Rants & Essays

Vietnam Mini-Series IV
"On a Medevac Mission"

By Doug Woods

MedevacTwo marine grunts blasted by RPG rounds are picked up northwest of An Hoa. Both are carried onto the chopper in blood-filled, dirty poncho liners. Both men lie shattered, yet alive. The first has his right arm missing below the elbow, his right leg gone below the knee. Blood-soaked bandages and tourniquets squeeze the pressure points.

The second marine is worse. His legs and arms are gone. A bone dangles grotesquely from his left shoulder, shreds of muscle and flesh dropping lifeless from the bone. The upper part of his skull is also shot away, exposing hemorrhaging flesh and dripping brain matter around the inadequate battle dressing. Incredibly he lives.

I have seen blood and gore before, but previously the worst medevacs were dead, the live ones in recognizable shape. I offer to help the corpsman on these two, but he impatiently waves me away. So I retreat to my red plastic perch to hold a plasma bottle dripping solution into the hose that stabbed the second marine's shoulder. I watch intently as Doc feverishly works on the first grunt.

The second man lies at my feet, his blood spattering my flight suit as it sloshes back and forth on the poncho. Suddenly, the marine's eyes open and roll in their sunken sockets; in an instant they seem to focus on me. Our eyes meet. Oh God! I want to run and hide and be sick, but I stare back into his glassy eyes. He betrays no emotion, no pain, no real awareness of his condition. I reason that shock and morphine are keeping him so quiet and still.

I steel myself against feeling sorrow or compassion for this marine, who is no older than myself. Like the rest of the chopper's crew, I knew I must stifle my emotions or I may lose control. And losing control is something that must never happen in combat. Inside me I want to cry, but I suppress the feeling. Finally, I kneel down at the grunt's side and force a weak smile. He shifts his eyes from mine and, raising his body a little, he looks down and over at where his arms and legs used to be. I look too. At the same time I wish in my heart that this brave man will die. I am not proud of myself. He looks too mutilated and shattered. He should be dead. So why isn't he dead? I ask myself. He lays his head back down and our eyes meet again. I nod to him.

I see no response, but he knows! He has to know.'

He looks away from me, his unblinking eyes staring at the CH-46's ceiling. The visual connection broken, I stand and carefully move forward a little, away from his penetrating gaze. I am careful not to yank the intravenous needle from his shoulder.

I try not to stare, but again and again I am drawn back to the shattered men near me. I feel utterly useless. Hopelessness and anger pervade my thoughts. I am terribly uncomfortable. I suddenly hate flying. I hate the war. At this very moment these two marines lie on the verge of dying. And for what? They are facing the ultimate reality of war; who gives a damn about war photographs or dispatches? I want the flight to end quickly so these two medevacs will be gone and things can get back to normal for me.

Soon they disappear from sight. But to this day they linger in my consciousness. I do not know whether the two grunts lived or died. I pray they lived…especially the second marine. That's because I could have been him.