Experiences

of a

Grunt Medic

 

This section is intended to give you a glimpse into the memories of a Cav grunt medic in Vietnam.  Soldiers in infantry units were referred to as being grunts.  I suspect this terminology was first used by rear support personnel as a derogatory remark because the noise that may have been made while humping 60 to 100 pounds of equipment on one's back.  Grunts took that word not as a slur, but as a symbol of pride because we could take whatever was dished out and then some.  

This article is not going to be about war horrors or heroics.   It's about the everyday daily routines.  If you want to read about real heroes, I suggest that you visit the Medal of Honor recipients section listed on my home page. 

The music that is being played on the 1st Cav Medic Radio station are some of the songs that vividly bring back memories of Vietnam.  I have also included some clips from the American Forces Vietnam Network.   

The best place to start is to tell you what I carried into the jungles on patrols.  All troopers were issued four or five sets of jungle fatigues.  If you were assigned to an infantry unit, your extra uniforms were turned in upon reporting.  All rear and support units kept and maintained their uniforms.  The following list contains some of the items which I carried into the field.:

  • Pack Frame

         

  • M-5 Medical Bag -  was attached to the pack frame and contained medicine, IV's, Bandages, small splints. 

         M-5 Medical Aid Bag

  • M-3 Medical Bag - used when going from one patient to another -contained bandages

         M-3 Medical Aid Bag

  • Field Surgical Kit - contained scissors, clamps, scalpels, tweezers, sutures

         Surgical Kit

  • Four Canteens

         Canteen

  • M-16 Rifle - I chose to carry the rifle over the 45cal. pistol because the 45's barrels were almost smooth from excessive firing in our company.  In addition to the rifle's normal use as a weapon, it was also used to displace the weight of the pack from your shoulders when the column came to a stop.  The rifle was placed under the bottom of the frame while slightly bending your knees.  This would shift the weight of the pack onto the rifle.  I know it was a safety hazard but we did it anyway.  Everyone in our unit used this procedure and there were no reported accidents.  People would get Article 15's for having their safety off, but that was due to total carelessness. 

         M-16 Rifle

  • Three Bandoleers of Ammo - There were 7 magazines (20 rounds) per bandoleer.  Due to weak springs in the magazines, I would only load 18 rounds. 

         Bandoleer

  • Four hand grenades - I would carry 2 grenades in each of my lower jacket pockets.  I carried the grenades because  my rifle was left behind when I needed to move out to the wounded.  The grenades were better protection then the 45's.  The grenades had a 5 second fuse.  In the summer or fall of 69 we got some grenades with 3 second fuses with no notification of the change.  Fortunately no one was injured.

         M61 Fragmentation Grenade

  • Poncho - used for making a lean-to or a pup tent.

         Poncho

  • Poncho Liner - used as a blanket.

         Poncho Liner

  • Air Mattress - They were always getting holes in them and were used mainly as ground cover.

         Air Mattress

  • Gas Mask -

  • Shoestrings - used to set up your tent or lean-to and tying up your rolled poncho.  I used to say one's wealth was determined by the number of shoestrings you had. There were many uses for shoestrings.

  • Sand Bag - used to carry C-rations.  We would hump 3 to 5 days of food.

  • C-4 - Each man was issued a stick of C-4 for cooking by the Company.  The Army did not want C-4 to be used for cooking and demanded that heat tabs be used instead.  The heat tabs took forever to cook with and gave off a very strong odor which caused your eyes to tear.  C-4 was odorless and would cook your food very quickly.  One could boil water in a matter of seconds.  To use C-4 for cooking,  one would take a very small portion, roll it in a ball,  then form a tip on one end.   Take a lighted cigarette and light the tip for cooking.  The meal would be cooked in less then a half of a minute.  The Army said this method would cause health problems.... but I don't see the VA addressing this issue.  It may have been a lie on their part or else the Government doesn't want any more claims filed.    C-4 

  • Canteen cup - I used this to make cocoa.  We would get one package of cocoa mix with our    C-rations.  I would also use the sugar and cream packages when making the cocoa.  I used to scarf up all the cream and sugar that were thrown away to be burned.  After I shared my cocoa with someone, the word got out that cocoa was now drinkable and any excess cream and sugar became hard to come by...I used to use more cream and sugar than was in the daily ration. 

      

  • Towel - Helped to keep the pack straps from cutting into your shoulders.  It also helped to keep the mosquitoes off you at night time.

  • Personal Items - I carried a picture of my wife and writing paper in a plastic bag. This was kept on top of the medicine in my M-5 Bag.  I would also try to squeeze some packs of cigarettes in the M-5 bag.   I had four plastic cigarette pack holders which I carried in my pockets.  The plastic cigarette pack holders were essential for keeping your cigarettes dry. I also carried a plastic Cav Wallet for money, military ID, ration coupons, and wallet size pictures.

These were some of items we would carry into the field.  As you can see medics had very little space to carry personal items in the field.  The gear would weigh somewhere between 60 to 100 pounds, depending on whether or not you were humping extra stuff such as mortar wounds or ammo. 

 My mornings would start off by giving everyone their malaria pills and doing any other minor treatments that may have been needed to be taken care of.... followed by breakfast consisting of a can of beans & meatballs with a small tin of cheese melted over top of it....mmmm.  What a breakfast.  For lunch it would be a can of fruit or something quickly eaten during a 5 or 10 minute break from the hump.  In the evening after the fox hole had been dug and any minor medical treatment for the men had been taken care of, I would have a can of minced meat with melted cheese and a can of fruit for dessert.  I would then sit back with a cup of cocoa.  I would try to get the first watch or the last watch which lasted for two hours.  I hated having to get up in the middle of the night. 

The first few weeks were the hardest humping for me in the jungle.  It took that long to get into shape.  The packs kicked ass, but you just got used to it and it became a part of your life. I remember the first time I heard the men ahead of me passing the word back "Ants" and I thought to myself what was the big deal about ants.  I passed the word on, not knowing what was in store for me and the others.  It was quite a horrible surprise.  It seems that the ants would get on you and the other men and attack everyone at the very same time.  The stings are worse then the fire ants in Florida and Texas.  The sting feels like a bee sting.  These were red ants, which were very aggressive.  Ants could stop a whole company in it's tracks.  You would actually change directions just to get around them. The black ant stings were worse then the red ants but they were not as aggressive.  I remember one night when my air mattress had a hole in it (which was often), the black ants were so bad in our area that every time my hand would hit the ground I would be stung.  That was the night which almost broke me....I prayed for daylight so we could go out and start humping and just leave the area. 

The tiger leech Tiger Leech was another pesky little critter with which we had to contend in the swampy areas of Vietnam.  They could get on you and increase their size several times by sucking on your blood.  This is why we tried to get them off of us as soon as possible.  On one occasion I had a torn pants leg when we were humping through some knee to waist deep water.  I felt a leech get on me and I attempted to knock him off with my rifle butt with no success.  He remained on me for about an hour until we reached some dry ground.  Knowing it was a leech I lit up a cigarette ( I used cigarettes and mercurochrome to remove leeches) before dropping my pants.  One trooper (Dallas) almost fell over when he saw the leech.  It almost covered my entire calf.  The only good thing about leeches is they do not hurt just a little sting and minor discomfort when they are on you.  A little mercurochrome and direct pressure and I was as good as new. 

Rats were a big problem on LZs.  We came from the field to this one LZ which really had a serious rat infestation.  To make matters worse there were reports of Plague in the Village close to the LZ.  Everyone had to get another plague shot.  That night when I went to bed in a small bunker made out of tin drainage pipe and sandbags, I heard running and felt something going over top of me.  I asked the Lieutenant what was going on....He replied they are just rats...they won't hurt you-go to sleep.   A few minutes later the RTO came in and asked what's going on after a few rats had run past his head.  I replied "rats...the lieutenant said they won't hurt and to go to sleep".  All I could think about was the Bonanza story about the plague and how it was transmitted by a flea from a rat.  The rats did not want us for food that night but I do think they had fun checking us out.

Snakes in Vietnam were pretty prevalent but most of the time they got out of your way.  I had seen four different types of snakes in Vietnam.  They were the Spitting Cobra, Bamboo Pit Viper, Malayan Pit Viper, and the Malayan Krait.  I only had close personal encounters with two types of these snakes. 

  • Malayan Pit Viper  

    Malayan Pit Viper

     

    This snake has a thermo sensitive pit located between the nostrils and eyes which is used for finding warm-blooded animals.  The Malayan Pit Viper has a thick body and grows to only about 1 meter long.  Like the Green Pit Viper, its head is triangular and distinct from the neck, with an upturned snout.  Its reddish-brown surface has dark, triangular markings.
    Due to its camouflage, the Malayan Pit Viper is hard to see and is an occupational hazard to rubber plantation workers and farmers.  It strikes quickly and without hissing.  The poison of the Malayan Pit Viper has a potent tissue-destructive and hemotoxic action that can cause severe necrosis of muscles, resulting in crippling amputations.  

    My encounter with the Malayan Viper occurred when we were on a forced march to join up with another Company who was in contact with an NVA unit.  As we marched through elephant grass and bamboo, several Bamboo Vipers Bamboo Viper were killed along the way.  We finally stopped for a break in heavy brush of bamboo or elephant grass.   There was only room enough to sit down right on our trail with our knees in our faces.   There was not enough room to stretch out your legs.  We were all exhausted.  I felt something on my boot....(I was thinking lizard all the way)....I was looking to my right further up the trail at something which caught my attention and I did not move immediately to see what was on my feet. I finally decided to look and see what was at my feet and turned my head forward.  Less than six inches from my face was a Malayan Viper staring me in the face with it's tongue going in and out of it's mouth.  The Viper had crawled up my leg to the top of knees and had extended himself above my knees checking me out.  I slowly reached for my rifle and knocked him off my legs back into the bamboo.  To say I was a little excited after this encounter would have been an understatement.  I remember Captain Hottell telling me to be quiet.  I went up to him and told him I would rather be in ten firefights than to have a snake crawl up my leg.  He just shook his head and walked away....I know he was right about being quiet, but I was too upset to give a darn.  On the other hand maybe the NVA heard us and went in another direction.  We made no contact that day and any day without contact is a good day.

  • Malayan Krait.  

         

This black and white banded snake is nocturnal and one of the most dangerous snakes in Vietnam and the world.  Malayan Krait's bite readily at times and without hissing.  The bite is virtually painless, and victims may neglect to seek proper treatment.  Farmers are the usual victims and are bitten when walking outdoors at night.  Deaths from this snake are probably underreported, since most occur in rural areas, at night and unattended.

Like the Cobra’s venom, the Krait’s venom is neurotoxic and signs of paralysis may appear within minutes or be delayed for hours.  Up until recently, no antivenin was available for the bite of the Malayan Krait. 

 

My encounter with the Krait occurred on a little hilltop between Bu Dop and Bo Duc close to the Cambodian border. We had built a hooch with two ponchos for sleeping for the three of us, (the Lieutenant, his RTO (Kentucky), and myself).   The lieutenant was lying in the middle, with the RTO on one side and me on the other side.  The three of us were lying down talking when I looked over and saw Kentucky making a strange face trying to say something...I told the lieutenant look at Kentucky "What's wrong with him?"  By this time, Kentucky had started moving out of the hooch and as he got to the opening he yelled "Snake".  The snake had crawled under my head and then the lieutenant's head and had started approaching the RTO (Kentucky) when he fled the hooch.  After a few minutes of excitement we went back inside.   We were not in it more then two to three minutes before three more Kraits crawled through in procession.  It was Kentucky again who spotted the snakes first....and took off....He did not have to say anything more, as we followed quickly on his heels.   I was really upset now.  It took a while for them to talk me back in the hooch.  I no sooner got back in the hooch until still another Krait crawled through.  Several hours later I did finally move back into the hooch to get some sleep and we did not encounter any more snakes that night.

When I was with Bravo Company we were in the field for 4 to 6 weeks at a time.  We returned to the LZ for rest and perimeter duty for two to three days and then returned to the field. While in the field we were re-supplied every 3 to 5 days, depending on the operation.  That was a big day for us because it meant mail and a warm meal, most of the time.  We also would get two cans of soda and two cans of beer for the cost of $8.00 a month.  If memory serves me correctly a case of soda cost around $2.00 and having never bought a case of beer, I don't know that cost.  If we were lucky, they would have sent some ice, which we would use to spin the can of coke on the ice for several minutes to chill the sodas.  We would also get SP packs containing candy, cigarettes, shaving cream, razors and other materials.  These items in the SP packs were free for the infantry solders in the field. The cigarettes were divided up among the men.  I would also take a pack of chewing tobacco, in case I ran out of cigarettes.  I never chewed tobacco after I came back to the world.   One day we received Tabasco hot sauce and a cookbook on how to fix C-rations using Tabasco.  This was a free promotion provided by the Tabasco Company and still today I have fond memories and feelings toward this company.  I guess it was knowing that someone cared about us back in the world.  Thank you Tabasco.

Personal hygiene was not the best in a Vietnam Cav Infantry unit.  Heat and the lack of clothing changes were the reason that grunts in the field did not wear underwear.   Underwear caused problems such as chafing, which could disable a trooper and could cause his evacuation from the field.  We received a change of clothing about every 7 to 10 days.  A shower or bath was a luxury which we enjoyed every 2 to 4 weeks.  I remember one time when it was almost 6 weeks before we were able to shower.  We shaved on the days when we were re-supplied by using our old water.  Drinkable water in Vietnam was a scarce commodity and was used sparingly.  This is the primary reason why I did not like LRRP's (dehydrated food).  They were lighter to carry, however, they used too much precious drinking water.

After being re-supplied, everything was quickly divided up and any unused items were burned.  We  then moved out to continue our mission, hoping not to get hit by flying shrapnel from exploding C-rations in the fire.

These are some of my memories.  We had a job to do and we did it.  Almost every time we made contact we had air support from our Cobras and gun ships whose presence made our job a lot easier.  I don't believe the other units had the air support that we enjoyed.  That is why I consider myself very lucky for being in the Cav.  I had heard that the Cav units made more contact than the other units in Vietnam.  This may be true since the Cav spent more time in the field than most other units.  I remember one time we had a Cav Psychiatrist come out to interview us during a resupply.   One of his questions was, "When was the last time you were in the Rear?"   Our answer was 5 or 6 weeks since we had been on the LZ.  He replied "No,  I mean the Rear ".....We repeated  "8 weeks since being at Quan Loi"......He replied again "No, I mean the Rear."  We replied, "Never".

 

 

(Featuring 60's music and AFVN snippets)



 

 

 


Google


Search www. 1st Cav Medic (Airmobile)






 

 

 

Renal-Cancer, IndexSite Map, Vietnam Wall, 1st Cav Medics, MIA/POW, CMB, Author's Tour, Glossary, Experiences, Soldier's Own Obituary, June 2, 1969, Events, December 2, 1969, Photos, Agent Orange, Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Medics History, Statistics, Draft, Tillquist, Tabasco's C-Ration Cookbook, Student Surveys & Questions, Request for Help, Vietnam Patches, Remembrance, Links, Webrings, Jane Fonda, Simpler Version of Tet 68

All content on this website is intended solely for educational purposes and as a means to honor Veterans and their families

Copyright 1998 - 2007  John D. Dennison