Our New Commanding Officer
By Corpsman Ronald C. Mosbaugh
2/1 Hotel Company 1966-1967
HMCM USNR RET.
I’ve been thinking about this story for a few months and have debated on writing it. I appreciate the Marine Corps and the job they do; so consequently, I try to keep everything on the positive side. However, bad things do happen, and we have to accept it for what it is.
I reported to second Battalion First Marines Hotel Company on the 3rd of September, 1966. The new Commanding Officer had taken command of Hotel on the 1st of September, three days before I arrived. Our headquarters was in a old French house 26 miles south of Da Nang, Vietnam. Hotel Company only had two corpsmen so they were very happy when I arrived. It didn’t take long to utilize me, as I ran my first patrol that very night. I don’t mind telling you that I was scared to death, but I remembered the words of John Wayne, “Courage is being scared to death…And saddling up anyway.”
About a week after my arrival, I was on a search and destroy mission about 26 miles south of Da Nang. It was a twelve man patrol. As we were crossing a rice paddy, we came under intense fire from the Viet Cong and we all hit the ground. We were pinned down so the radio operator called in for 81 MM mortars. The first spotter round landed in the middle of us and several marines were splattered with white phosphorus. The marines got up and started running for a safe place to hide. I do not remember the VC shooting at us during this circus act; they were probably laughing at us running in all directions looking for cover. Five of the marines received 1st degree burns. White phosphorus burns when exposed to air and will continue burning. The proper treatment for phosphorus burns is to apply sulfate patches over the wounds, but I left them at the command post! Being a new corpsman, I was not prepared for this. So, I quickly washed the burn area with water and applied mud over the wounds to prevent air from reaching the white phosphorus. The major problem was when the mud dried it would flake off and the wound would start burning again. The burns were not that serious but I would have liked to have gotten the marines back to the CP for proper medical attention.
The radio operator called the new CO to request permission to return to the CP to attend to the burns. He refused our request and ordered us to continue our patrol! This made some of the marines extremely upset and they griped for the rest of the patrol. A couple of days later a jeep arrived at our company post and picked up the Commanding Officer. A new CO was left to replace him. To my knowledge, he did not say a word to the troops about his departure.
I heard later that day that a marine left the CO a threatening letter on his bunk. It said that if he ever ran a patrol with us, it would be his last patrol! This may have only been scuttlebutt with the troops, but I personally witnessed all the facts. I believe the story is true. The CO was with us for less than two weeks before his speedy departure. Personally, I did not have any ill feelings toward the Commanding Officer. He made a command decision and it was our duty to carry those orders out. However, some of the marines took it much more personally; they were burned and I wasn’t! I would also like to add. For the remainder of my tour, I NEVER went on a patrol without sulfate patches!
I would have liked to end the story here, but I feel responsible for what had transpired. If I had the sulfate patches in my unit one bag, I could have treated the wounds; we could have continued our mission and the CO would not have been involved! The marines never blamed me for what had happened and from that day forward, I did the best job as a corpsman as I possibly could.
“A complete stranger has the capacity to alter the life of another irrevocably. This domino effect has the capacity to change the course of an entire world. That is what life is; a chain reaction of individuals colliding with others and influencing their lives without realizing it. A decision that seems miniscule to you, may be monumental to the fate of the world.” Author unknown.
HMCM Doc Mosbaugh