This Ship arrived in the late Spring that year in 1967 just a few Months before I became a patience, one of It's eight hundred patience capacity. The ship was fully equipped with the latest high tech life saving equipment. It was the biggest ship that I've ever been on, it was five hundred and twenty three feet long and seventy one feet wide and did seventeen knots. It had twenty Wards, they were very large rooms.
On June 25 1967 I was on Operation Calhoun and somehow I ran a high temperature of 104.5 and passed out, I didn't feel sick, I was just worn out being so hot and miserable. Sometimes you don't know your sick and try to ignore the misery. Having trouble distinguishing between the two, it is pretty much what happened
When our Corpsman Doc Shields or Doc Horner told Captain Lynch that I was sick and needed fast treatment, I remember He said I can't bring in a chopper now look at what's going on here. The Corpsman told Him, "look, sir, if this guy doesn't get out of here In the next five minutes, that He will be dead in Ten minutes. The Captain told The Radio operator,who was probably Ogden who replaced Patterson too make the call as an emergency. Ogden who was with Rockets earlier, humped that 3.5 Rocket Tube and now was Humping that heavy Radio on His back, I always wondered which job that He preferred?
When a helicopter picks someone up in the Field, most of the time they never come back, but occasionally it happens. When someone is gone for six weeks, like I was, and comes back, the personal in your platoon and squad are not the same as when you left. No one gets too say farewell or doesn't even know your gone. So the chopper came in and I'm not sure if it took some fire as most of the time they do, but all I remember Is hitting the deck on my back which woke me up as I seen someone with a very large helmet and must of passed out again.
I woke up in A Med in DaNang two or three days later and I was stabilized for the time being but they said that I had to go to the hospital ship. I was admitted on July 1st and was assigned to Ward R-4. I had no idea what R-4 meant and it wasn't long before I found out that it was a Urology Ward because I had a serious infection in my crotch area. The Ward had more beds than I would have guessed. Twenty wards divided into eight hundred patients is forty patients a ward. It seemed to me that there were two dozen or more patients in R-4 but that was long ago.
I was entering this Ward and right away I notice a torso with just a Head. That was a shocker. I noticed that there were four bodies in this cubicle with just a head, what the hell can you say? You Marines all heard of a Reality Check Right? This was my reality check. In fact there were five guys not four, but only four fit in one cubical. Plus the fifth guy was having his privates reconstructed right there on the ward as I was watching, unreal. Hi is all I could say, fighting back the tears wasn't possible, what a sight. In the field you see that shit but your expecting the worst or even death while high on adrenaline. It's very common too see someone lose a limb or two or just get blown in half but this....this was like the whole platoon was missing parts. The scale of these injuries was so overwhelming getting nauseous was normal.
When you are in a safe zone, your adrenaline is not pumping you up. You need special training too be around this kind of carnage. Like what Corpsman receive to handle this fact of life, which is not easy to do. That's one thing that I learned about Vietnam, is that life is very cheap. Death is everywhere, you just get there, and the next day, your gone. I read somewhere that about 1400 or more Veterans died on their last day. In Vietnam, and the Marine policy at this time was, if you have 30 days or less to complete your tour, they pulled you out of the Combat zone. That was the policy when I entered Vietnam or possibly when the War started I'm not sure. That's all well and good, but what about the short timers who voluntarily go back into combat to save their buddies and get whacked? Where are the numbers for those guys?
Right after I returned too duty, I had about 60 days left. Then that policy changed so you now had too stay into the combat zone until your orders came through. So they added those 30 days back, I wasn't too happy about that. Sp00n is getting short, let's change that policy just for him, that's what it seemed like to me. I have a good example of this policy in my story about Operation Medina. I have a very good example of this policy in my story about Operation Medina.
The ward had many veterans who had two legs missing or two arms missing. Some had one arm missing and one leg missing, while there were many combinations, any of which you can think of, was most likely there. Similar injuries were kept together and I was like the out cast, thank God. I felt so out of place, although I was in the bush too and I could have been severely injured like anyone of these guys, and I knew it, so I didn't feel that much out of place because I knew I was lucky, that's all it was. I was in the right place at the right time and those guys were not.
I was the only patience in that ward that could walk on my own and go up on deck to get some fresh air and reflect about everything that I was seeing. Experiencing this huge floating Hospital, it like a Cruse Ship as far as size, But let me tell you. It was no happy cruise. The ship had everything from a Bank to a movie theater to a three star resteraunt. I was very fortunate to have had the privilege of being on this ship for six weeks, and not I the field with a defective rifle. I missed two or three Operations that I felt bad about because I never got sick nor missed one patrol or night Ambush from Day one until I met SSG. Earl Daniels. That is another story coming to this theater near you.
I did meet one Marine from 9th Marines who I bunked near. His last name was Cook, I don't remember his first name but I probably could find it because he told me a story and a half. This story happened in late June or the first part of July of 1967 First of all, he also had all his parts, except he got shot three times. One shot in his calf another in his thigh of the opposite leg, I think? And another got him in the cheek of his ass, no bullet hit a bone nor an artery, talk about luck? All three areas had huge chunks of flesh missing as he was healing from the inside out, what a sight. Here is the story that Cook told me.
His unit was out on a search and destroy, everyone was dug in as the shit was on fire. The enemy was everywhere in large numbers as my unit was being overrun, as very intense fire from all sides, he shot a half dozen NVA soldiers near his hole and I was hit before going into my hole and again before entering the hole, face first. I was exhausted when and when I looked up an enemy soldier was about too shoot me but I shot the guy in the face first. I was expecting to see somebody and his head was all that I could see. While at the same time someone else had shot that same guy in the back as the enemy soldier fell face first in the hole hitting my face with his. His weight crushed me while all his blood was pouring on my face. I hardly could breath or move as this is the end of my life, I'm sure.
He said the firing stopped except for some single shots for finishing off those Marines who were still alive. I could move if I tried even if I had no one on me. He told me that He could barely see out of one eye as the other eye was covered with the Enemy's blood. He heard some noise above his hole as I was facing up with that dead Man's stare but I couldn't see anything with the Gook on me until he was pull off me. Now I could barely see two Guys and one of them had a rifle and started to aim down the hole at me as I never moved a muscle, because I was done. Just then, the other soldier pushed that rifle away and started yelling at the other guy, like as if he was saying don't waist you ammo on this dead guy. And they left as if they were in a real hurry. I laid there waiting to die all night, listening too some wounded crying out in pain, he said it was awful and past out.
The next morning I heard voices that were American cleaning up those bodies and someone pull me out of the hole and I said Easy, and that guy screamed, I have a live one, Corpsman up and they flew me right too this ship. Two days after Cook told me that unbelievable tale that I had no doubt was true, an Admiral, along with a General came too the ship to interview Cook to find out what had happened to his unit because apparently, Cook was the only survivor, wow!
I forgot too mention that My Ward was R-4 Was right next to the main elevator connecting the landing pad where the Helicopters landed on the ship and those wounded would come right down that elevator where those doors would open right next door adjacent to R-4 When the Elevator doors opened that Gurney with a body with more blood and mud with a leg on top was the only thing that I could make out as you couldn't tell if the soldier was a black man or a white Man or a yellow man as a mad dash too the emergency room with four guys pushing and guiding I seen many gurneys go by my room as the ship was reaching it's capacity. I would look for anyone that I knew and thankfully did not see anybody from Golf 2/1 which was a good thing, but every gurney that went by, I was thinking that this could very well have been me, if I wasn't here already.
While the ship left for Hong Kong I had been told it's time for your surgery. So I washed up and they drugged me but was still awake I think? But, I can't remember everything, as everything went well, so I thought and was brought back too my ward where I rested for a few days. The ship had arrived in Hong Kong and was anchored in the Harbor with many ship of various sizes, including those Chinese Junks. That harbor water was the filthiest that I've ever seen as I mentioned in one of my photos that I seen a large bloated pig, float by the ship. Families were living on these Chinesse Junks which look somewhat like a sailing tent, but it was a home for many families who couldn't afford living ashore as an expensive place to live. They could move about and eat anything that they could catch, rather than living on land too hectic and restricted.
Some of the crew were going ashore and I never been too Hong Kong before and since I was here why not check it out and get a steak dinner while I'm at it. I left the ship after borrowing some uniform, you had too take a launch. That would take us too a dock where we could walk up a ladder or ramp. I did walk around a little as all those lights reminded me of San Diego, a lot of Neon lights all very colorful in every color that there is, I'm sure. The traffic was dangerous they drove faster and worst than we do and more erratic, I didn't feel comfortable being near the road, but no road rage, no drive by shootings, so it was safe place without any mines or booby traps.
I was getting tired fast so I decided too go into some restaurant that looked like I could get a steak dinner or something that I missed eating. I order a couple beers, as bottles are safer than an open drink. I did get a steak diner and was catching a buzz, and the next thing I know, I passed out, and I remember some MP's or shore Patrol got me back to that launch, I didn't say anything too anyone, because I was sick and more infected than before.
I had a uniform that I borrowed and my dog tag, Geneva Convention Card, and some ID that said I belonged too that Ship USS Sanctuary, I don't remember this very well but it happened. When I got back too the Ship, I was rushed too the emergency room where I discovered that my stomach was blown up like a Basketball, or worst. I remember this really good as they gave me more than one anesthetic as I was laid out on my back but sitting somewhat, and the surgan said get me a couple of large towels and with this very little scalpel, like the kind in a snake bite kit, he put one towel between my legs after he opened it up and the other towel on my stomach and opened that one up to. He barely touched my stomach as it was a bloated wail, that's right, as he just touched that area where I had been operated just four days earlier. My stomach exploded as it were an erupting volcano. This was bad everyone within ten feet must of gotten hit with this thick white skunking puss that filled both those towels were soaked too the Max dripping wet and two more towels appeared, holy shit, I never seen any thing like this ever since that day, what a mess and it stunk bad.
The surgeon was pushing on my gut really hard and it hurt even under the medication, it was like a Giant Zit from another Planet, Wow! After working me over as if I was training for a fight or something, this large roll of gauze appeared, I mean a large roll and with some forcepts grabbed the outside end of that roll and started shoving that end down the hole as deep as he could and a bit more, while twisting it in like a screw driver. So while he was doing this, I asked him how much of that gauze is going to use? He said, all of it, all of that is going into my gut, he said at least and possibly more, your joking, he said no my sense of humor is restricted when I'm doing surgery , as that large roll of gauze was disappearing fast.
I seen some messy shit but this was the worst so far that I've ever seen. It's a good thing that he wore eye protection because when that Gut of Mine blew, it was like, fire in the hole, boom this must of hit everyone within ten feet easy, nasty, nasty. Then while the roll was almost gone I asked him if he thought that my going ashore having a couple of beers might have cause this? He said no as it would have happened anyway, you just made it happen much sooner because of your movement, but you will be fine as the gauss took a while packing it all in. I couldn't believe it all fit, and he left a tail about four inches long that was covered with these big squares of gauze, that needed too be changed once a day as this acted as a drain, so all that crap would get sucked out. He said it will take at least a Month possibly two,so I thought that my tour was over? Right? Wrong.
I has a small 126 mm slide camera and took some pictures of Hong Kong from the deck that you can all view on my sight. This would have felt like a Vacation as it was in a way as I was dry, warm, good food, but being sick and In that ward, it was the worst vacation that I ever had but that was like the R+R that I never got. I didn't stay in that ward except too sleep and I did a lot of that. I tried to be somewhat be sociable and I spoke to anyone who seemed too want too engage into a conversation, but for the most part I didn't want too say much because I knew that I was one of the most fortunate guys to ever visit this Ship. I met many Veterans from other wards who could get around but when I heard someone who lost an arm or leg and say that they felt lucky gave me a feeling of pride for all these guys who were not given enough credit for their sacrifices, and sacrifice they did more than anyone who lived. Only burn victims and those who were crippled are in this category too.
I felt lucky just too be there with all my parts even though I almost died too. In a way, part of me did die on that ship and I will never forget what I seen and experienced on this ship, for as long as I Live. I wanted to thank everyone who served on that ship as well as all those Heroes' who's sacrifices I cannot say enough about True Courage. They all shared their pain with me and now I'm sharing their pain as well as mine, with all of you who read this story, May God Bless, All Of You.