Excerpt for Battlefield Faith by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Battlefield Faith

By John Milford Loudermilk

Copyright 2018 John Milford Loudermilk

Smashwords Edition

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


I dedicate this book to Sandy, the love of my life and my two wonderful children, Stefanie and Johnny (and Michelle); to my charming grandchildren, Jonathan (and Gey), Grace, Steven, Jared, Jenna, Justin and my precious great-grandson Grayson and to the many great grandsons and granddaughters whom I may never have the privilege to hold in my arms. When reading the pages of this book please know you were in my thoughts upon its completion.

I also dedicate this book to my brothers of the 1st Battalion/5th Marines, and especially the 1st Platoon Charlie Company (1967-1968), Vietnam Veterans. You are some of the bravest, courageous, patriotic men I have ever known.

Table of Contents




Chapter 1: My Adventure Begins

Chapter 2: On to the Philippines

Chapter 3: Battle Prepped

Chapter 4: Earning My Salt

Chapter 5: No Steak and Eggs

Chapter 6: Of Swamp and Mines

Chapter 7: Three Walk Away

Chapter 8: A Man’s Worth

Chapter 9: Endeavor to Persevere

Chapter 10: The Battle of Hue City

Chapter 11: A Man’s Groan, A Baby’s Cry

Chapter 12: Heavy Hands and Heart

Chapter 13: Hanging In There

Chapter 14: Home Sweet Home



About John Loudermilk 1


First and foremost I want to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for His comforting presence during the time I spent in combat as a U.S. Navy corpsman assigned to the 5th Marines of the 1st Marine Division in Vietnam during 1967-1968. The Lord was with me every moment of every night and every day. I have witnessed miracles wrought by prayer and faith in a God who hears us when we pray.

I want to thank my Mother and Father, Jean and Luther Loudermilk; my brothers and sister, Robert, Don and Ruth; my Pastor, Reverend W.C. Edgel and his wife Irene; my grandmother, Joie Nunley, my grandfather, John Hudson Nunley and my wonderful church family at the Hatmaker Street Church of God in Cincinnati, Ohio. I am here today and able to bear witness of the evidence of your faith and prayers in the words of this book.

I want to thank Lieutenant Nick Warr and Staff Sergeant John Mullan for their leadership. I want to thank all of the Marines of 1st Platoon, Charlie Company 1st Battalion, 5th Marines of 1967-1968 with whom I personally endured the challenges of combat. I want to especially thank those Marines who watched my back as I went about my duties as corpsman.

I thank you LORD. I thank you family. I thank you friends. I thank you Marines.

Psalms 46:1-7 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.

There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early. The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah. (KJV)

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Revelation 6:3, 4 And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see. And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another… (KJV)

War is a thief! He steals, he kills, and he destroys. I fought in a bitter war and experienced firsthand the devastations of battle. With my fellow warriors I looked directly into the face of the thief, the murderer we call War. But I never felt I was alone; I had an ever present Helper who was always at my side. I surrendered my will to God’s will as a teen and I knew in whatever circumstance I found myself I would find solace in His Word and presence. I felt as long as I placed my trust in God he would always be at my side. He would always be near, only a prayer away. He was not some strange being that I had to memorize verses or go through some ritual to reach but He became my Friend, my Confidant, and my Personal Savior. I talked to him like I would my best friend and He was. What a Friend I found in Jesus those many dark, wet, dreary nights on ambush and those uncertain days walking through the jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam on patrol with the Marines. God was with me as my helicopter laden with men and arms flew bravely into hostile enemy hideaways and the Spirit of God walked before and beside me as we ventured into the thick bush to seek out the infiltrator who had come to steal and to kill.

God helped me to gain the wisdom, knowledge and understanding that I needed so that I would be able to serve those men who were placed in my care. He guided my hand as I dressed the horrible wounds War had inflicted on my fellow Marines. He was with me and the two other corpsmen when we delivered a tiny baby girl in the heat of the Battle of Hue City in February of 1968 during the Tet Offensive.

I went to war because I had volunteered to be of service to the country I love. I placed my confidence in the men who had been given authority over me but I placed my supreme trust in the God whom I felt was a very present help. I was privileged when the U. S. Navy assigned me to the Fifth Marine Regiment. I was further honored when I was billeted to the First Platoon of Charlie Company. I am proud to say I have served with some of the bravest and most valiant men I have ever known.

On the following pages I want to share with you dear reader a most significant part of my life. I’ve heard it said that some people excel or reach their peak at different times in their life. I often thought, “Did I reach my plateau at age 20”? Frequently when I would dwell on this idea I would become somewhat depressed and wondered if I would ever amount to anything. But as I have grown a little older and hopefully a little wiser I look back at a few of these moments in my life and realize that some things do happen early on but they tend to become resources one can draw from later in life.

It has taken me a very long time to get started on this writing. I have made notes over the years and have put them away thinking I would never get back to them. But here I am reminiscing again. I have discovered that many of my memories and feelings have been hidden. Like so many other combat veterans I have problems remembering names and the faces of the incredible young men I served with and we all have changed so much that I wouldn’t know my dearest friends if we should meet and I am confident they wouldn’t know me.

I want to share some very personal letters with you dear reader. These are my thoughts and requests for prayer for God’s Divine protection when I was in battle. Like my friend, Harold Thrasher, wrote in his book (Suicide Charlie, Brothers Never Forgotten) that he believed he is here because of Divine Intervention. I too am a believer that GOD in HIS infinite wisdom had a reason for blessing me and allowing me to return to my loved ones who so earnestly held my name up in prayer through those trying times. There were instances when in the heat of battle many of our Marines were wounded severely and I often felt so overwhelmed with my duties that I cried, Oh, GOD! And I believe God heard me. Often when faced with so many traumatic injuries at once I felt it was more than I could bear but somehow I reached deep into my resolve and by faith and the grace of God did my best to save as many as I could of those brave young men.

My earnest objective in writing this book was for it to be a source of strength for anyone suffering from PTSD especially the combat veteran and for those men and women who may be facing or engaged in combat. My hope is that someone may find comfort in seeing how my faith in God sustained me before, during and after my compelling battlefield experiences. I have inserted scriptures that I feel relate to these incidents and hope you find them uplifting. I could not have endured the challenging events that I personally faced without my faith in my “Personal” Savior, Jesus Christ.

The greatest thing that sustained me during these vexing times was my Battlefield Faith in God! You may feel like giving in or giving up but God never gives up on you!

Mark 11:22 And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.


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I was born in Williamsburg (Whitley County), Kentucky just a short distance from the Kentucky/Tennessee line. My Dad was a coal miner and farmer during his younger years. Mother was the daughter of a coal miner. She grew up in a Kentucky mining camp. These camps were once a lifestyle of many Americans. They were self-sufficient. The miners were paid with “script” and then the family would spend it at the company store. My Mother and Dad were loving and very hard working parents. They taught us to believe and trust in God from an early age.

At one point in my young life Mother and Dad were trying to make the move to Cincinnati, Ohio where my Dad would be able to get a better job. He had to leave us during the week but came home on the weekends. Mother was left to tend to us alone while he was gone. We didn’t have a telephone but we had good neighbors who looked after one another. I remember an older gentleman by the name of Mr. Paris Owens who lived just across the road from us at one point. He kept an eye on us when Dad was gone. There was a “rolling store” in those days which was a large truck from a grocer in town that made its way from town to the outlying areas where much of the community lived. We always looked forward to seeing the welcome site of that truck stopping at our place.

Like most country folks we didn’t have a television in those days so when evening drew nigh Mother would get her very large Bible Story Book down and read an inspiring adventure from God’s Word. I thought the stories were fascinating and we all listened intently as Mother read. She told us of Samson who was anointed of God and had great strength when the Spirit of God was upon him. We learned how Samson fought many battles for his God and his nation. We heard of Noah and his obedience to God and how the flood came and Noah and his family were safe upon the Ark that God had shown him to build. Mother read stories of the prophets, the mouthpieces of God in olden times that interceded for the people and many more. I have never forgotten those times and I feel I have drawn strength from those memories.

Mother with John squinting, Robert, Don, Ruth Ann around 1954

This is my Dad and me around 1951 or 1952. That 12 gauge shotgun I’m holding was 40 years old when I was born. I still have it.

One story I remember during those times is when my brother, Robert, and I were hungry and wanted a chicken dinner. We were just scrappy little boys. Mother and Dad had some wonderful chickens. I remember Mother saying that she had a Rhode Island Red which laid double yellow yolks. We began to chase those chickens as they ran in every direction. We fell a few times but got up, dusted ourselves off and started out again. We were just about exhausted when we finally caught one. We didn’t realize it at the time but it just happened to be Mother’s favorite laying hen. We were so engrossed in our adventure that we didn’t stop to think about our actions. So I ran and retrieved the hatchet. We just thought we would take care of business and we’d have a chicken dinner. Robert didn’t hesitate and began to hold the chicken snugly as I used the hatchet. When we took it to our Mother to cook she wasn’t very happy to say the least. However she did fix us a chicken dinner that evening but we paid for it dearly. We can truthfully say we learned one of life’s lessons that day.

My Mother cooked on a coal cooking stove during this time. We lived way out in the country and didn’t have the conveniences of city living. I remember that somehow the vent pipe from the stove came loose once and she was unable to use it. Robert and I wondered what we could do to help so we put our heads together and gathered up a few things from around the barn. We found an old metal shelf rack from a refrigerator and a few bricks. We somehow figured out how to make a little grill for her to use. Looking back I think we did pretty well for our ages. Mother was pleased that she could use our grill until Dad could fix the stove when he came home on the weekend.

My Grandpa Nunley, Mother's Dad, had fought in World War 1 as a US Army Soldier. I was proud of him and admired how strong and polished he looked in the picture we have of him in his Army “Doughboy” green. He never talked about the war. I have no memories of any stories he ever shared. I wish I could go back and ask him a few questions. I wish we could have spent more time one on one.

He was a Christian gentleman, a hard worker and a fine example for his family to follow. He had endured many hardships for his country in the trenches of World War I. I always looked up to him. I felt he was proud of me when I visited him and Grandma after I returned home from Vietnam in September of 1968. That meant very much to me. Mother and I drove down from Cincinnati in the 1964 red Triumph Spitfire convertible that I bought with the money I had saved on the books when I left Viet Nam.

At the beginning of 1968 I was fighting for my life and trying my best to save as many lives as I could. Later in the year I came home. The beginning and the ending of the year were complete opposites. 1968 was a tough year and a good year. I’ll tell you more about that later but for now here is my story…

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Chapter 1

My Adventure Begins

Psalms 71:5 For thou art my hope, O Lord GOD: thou art my trust from my youth. (KJV)

My family made the move to Cincinnati and we settled into an area we liked. I met some great friends at our neighborhood church. It was the Hatmaker Street Church of God and we began attending during my early teen years. One of our favorite pastimes on the weekend was to get a bus pass on Sundays and ride the bus all over the Cincinnati area. We’d go to places like the parks, the zoo, and the museums or wherever else we wanted to go. But when I turned sixteen our mode of transportation changed. I was able to get my driver’s license and as every young driver knows, that provides you with some liberty. I was able to visit some of my friends who lived a little farther away than I would normally be able to walk. One of them was Chuck Hollis. Chuck was a little younger than me so I used to call him my “little brother.”

One of the things my brothers and I used to do was to go and explore the railroad tracks and the banks of the Ohio River near our home. We thought we could usually find some cool stuff that was thrown off the train by the railroad men. Often we would find good 9 volt batteries they had discarded because they were not as strong as they thought they needed to be for their lamps but for us they worked just fine. We would usually find other treasures too.

I recall this particular summer was very hot so we decided to meander down to the river and take a swim. My brothers and I were used to the river current but it was something new to Chuck. We were all having a lot of fun in the water and making so much noise that we took our eyes off of Chuck for a moment. He had straddled a log and the current had started to pull him away from the river bank. When he realized what was happening he jumped off of his ride. Unfortunately he was now in deep water! He began to scream for help. I began to swim toward him immediately as quickly as I could. When I reached him and before I could say anything he haphazardly jumped upon my back and his weight pushed me under water. The only thing I could do was to swim toward the river bank with all my effort. So I swam as fast and as hard as I could. I kept my eyes open so I could see the river bottom with Chuck’s hands and arms clinging tightly around my neck. When I felt it was safe to stop swimming and stand up I did just that! We both took a great sign of relief as we stood up. We were so thankful to the good Lord for watching over us and helping us to get to safety and that we would live and be able to swim another day.

When I look back on these times and the fun I had with my friends I realize there were other things happening too. There was a lot of unrest in our country and the world then but I didn’t feel like it involved me personally at the time. I hated to watch the news in the evening but I learned about current events each night as my Dad routinely turned the channel on our old black and white television set to its designated station at six pm. That television had the old "rabbit ears" antenna. You didn’t have to be a genius to realize tensions were building up in Southeast Asia just by listening at the reports on the screen. We never really worried about the war that was stirring up overseas and quite frankly I don’t remember paying much attention to it.

I really didn’t have much to worry about at home. My Dad worked hard and paid the bills and kept a roof over our heads, food on the table and clothes on our backs. My Mom kept us clean and fed and lovingly nurtured her family. But looking back at those times I realize many young men were being drafted not long after they graduated from high school and I had a few friends of my own that had volunteered for service. Sometimes I felt like I didn’t have much of a choice with my future. I thought I would end up in the military somehow. It was like a shadow hanging over a young man’s head during those days. We would see some of our neighbors’ sons coming home from boot camp in their new uniforms and they looked so proud. Most of them were teenagers. I later learned you could join the military at age 17 with your parent’s signature. Some of life’s stories I woefully learned later was that you could join the military, be sent to war where your young life would be in danger at age 18. But one thing that bothered many of us was the fact that we weren’t allowed to vote. We couldn’t get credit even though our jobs were secure with no possibility of being laid off. Some of the guys were upset that they couldn’t buy alcoholic beverages but that one didn’t bother me.

As I mentioned earlier my Grandfather had been a World War I soldier. I had heard the incredible stories of him going off to war. I had two Uncles that were Navy Chiefs at the time and I had heard of their adventures and I was eager to launch out on my own. I had a young man’s heart that longed for adventure and I knew the only way I would ever see another part of the world would be for me become part of the armed forces. I wanted to find out about the military for myself so I visited several recruiters and got all the reading material I could find from all of them. I thought the Marine Corps had the best looking uniforms. I didn’t know which branch to choose but I favored the Navy because of my uncles. People were saying that if you join the Navy at least you would get three meals a day and have a clean bed to sleep in at night. Boy did I find out that one was not true in my case.

I turned seventeen in March of 1965 and then in May I joined the Navy just a few weeks after my seventeenth birthday. I didn’t finish high school and that was a mistake but I did complete my studies later in 1967 while stationed in the Philippines. My Mother didn’t want me to enlist but my Dad was o.k. with it. It seemed like the days passed quickly after I made my decision and soon I was on my way to the induction center. There were a lot of young men my age there and I felt I had much in common with them. After all of the examinations and the swearing in ceremony I was on my way to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. I had never been on a plane and this was a new experience for me. I remember all of the people from various walks of life going to so many different places. The flight was exciting but a little challenging for me but all went well and we flew to the Chicago O’Hare airport I believe. I then made my way to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center with the other men.

When we arrived we were ushered into a large open building where the men would practice their drills and exercises. I remember my first day quite well and the very first words I heard at our initial muster (roll call). The Petty Officer in charge addressed us, told us who he was and then said, “I want all of you men to know that this is the worst mistake you have ever made in your life!” Like the other young men just out of high school standing there I thought, “What have I done?” I thought to myself I have four years of military service ahead of me. I hope this man is not right. I hope there is something better ahead than what he is telling us.

It turned out I had it pretty easy compared to most recruits in basic training. I had been in the band in High School and played the trumpet pretty well and the Navy Drum and Bugle Corps was taking auditions. I told them I’d like to audition and they sent me to another large building that housed a huge gymnasium. When I walked inside I noticed a stairway and looked up and saw a series of rooms. The sound of a trumpet was echoing throughout the building. I thought to myself, “I hope I’m good enough.” I made my way upstairs and found the audition room. I walked in and was told to have a seat and wait my turn. When it was finally my turn to try out the Petty Officer in charge handed me a trumpet and asked me to play something I had played in high school. I chose an Al Hirt tune I had learned and enjoyed playing and when I finished he looked at me and said, “You’re in. I was very excited. This membership in the Great Lakes Naval Station Drum and Bugle Corps would afford me the great opportunity to be able to go off base during my boot camp training days for parades around Illinois. I would be able to get away from the rigors of training and escape maybe for just a little while but any time away would be good. I would be able to see some new sights. Our Corps represented the Naval Training Center proudly wherever we went and we were well liked in all the small towns we visited.

I did have the usual Navy boot camp training however and after taking a battery of tests they asked me what I wanted to do. I said, “I think I’d like to be a radioman.” The Petty Officer replied, “That’s great, you’re going to be a Hospital corpsman.” I had no idea what that was at the time but I figured I must have scored high on the required courses for that job.

We were given a couple of weeks leave to go home after we graduated from boot camp and I received my orders to Hospital Corps School which wasn’t far from the boot camp area. I was very fortunate in getting what the Navy calls an A school because at the time I was not a high school graduate. I can’t remember how many weeks I was at Corps School but some of the courses I remember were: first aid, patient care, anatomy & physiology, drug classifications and toxicology and preventative medicine. At the end of the classroom studies we had our first required hospital ward training at the Great Lakes Naval Hospital. I remember being amazed at the large number of wounded Marines in the hospital wards. I didn’t know much about what was going on in Southeast Asia at that time.

Somewhere around late 1965 I graduated from Hospital Corps School and received my new orders to the Portsmouth, Virginia Naval Hospital which was pretty close to Norfolk, Virginia. Every corpsman had to serve six months of hospital ward duty training upon graduation and Portsmouth is where I was sent to do mine.

I remember my first day at my new duty station. After reporting in and putting my gear away I recall sitting on my bunk and realizing I didn’t know a soul. I felt so all alone. That first weekend seemed to drag on forever. I thought to myself I had a long time ahead of me before I could go home again. I didn’t know what my future held. With no one else to turn to, with no friend near to comfort me I relied on my faith in God.

Deuteronomy 31:8 And the LORD, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed. (KJV)

My solitude didn’t last very long because when Monday morning rolled around I met the crew I would be working with and we stayed very busy. We cared for a lot of wounded Marines here also who had returned from ‘Nam. I met some wonderful guys. Some of them called me “Johnny Cool”. Others called me “Buttermilk”. I was just a 17 year old kid right out of high school and now I found myself on active duty as a member of our nation’s armed forces. I remember thinking, “this is for real”. I had a lot of responsibility for my age and the nurses and senior corpsman kept an earnest eye on all of us new men. I was assisting nurses and doctors in their daily tasks and adding to my medical knowledge every day.

Most weekends when I was off duty were very boring. I didn’t have much to do. I never made much money as a junior enlisted man so my adventures were very limited. I didn’t have a car and I didn’t really know how to get around. I was in a new environment and only felt comfortable on base. This was my first real time away from home. The Commanding Officer had established a radius that clearly showed our limited boundary for the weekends. They didn’t want any of us to venture too far after hours on our liberty. But as I reached the end of my 6 months tour of duty I just had to take a chance and go home for a day or two. I didn’t know if I was going to get another leave before I shipped out or not and I had no idea of where my next duty station would be. It just happened that another corpsman from Ohio was in the same predicament as me but he had a car and he said he’d give me a ride as far as Columbus then I could hitch a ride on to Cincinnati. It sounded like a great idea to me at the time so we went for it. I was young and this was just another adventure to me. At seventeen you don’t think much about negative consequences.

We waited until we both had a weekend off and then we left after work on Friday evening and drove to Columbus quickly without incident. My friend dropped me off as we planned and we agreed where and when he would pick me up. We went over our agreement of the times and places so we both knew exactly what we were going to do. I assured him I would be there promptly. I was able to hitchhike some rides to Cincinnati pretty easily after I saw my friend drive away.

I remember having a great weekend at home. We enjoyed our family time at home and I was able to attend church with my family and friends on Sunday Morning. I was thankful for just being with my family again if only for a short time. However, it seemed like I had just gotten home when it was time for me to head back to Virginia. The weekend whizzed by like a dream. It wasn’t long until I was on my way back to Portsmouth. My Dad and Mother didn’t want me to hitchhike so they said they would take me as far as Columbus where I was supposed to meet my friend.

Our car was old. It was a six cylinder with a stick shift transmission and both the engine and transmission seemed to wind out tight at 60 miles per hour. We made it most of the way but our 1956 Ford broke down on I75 somewhere between Cincinnati and Columbus and I had to get a ride. As much as I regretted to leave them stranded I had to say goodbye to my family and continue on. They assured me it was alright and told me I must go. A guy in a Chevy Corvair stopped to see if we needed any help as we were talking and said he would take me to the edge of Columbus. I was wearing my Navy dress white uniform at the time. I thought it might help me get a ride in case this very thing happened. Well, I was right. The man dropped me off somewhere in Columbus and I then walked to the curb and put out my thumb. It wasn’t long until a High School girl and her older sister in a 1966 Mustang Fastback picked me up and took me across the city to the place where I was supposed to meet my ride to the base. I thought they had a beautiful car. While driving they asked me all about the Navy of which I knew very little at the time but I tried my best to answer their questions. I think they enjoyed giving a sailor a ride in their new car. I guess it gave them something to talk about when they went back to their routines on Monday. They dropped me off, wished me luck and said goodbye and I began to look for my friend at our designated meeting place.

I waited and waited but he didn’t show up. I thought it was getting late. This was Sunday and I got a little uneasy thinking I would not make it back in time for muster on Monday morning and I didn’t want to get into any trouble. I didn’t want to start my career out with a bad entry on my record so I stuck out my thumb again. I quickly caught another ride. They took me a little farther but dropped me off on the expressway and exited. There I stood on the side of that Ohio highway. I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere and again, all alone as the traffic sped by. I didn’t really know where I was. I just continued to follow the route I had in my mind. I knew I had to head toward Pennsylvania and then veer south toward Virginia somehow.

I walked for a while and all kinds of thoughts ran through my mind. I thought of home, my family, and my friends I had just left and the wonderful short weekend we had together. I walked on as I daydreamed. It wasn’t too long until I saw a sort of fork in the highway and I wasn’t sure of which way to go. Not many cars were passing by and it was getting late. It wouldn’t be long until the sun would be going down and I’d be out there all by myself with just the night birds and speeding cars for company and now they couldn’t see me.

I started to feel a little uneasy. Not too many vehicles were passing me by now. But then I heard a vehicle in the distance. He drew nearer and nearer. He seemed to be slowing down somewhat. I thought, “Maybe he sees me?” I wasn’t sure of my exact position so I got the idea that I would flag them down just to ask for directions. As they drew nearer I realized it was a pickup truck and on the bed it looked like it had a cattle rack attached. When they saw me wave they slowed to a stop. I then looked and saw a man and a woman inside. They were several years older than me. As we began our conversation I thought they seemed very friendly. The man was wearing a type of western hat and the woman wore a scarf which was fashionable in the sixties. I told him I only needed directions and asked if they could help me. We talked for a while through their opened window then they opened their door and invited me in to ride. As we began driving down the road they told me they had just come from a Louis Armstrong Concert and were headed home. I explained about my ride not showing up on our agreed upon time and we continued on. The woman said she saw me first and told her husband it looked like I was waving for help or wanted to ask for directions. Her husband said he knew I would need a ride. They took me a pretty good distance and we had a great conversation but it was time for me to get out because they were going in a different direction than I was. I enjoyed their friendship and the gift of their ride which got me a little closer to my destination. We said our good byes and I found myself on the side of the road again.

Here I was, alone and not really knowing which way to go. I had no map. We didn’t have cell phones in the 60s. As the evening shadows began to form I said a short prayer for comfort and direction and I remembered:

Psalms 119:105 … Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. (KJV)

So I thought, “I must continue on!” I was hoping and praying someone would stop and offer me a ride. I was feeling very desperate by this time. The way seemed far and the journey tough and so I continued on.

I think I was going through Pennsylvania now and I felt I was getting closer to Virginia. I walked a quite a ways before I got another ride. I began to hear the sound of the night birds and chirping of the crickets in the brush. Some cars passed but no one offered to pick me up. I couldn’t blame them. It was getting dark. But I was surely looking for another ride. Then I saw a newer car coming. It was a 1965 Chevy Impala. It was only a few months old. As they drew nearer I saw two guys, one white, one black, about my age in the front seat. They looked over; I motioned and they stopped for me. They were dressed in civilian clothes but said they were both in the Navy and they were coming from Cincinnati and were heading to a ship home ported in Norfolk which was just across the bay from my duty station in Portsmouth. They said they would give me a ride if I would pay for the gas. I had a little money so I agreed. I thought that surely was a nice car. The driver said he had not had it long. I remember riding in the back seat looking over the front seat at the beautiful new dash with its pretty lights as we drove along. It even had some kind of an engine vacuum gauge and a tachometer. I thought, “I wish my family had a car this nice”. I felt badly leaving them stranded on the side of the road in Ohio. I don’t know how they all got back home but God blesses those he possesses. We made good time to Portsmouth and they dropped me off pretty close to my barracks. I thanked them for the ride and they drove away. I never saw them again but I have never forgotten them or that cool ’65 Chevy Impala.

I made it back in plenty of time and even caught a few winks before I had to start my day on Monday morning. The fellow that was supposed to pick me up in Columbus didn’t have such luck. It seems he was late getting started and didn’t get back to the base on time. He got into some trouble and gave them my name and said I had been with him. This little escapade went down in my Naval Record as a strike against me. The Navy made it real official and said I had broken an Article in the Uniformed Code of Military Justice. Oh, well, like I said I was 17. I don’t think I had been in the Navy more than a year and I had a lot to learn. I thought to myself at least I made it back on time and I reported for duty “on time” in a spic and span uniform, shined shoes and fresh haircut and finished my Monday without any consequence but most of all I had been able to see my family before I would be shipped out.

After that escapade I began to focus more on learning my job and caring for the wounded Marines we tended to daily. Most of them had severe injuries that required continuous 24 hour attention. The corpsman and Nurses had set schedules. We had shifts and duty. Your shift is you daily work assignment. Your duty was a job you did after hours and it was in addition to your daily work. We rotated from days to nights. There was always someone on duty. We worked shifts because we had to be at our best when we were on duty. Lives would depend on it. We were attentive. We were efficient. We were caring. We were young but we were adaptable and we took our work very seriously. We had great teachers and we were gaining some of the necessary experience we would need in our near future.

Every once in a while the USO would put together a show for our patients. Once a country band came to visit and their guitar player had some car trouble and was going to be late. The Sailors and Marines yelled, “Get Buttermilk!” He can play guitar. That’s what they called me here. I could play a little but I didn’t feel I could play well enough to sit in with this band. I can’t remember how well I did but I do remember they were some great guys and friendly. We had a magician there too. He was an elderly gentleman and he was great. He told me to be a magician you must learn to do hand gestures like a female. He had a great act. He was also one of our patients. He was a retired serviceman and had slipped on a cube of ice and became injured. He had gotten well enough to be part of the show.

One of the greatest thrills of a young man’s life was seeing a movie star in person and here she was: Joie Lansing in person! She was a very beautiful and popular movie star during those times. She came with her entourage one weekend and visited all of the patients on our ward. All the guys loved her and she showed her respect and love for the sacrifices they were making. I’ll always remember how caring she seemed.

As the days passed here I gained more experience and learned much about my responsibilities as a Navy Hospital corpsman. I became proud of the job I had been assigned to do and looked forward to caring for the wounded and I met some valiant young men from all walks of life.

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Chapter 2

On to the Philippines

It wasn’t long until I finished my stretch of required ward duty at Portsmouth and I was ready for my first real duty station. It was in the summer of 1966 that I got my orders to the Subic Bay Naval Hospital in the Philippines. I was pretty excited about this move. Some of the patients that I talked with had been there and they told me it was a beautiful place. I discovered they were right.

As it turned out I ended up spending just one year at Subic and I was able to complete my High School Education during my stay. I worked on the medical/surgical ward at first then I was transferred to the orthopedic ward. I liked it better. On my duty nights I was assigned to the emergency room. We saw a great variety of emergencies there and I gained some needed experience that I would draw upon in months ahead. I was introduced to the concept of triage or how to categorize the seriousness of injuries at Subic. I learned to suture. I learned how to prepare doses of various medications and start intravenous fluids. I observed many of the techniques and procedures that were used on both the medical/surgical and orthopedic wards. I was introduced to some of the basic principles of psychiatric medicine.

Many of our patients at the hospital were wounded Marines who had been injured in Vietnam. We treated them with upmost respect and did everything we could to provide care and comfort to them. Most of them were not with us long but were transferred to the US after they were stabilized.

I was called upon one day to accompany a patient from Subic to the larger Air Force Hospital near Angeles City, Philippines. My patient had suffered a ruptured cranial embolism and had to be medevaced immediately. We secured him in a portable military stretcher and I was to chart his blood pressure every fifteen minutes in route to the hospital. We carefully placed our patient in one of the hospital’s ambulances and the driver sped us away as I began my duties as the attendant. I observed him cautiously as we drove along. When we arrived at the airstrip we moved him from the ambulance to the small aircraft that would take us on. It was a small plane that was fitted with around a dozen canvas passenger seats and most of them were occupied. We placed my patient in the stretcher in the narrow aisle between the seats and I knelt down and began to care for him. He was unconscious all the way during the flight. I took his blood pressure every fifteen minutes as I was instructed and charted it each time. The flight was quick and soon we began to descend. I wasn’t anchored in any way and I began to slide down the aisle some. A big Navy Chief grabbed the back of my belt and secured me. I turned to nod a thank you and he returned my glance. We landed safely, I got help and we transferred my patient to the hospital. This was my first experience having to medevac anyone but it was a good lesson learned.

After a few months I was promoted to HN (Hospitalman/E3) and transferred to the Orthopedic Clinic. Here I gained greater experience in suturing, bandaging and applying and removing casts and how to set up traction on the ward. I also managed the appointments at the Orthopedic Clinic while assisting two Navy Doctors. Drs. Jensen and Berliner were great men to work for and Dr. Berliner and his beautiful wife gave me a going away party and a Seiko watch with a black face after I received my orders to the Fleet Marine Force. Dr. Berliner said the black face might come in handy where I was going. He also told me to stay down when I heard someone shout incoming!

I received my orders to the Fifth Marines around August of 1967. I was really surprised but it didn’t catch me off guard. By now I had learned that some corpsman served with the Marine Corps. I knew I would be willing and honored to follow in the footsteps of the honorable men who had preceded me. One who comes to mind is John Bradley who was a Fleet Marine Force corpsman in WWII and one of the men who raised the flag at Iwo Jima.

I got another promotion to E4, 3rd Class Petty Officer toward the end of my tour of duty at Subic and the Navy gave me 20 days leave when I got my new orders. It would be another year before I would be able to take leave again. Twenty days is not much time out of two years. This could have been the last time I would see my family and the last time they would see me. But as they always told us “due to the needs of the service”. The plane ride home was much quicker than the trip over.

Altogether it was a joy to see them again. I didn’t think of the short time we would be together. I just took one day at a time and cherished it. I enjoyed my Mother’s cooking and my Dad’s stories. Our home was a warm, inviting place. We laughed, we played, we enjoyed just being together and we tried to get the most out of my short visit before I had to leave again. I was able to see my church family once more and renew old acquaintances with some of my dear friends.

At home my time flew by so quickly and it wasn’t long until my day of departure arrived. My Dad, Mother and family drove me to the Greater Cincinnati Airport. Then we said our farewells and soon I was in the air one more time. As the plane soared along I began to reminisce of my Naval Career thus far. I thought of leaving home for basic training. I remembered trying out for the Drum and Bugle Corps. I thought of my first day at Portsmouth and how so alone I felt. I thought of the memories and friends I had left behind at Subic. I remembered the skill and dedication of the staff that included the Doctors, Nurses and corpsman. My mind went back to my short visit with my family that had just concluded as I looked out of the airplane window. I didn’t know when I would see them again. I didn’t know what lay ahead of me. I said a short prayer and asked God for help, protection and guidance.

Isaiah 58:11 The LORD will guide you continually… (KJV)

I was to report to Field Medical Training School which was at Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, California. I saw my first “cattle car” there (a modified truck and trailer used as base transportation). It was how you got around on base. It was an experience I have never forgotten. I had not served on a ship. I didn’t know much about the sea or ships. I wore a Navy uniform. Up to this point in my military career I had been taught by doctors, nurses and Senior Corpsman. I had only worked in Naval Hospitals. Now I was entering another phase of my training. I would be trained by Marines. I looked forward to the challenge. I didn’t like working inside all of the time. I liked the outdoors. I wanted to be outside. I didn’t like the “sterile” atmosphere of the hospital. I wanted to be with the men in green.

I had a dream during my stay in the Philippines. I had dreamed I was on the battlefield. I was kneeling in front of a bush. I was holding and comforting a wounded Marine. The battle was raging all around us but my attention was upon him. I never told anyone about this dream. I just kept it to myself. That dream was fulfilled many times over in the swampy and mountainous regions of Vietnam.

I don’t remember all of my preparation at Camp Pendleton but I recall some of it. If you’ve heard of “shock therapy” then you will know how most of the corpsman felt as we entered our Marine Corps military phase of our training. We had some introduction to the M14. Our weapons training was limited and we did not experience the intense battlefield training the Marines underwent but we had to be familiar with some of the weapons they used and had to quickly adapt to Marine thinking as best we could is such a short time. We were needed on a battlefield far away and we must do our best to be ready.

We had pages and pages of notes from the classrooms and I felt we didn’t have enough of “hands on” weapons experience. I wish we could have fired every weapon used by the grunts. However we did throw a few grenades and dig a few “fighting holes” and “hump” a few hills. They did take us through a mock up Vietnamese Village. I remember the lights of Oceanside looked pretty good viewing them at night from the hilltops of Camp Pendleton.

One of our instructors was a salty Marine Corps Sergeant who had healed up from the shrapnel wounds he had gotten in Vietnam. He said once at one of our formations, “I’ve got enough metal in me to drive a Geiger counter crazy!” He taught us from experience. He was professional and you could feel he had deep respect for corpsman. We felt the seriousness of his instruction and we took it to heart. This Marine had encountered the enemy first hand and had been seriously wounded. He had been administered first aid on the field of battle by a Navy corpsman like myself and was here to bear witness of the importance of our job. A Marine’s life may depend on me. I prayed I’d be able to do all I could to the best of my ability. Such a responsibility!

During one of our sessions our instructors tried to relay the seriousness of what lay ahead of us. I can’t remember much of the details but one part of the lesson has stayed with me all these years. We were on the grinder standing in formation as our Sergeant addressed us. He was facing our column as we were facing him. There was a group of buildings across the street from us and behind the Sergeant. As he spoke he paused and said, “You men see those buildings behind me?” Well, the one on the end is where they keep the records of all of the MIAs and the KIAs. It is a fact that some of your names will be added to their lists. This was a grim reality that hit home with us. We were dismissed shortly thereafter and most of us walked away without saying much to anyone.

At the mock Vietnamese village set up here we were introduced to the Vietnamese lifestyle. I felt we were rushed through much of our field training but we did learn to march in staggered columns and that chow was to be treated with more respect in the field. We were given examples of hostile situations a corpsman might find himself in on the battlefield. The Fleet Marine Force had a plan for everything. We were neither the first nor the last that would be coming through here. We would learn and we would contribute.

I began to realize everything was different now. I had left the sanitary atmosphere of service in a Naval Hospital to find myself in the nitty gritty care of the wounded on the battlefield. I was proud but also apprehensive. I wondered how I would react when someone was shooting at me while I was trying to save the life of a fallen Marine. I hoped and prayed I’d be up to the task.

I was very proud when they issued me a Marine Corps uniform and sea bag. While trying on the “covers” (hats) I thought mine was a little small. The Sergeant looked at me and said, “That fits, Doc. You’re going to get a haircut anyway.” I’ve heard it said that once you wear the green you can’t go back. That’s how most of us felt and I still do. The Marines are a proud brotherhood. “Once a Marine, always a Marine”. It has been over 50 years and when I go to the 1st Marine Division Reunions my brothers still call me “Doc”. Thank you, brothers.

It seemed like Field Medical Service School was over pretty quickly. I had gotten through some pretty challenging training. I thought I was a pretty efficient corpsman when I entered the School but now I felt more confident. It must have been the Eagle, Globe and Anchor I was now wearing on the collar of my Marine Corps Greens with my Navy rank on my sleeve!

I didn’t get any leave after graduating. I had 20 days after my year in the Philippines and now I was headed for another year of duty before I’d be able to take any more providing I survived! I tried to maintain a positive attitude and I relied on my faith in a personal God who was bigger than me. Some of our medical training was that we learned how to control our emotions when treating an injured person. Now I had to psych myself out and keep placing one foot in front of the other and continue down the path life had laid out in front of me. I had to place my trust in God.

Psalms 20:7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. (KJV)

As I recall my group flew out of Travis Air Force Base to Okinawa. This was a stopover for all Fleet Marine Force personnel before going on to Vietnam. We had our sea bags checked and they made sure our shots were up to date and our records were all in order. We were told we would be getting bush uniforms when we got to ‘Nam. I had one pair of starched utilities in my sea bag. I was intent on saving them for the day my tour of duty was over and I would wear them on my departure flight home from Vietnam.

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