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  Revisiting Vietnam American RadioWorks
  Vietnam Scrapbook

Louis Dehner, Vietnam veteran
University City, MO, USA

I entered on active duty on July 3, 1967 and found myself in Viet Nam approximately 2-3 weeks later as a 26 year-old general medical officer assigned to the U.S. Naval Support Activity Station Hospital, DaNang RVN. I had completed my first year as a resident in pathology so the Navy placed in this largest of the acute care facilities operated by the Navy "on the beach." I was responsible for the laboratory, its some 25-30 corpsmen-lab technicians. There was also need for anatomic pathology services including autopsies on hospital deaths, deaths from the field where an external examination alone did not provide a cause of death at graves'registration and forensic cases. Needless to say, I was ill prepared for the job at hand but I made do. The crisis period of my tour occurred with the onset of the famed Tet offensive when the Navy nurses were evacuated for the hospital and the doctors and corpsmen were issued our weapons while still on base. Part of my responsibility was the blood bank and received a very large, unsolicited shipment of blood from Camp Zama, Japan to have on hand. A heavy air of anxiety fell over the hospital as we all knew something big was going to happen and it did. As I remember, it all camae to pass on 31 Jan-1 Feb when the city of DaNang and those of us on the pennisula were hit and hit hard, but the problem was that we were the only major medical facility still in operation in the I Corps. Hundreds of casulties were deposited on our front door or as it was known, Receiving I. At the same time we were under assault on our perimeter which was the DaNang River that separated the pennisula from the city of DaNang. While in the operating room, I recall vividly the helicopter gunships taking their run from the South China Sea and firing over our heads and listening to the .50 caliber shells hitting the quonset hut (the hospital was a network of connected quonset huts by sidewalks and a cover). We were treating everyone whether they were friend, foe or unknown. Not a day of my life goes by that I am not reminded of this experience simply by the sound of a helicopter which I hear everyday as they land here at Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's Hospitals. In adddition to the sadness of all those dead young men, there is also the knowledge that I served with some of the most dedicated physicians, nurses and corpsmen in the world. If a young man was to have any chance in the world of surviving near mortal injuries, the only place in the world where that was possible was the US Navy Support Activity Hospital. It was an honor to be a small part of this extraordinary facility. Our primary mission was to care for the "grunts" of the 1st, 3rd and elements of the 5th Marine Divisions. When possible we also took care of civilians and they received the same compassionate care extended to Americans. All of us, regardless of our MOS have been indelibly signed with this war. I remember when I returned in July, 1968 and was waiting to rejoin my family in St. Louis, I was greeted by a young man who want to know whether I had been to the "Nam" and I answered that I was just returning from my tour when he looked me in the face and said, "What a waste, what a waste." I had just received my welcome home. We were made to feel as though the war was our responsibility and if we had chosen not to go, somehow the war would not have been fought on a take that this war would not have occurred of no one showed up. Though the war may have been a grand mistake in retrospect, it was a component of the "containment" philosophy after WW II. Thousands of my generation served in that war, and although I can not speak for anyone other than myself, but there is a vivid sense in my soul that I was called upon to fulfill my duty to this wonderful, yet flawed country and did the job that I was ordered to perform which was to contribute to the care of the wounded and sick young Americans whose goal as mine was to return to my family. Providence looked after me and I learned to be thankful for each day that I have had since that long ago time.

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