met are very friendly and appreciative for what they have achieved in America. Even though MEDCAP was not a success, the final outcome turned out to be productive as I learned to be human.
HMCM Ronald C. Mosbaugh
According to the rules of engagement, we could not shoot a Vietnamese unless he had a gun in his hand; if not, he or she was considered a civilian. Daily I saw how the enemy was killing and wounding our Marines. The Vietnamese people did not care! In time I grew very hateful toward them, this frame of mind made it hard for me to treat the Vietnamese with kindness or respect.
Many of these villages we tried to help had several VC or Vietcong sympathizers living among them. A patrol would walk toward a village and they would take sniper shots at us, when we entered the village they would all smile at us and say “you number one”. Then when we left, they would once again shoot at us! Another problem we had during a MEDCAP, was to constantly watch the kids; they would steal anything they could get their hands on, especially weapons and grenades. These were worth a lot of money. They would sell those items to the Vietcong.
Even though I had ill feelings toward the Vietnamese people, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for the children.