Revisiting Vietnam American RadioWorks
  Vietnam Scrapbook

David L Johnson, Vietnam veteran
Forman, North Dakota, USA

What follows is an excerpt from my story posted under Atheism at I was a medic with the 2nd Battalion 1st Marine Regiment in Vietnam. This was one of my religious experiences in Vietnam. I have not been able to handle religion in any degree since. Up until Vietnam I was a Lutheran.

The real shock came in October of 1967 however, an event that was to change my life forever. We were coming out the canopy west of Quang Tri when our company was ambushed by a well concealed, unknown size enemy force. In a matter of three minutes, we had lost our inter second platoon, much of the third platoon, and a portion of our command group. As the forward corpsman, I found myself going back along the trail to aid whoever I could. It became clear however that where the help was really needed was in the rear where the second platoon was nothing but a pile of bleeding bodies.

In the training that I had received to that point, in the case of mass causalities, the people that are cared for first are the people who have the best chance of survival. Those are the ones whose bleeding can be stopped fast and are able to be moved. So it was those that I focused my attention on. I did notice however this one marine upside down, stuck in the brush like a yard dart. He was missing both legs from the hips down. He laid there with his bare flesh exposed like a piece of meat in a grocery story oozing blood. I gave him up for dead only to have him pop up alive in my arms, later. “Where the Hell have you been?” he asked. It was a Marine I knew. The guilt I experienced was crushing. I had no idea that he would still be alive and the fact that I knew this person was even worse. He had been waiting for me. And I let him down. He wanted to know how the others were doing. Clearly he had no idea just how bad things were. The others, being his comrades and friends, were largely dead - so I lied. I told him they were doing fine. And he would be too. Everything would be just fine. But I knew he wouldn’t be just fine. I was out of all my first aid material. My morphine was gone. He was on his own, bleeding uncontrollably, dying in my arms.

Then the conversation took what I thought was a strange turn. I knew this man believed in God so I was expecting a prayer or something when he muttered something about God. But what I got was questions like “Why did God allow this to happen to him?” He was a good Christian. How is it God did not intervene on his behalf? Why did God have it in for him? I was stunned. I did not know what to say so I didn’t say anything. I just held him, and rocked him, until he died. But the thoughts that were going through my mind sent cold shutters to my inter most core. Not only was this man dying, he was dying believing that God had abandoned him, that God did not care about him, that God felt he was not worth saving. I could not imagine anything more horrible. I could not think of a worse way to die. Never had I seen religion from this negative perspective. Never had I ever turned the “God loves, protects, and cares for us” coin over, until this very moment, to see what was on the other side. And here it was.

I do not remember much after that. All I know is the sun went down and the sun came up. I do not remember if it was a dream but it seemed real. I felt I left my body that evening and for whatever reason ended up in the past, overlooking the fires of Gettysburg, before the first shot was fired. I’m not even going to try figure out what that meant, if it meant anything, or if it was even real. All I know is when I awake, or returned, or regained my sanity, everything was different.

The world had taken on a whole new meaning. I no longer believe that the world was put here for however man decides to use it. The purpose man assigns to the world is self driven, largely from his self-centeredness. It does not come from God. All was not right with the world, the world and life in it needs help which can only come from careful research and knowledgeable decisions. There is no guiding divine hand watching out over us. Work is not a curse. Work may be something that I must endure as a result of social norms and pressures but I won’t go to Hell if I refuse to. And the rulers who rule over me were not ordained by God. And there is no life after death, thus if I suffer in the present, I suffer in the only existence that I will ever know. Religion for me is over. I have been to religion’s darkest pit and never want to go back again. The chains were broken. I was free.



Back to scrapbook index


©2018 American Public Media