Release Date: September 27, 2021
Army medics and Navy corpsmen (often serving in Marine Corps units) were the enlisted “first responders” of the Vietnam War. They saved countless lives, often at great risk to themselves. In this episode, we bring you two stories from members of the 1st Cavalry’s 15th Medical Battalion.
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HOST: [00:00:02] A soldier or marine wounded in Vietnam had a ninety-eight percent chance of survival if he was evacuated within the first hour of being injured. Those were the best odds in the history of American warfare up to that time, thanks to the widespread use of helicopters for medical evacuations known as Dustoff missions. The wounded in Vietnam often waited just minutes for transport to the nearest medical center. During those crucial minutes, it was the medic or corpsmen who held death at bay. Army medics and Navy corpsmen often serving in Marine Corps units were the enlisted first responders of the Vietnam War. They saved countless lives, often at great risk to themselves. One credible account places the number of medics and corpsmen listed on the wall at more than 2000, and at least 20 of them earned the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest award for courage under fire. Even when they weren’t under fire, medics and corpsmen were essential to the health and wellness of their units. In fact, they spent most of their time preventing and treating day-to-day health issues such as malaria, dehydration, dysentery, and jungle foot. In this episode will bring you two stories of this life-saving work one of prevention the other of combat, both from members of the 15th Medical Battalion Association of the Army’s 1st Air Cavalry Division. From the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, founders of the Wall. This is Echoes of the Vietnam War. I’m your host, Michael Croan. Bringing you stories of service, sacrifice, and healing from people who still feel the impact of that conflict. Nearly 50 years later. This is Episode 14 So That Others May Live. Besides providing trauma care on the battlefield, medics and corpsmen were responsible for the day-to-day prevention and treatment of a wide range of injuries and diseases among the troops. Everything from malaria to food poisoning. Terry McCarl served in such a role, and he talked to me about it from his home in Omaha, Nebraska.
TERRY: [00:02:33] I grew up on a farm in central South Dakota, near the town of Miller, about 70 miles east of the state capital pier. I attended South Dakota State University and majored in civil engineering, and I learned that the army had need for civil engineers with specialty in water supply and waste treatment as Medical Service Corps officers. So I thought that might be a good opportunity. Plus lots of civilian opportunities in the future. So I enrolled in ROTC and received the commission as a second lieutenant in the Army Medical Service Corps upon graduation in 1967. In October of sixty eight, I did receive my orders to report. Vietnam arrived there on Thanksgiving Day 1968 and was assigned to 15th Medical Battalion of the 1st Cavalry Division, located at the division headquarters at Phuoc Vinh, which was about 30 miles north of Saigon.
HOST: [00:03:47] What kinds of services did the 15th Medical Battalion provide to the 1st Cavalry?
TERRY: [00:03:52] There was a unit of about 400 personnel, a headquarters company and three letter companies A, B and C, and they provided all types of medical services to the division, as well as to other units that were in the, in that area were away from their normal medical provider. And even they did some work with Vietnamese civilians. Health medical care. Well, most probably the most famous part of 15th Medical Battalion was the air ambulance platoon, which is known as medevac, who performed helicopter evacuation of wounded from the field where they were wounded to the one of the four 15th Med Battalion clearing stations, one of which was located at each brigade headquarters.
HOST: [00:04:49] Can you talk a little bit about what it took to just look after the day-to-day wellness and fighting fitness of the troops?
TERRY: [00:04:56] That was my main duty. My title was Division Sanitarium and that was in preventive medicine. I was a staff officer for the division, to the division surgeon, the lieutenant colonel. It was also the 15th Med Battalion commander and I worked directly under the preventive medicine officer who was a medical doctor. Some of the duties, food service, sanitation, water supply, safety, waste disposal and malaria control, a number of others, including rat control, that this type of thing. These duties required travel throughout the 1st Cavalry Division area of operation. So did a lot of flying around from place to place to do inspections and provide assistance. The most interesting problem, I guess, in encountered during the year was with malaria control. Some protection was provided by using repellent insect repellent netting, bed netting and so on other measures, but these were not sufficient to really. Really prevent malaria, and there were malaria tablets or prophylaxis pills available, which everyone was supposed to take or everybody, they were given to everyone to take, but a lot of people didn’t take them in the summer of 69. Commanders of all of the nine air mobile infantry battalions of the division were right, kind of at the end of their rope. Malaria was just running rampant and their manpower was reduced to the point where many of their companies did not have enough people to function. Terrible problem. Malaria was was not a major cause of death in Vietnam. In the military. In fact, there were less than one hundred military people in Vietnam that died of malaria.
TERRY: [00:07:09] But you would probably wind up being out of commission for anywhere from a couple of weeks to over a month. The pills were nearly 100 percent effective. The big orange pill, it was called the chloroquine primer and tablet. It was taken once a week, supposedly on Mondays. Everyone was to take it. It was effective. But the problem was that it created nasty diarrhea for just about everybody. A problem really so bad that a lot of people just said, I’m not going to take it. The commanders were saying, we got to do something. We can’t go on like this. People were watched closely by NCOs, non-commissioned officers, to verify that they were taking the pills. They were taking him in formation wherever everybody was there. It was out in the open, but people got very good at slipping the pill under their tongue and spitting it out. No one was looking. But anyway, reagents for testing to verify whether the pill had been taken or not. Were sent out to all divisions in early June of sixty nine. And there wasn’t really much for directions or how to do it, the directions as to how to to take the sample and acidify it with one chemical and then add a another chemical, which would turn the sample milky white, indicating that there was quinine in the sample. And therefore that was a positive test. That meant that the, that the individual being tested had taken the pill
HOST: [00:09:02] And you could do this on the spot.
TERRY: [00:09:04] You essentially did it on the spot. We used pill bottles or pill vials, I’ll call them. They were abundant and they were more than enough in supply. We had plenty of them, but we stopped put stick on labels on them, went out to the field unannounced, except for the commander and the, the people in charge. Of course, they knew we were coming. They knew what we were going to do. But they did not warn the troops ahead of time until we got their call to formation and said, OK, everybody, you’re going to give us a urine sample and we’re going to test it. And I remember a lot of frantic expressions by people in formation. Well, we, we collected all the samples and then everybody went about their business while we did the testing. The very first unit that we tested in June of sixty nine had a dismal 90 percent negative. And of course, I remember the commanding officer was just this livid. He couldn’t believe it.
HOST: [00:10:12] So there were consequences. It wasn’t just a matter of if you tested negative, they would make you take the pill. There could also be some sort of punishment assigned.
TERRY: [00:10:21] Yes, there could be. It might be something like losing a privilege of some kind. But anyway, that was a tool that seemed to work. And by a couple of months later, these units were testing generally well over 90 percent positive. Never did get to 100 percent.
HOST: [00:10:44] You mentioned that the mortality rate for malaria was extremely low. It wasn’t so much life-threatening, but it, it could take a, it could take a soldier out of commission for for, you know, up to a month. There’s a wide margin between fit to fight and dead, right? There’s a lot. There’s a lot of surface area in the middle there, and I would imagine you ran into all sorts of issues that might render a soldier unable to fight. Can you talk about some of the other conditions that you saw that took guys out of action?
TERRY: [00:11:18] Malaria is certainly the leading cause. I guess a drug addiction or drug abuse was probably a large problem, I have no idea how large, but it was a major problem.
HOST: [00:11:34] What kind of drugs? I mean, what kind of drugs could these soldiers get their hands on?
TERRY: [00:11:39] Well, mostly marijuana. It was, it was pretty abundant.
HOST: [00:11:43] Did you run into an attitude that you had to, to work against, you know, an attitude of, I don’t know, fatalism, like why would I bother taking this malaria pill when you know, I don’t know if I’m going to make it through the next day?
TERRY: [00:11:57] Yeah, people did the math. They realized that if they got malaria. They’d get out of the field for maybe a month, whereas if they stayed in combat through that month, it could be, could be fatal. Yeah, it was a consideration, certainly. Did people really believe? That what we were doing in preventive medicine was of any real value and didn’t seem, you know, you couldn’t say, well, I saved this guy’s life because he if, if I had inspected this mess hall and determined that there was bad food, he might have gotten food poisoning and died. But there were instances where you might go out and do an inspection and just really incur the wrath of even a commander saying, you know, saying this, this meal should not be consumed. You know, sometimes we were, we were treated with scorn. Let me put it that way.
HOST: [00:13:01] Yeah, it’s a tough position to be in, right, because success for you is, you know, nothing happens.
TERRY: [00:13:06] Yeah, right. Success. Yeah, if everybody stays well.
HOST: [00:13:12] On the other side of injury, the stakes were different for a medic or corpsman in combat success meant keeping someone alive until the medevac arrived. For the men who flew those Dustoff missions, success meant evacuating wounded troops to hospitals, often under hostile fire without getting themselves wounded or killed in the effort. After a short break, we’ll hear from Ron Huether, who flew countless Dustoff missions in Vietnam, earning the Silver Star multiple distinguished flying crosses, numerous air medals, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. By the time you hear this, our little podcast will have passed ten thousand listens. That’s just amazing considering that we just launched six months ago, and we’re really grateful for your support. Some of you I know we’re wondering, what else can I do to help Echoes grow? Well, I have a couple of ideas. First, you can share it with a friend who might like it as well. Another thing you can do, and this really helps us out tremendously. I can’t stress that enough is to leave us a rating or a review wherever you get your podcasts like Apple Podcasts or Spotify, for example. Nothing I can think of helps new listeners find us better than that.
HOST: [00:14:41] Until then, you can let us know what you think by emailing [email protected]. We know that getting to Washington, D.C. to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial isn’t easy for everybody. So VVMF created The Wall That Heals an exact replica of the wall at three quarter scale that travels to communities all across America. The Wall That Heals and the Mobile Education Center that travels with it will be in La Pine, Oregon, September 30th through October 3rd and Corona California October seven through 10. For more, twenty twenty one tour dates and locations, visit VVMF.org. We launched our little podcast back on March twenty nine, which was National Vietnam War, Veterans Day and all my excitement. Since then, I have neglected to share with you another exciting program launched by VVMF on that same day. It’s called the registry, and it complements our other online programs like the Wall of Faces and the In Memory Honor Roll. My colleague Adam Arbogast is responsible for the registry, and I caught up with him last week in Longview, Washington, where The Wall That Heals was touring to ask him about it.
ADAM: [00:16:02] Adam Arbogast, I’m the Senior Director for Direct Response and Digital Strategy
HOST: [00:16:08] And how long have you been with the organization?
ADAM: [00:16:10] I started with the organization in September of two thousand seven, going on 14 years. Oh, 14 years, actually. Yeah.
HOST: [00:16:19] Anybody else on staff been around that long?
ADAM: [00:16:21] No, no, I’m the oldest, the oldest of the guard. I was actually started right before the twenty fifth anniversary of the memorial.
HOST: [00:16:29] No kidding. And you’re coming up on the 40th? Yep. Yeah, that’ll be my full 15 years.
ADAM: [00:16:34] That’s a pretty good run. Yep, got to do a lot of great things, a lot of great work, a lot of things I’m proud of still always wish there’s more some things you wish you could do more of. But you know, every every challenge is, is new, wonderful and exciting.
HOST: [00:16:48] Yeah. So speaking of new and wonderful and exciting, we launched our podcast on on March twenty ninth and that same day you launched a project that you’ve been working on for quite some time.
ADAM: [00:17:02] We launched the registry, and the registry is intended for Vietnam and Vietnam era veterans, and it really brings our mission full circle. We have our wall of faces, which is dedicated to the men and women who lost their lives during the war itself. Then we have our In Memory program, which is devoted to those who came home and later died as a result of their service. And now we have the Registry, which is a recognition for all of our living Vietnam veterans and our living Vietnam era veterans, as well as Vietnam era veterans who have passed since. And one of the key points there to point out in The Wall is again for the people who served in the Vietnam War and conflict. The In Memory program is for also those who served in conflict. Mm hmm. But there are millions of people who served in the military who weren’t directly involved in the war zone, but they still served their country proudly, bravely and did what was asked of them (HOST) during wartime, during wartime. And some of them were stationed in the U.S. some were stationed in, you know, overseas and in Germany and in other places. And we feel that their service, while they weren’t in the war zone, is no less deserving of recognition and their legacies deserve to be preserved and shared because they served right alongside those who went and those that didn’t. And for the deceased Vietnam era veterans, they never got a really good chance to have their stories told where our program helps tell the story of those in conflict who came home and later died. As a result, these ones didn’t. And so it’s important to make sure that they wore they wore the uniform during the Vietnam era, and they deserve to have their service recognized, even though they are no longer with us.
HOST: [00:19:00] I see. So my father was in the army during the Vietnam era. He joined. He enlisted in nineteen fifty eight and he served for 20 years. So he was in the army the entire time that we were at war in Vietnam. But he never got sent to Vietnam.
ADAM: [00:19:15] Yeah. So there would be a perfect person to have a registry profile as part of this for us and let his chance for him to tell his story. But the bigger thing here is, is that he can also then go and connect his service to all of the other Vietnam veterans and Vietnam era veterans who he may have known served with went to school with from the same hometown. And that also includes those that are on the wall and those that are in the In Memory program.
HOST: [00:19:43] So this is really I mean, it sounds like the registry is really an opportunity to do two things right. One is to honor those who serve during the era, you know, whether they’re living or dead. But the other piece is to connect them to each other.
ADAM: [00:19:57] Right, right. Those bonds of, of brotherhood and sisterhood that were formed during that time, you know, didn’t just, you know, they weren’t separated by those who went and those who, who went other places. An army colonel once told me that they’re in all of his years in the military. He never had a say wherever the military told him to go. So people who were stationed in Germany or stationed in the states were still ful, for fulfilling these vital roles in service to our country. It’s just that they weren’t asked to particularly go to, to the, to the war zone, but they still, they still serve right alongside these people that came home. They served together afterwards with the ones that came home, and their legacies deserve to be preserved, and those connections need to be preserved for future generations to really bring everything full circle. And what this also does is really importantly is also recognize the service of many women who served in the military who had to fulfill other roles outside of the war zone. You know, the ones that were in intelligence, administration, logistics, a lot of them weren’t necessarily sent over into the combat zone. But were serving in capacities here stateside or at installations in other countries. And their service was vital to the war effort and needs to be recognized, and the Registry gives them an opportunity to do that.
HOST: [00:21:31] So we live in a world that is increasingly connected. Right. Everything is connected. I feel like I’m connected to every other person on the planet 24/7. What are you hoping that this new connection will add for people?
ADAM: [00:21:50] Well, the key components to it is the creation of connections first. So in order to create these connections, we need people to sign up. We need to get the word out. We need to spread the word. This is a completely one hundred percent free thing for, for individuals to do. There’s no cost for you to create your profile for yourself or for a family member who meets the criteria. And the only way we can help really bring these connections about is they have to exist in the first place. So you might create a profile and you might not see somebody right away who maybe is a connection. But if we get the word out and we get people doing this, we’ll be able to create these new connections. They’ll appear, they will. We people will have a commonality they’ll find through each other and they might be able to make that, that reconnection, you know, that happened 50 years ago now. And the reason why this is important, the reason why to create these connections is is one there is a lot of value in preserving legacies of individuals. They’re the histories just as we do genealogical work or, you know, we, we work to make sure that those who are gone are remembered for the deeds that they did and the things about them.
ADAM: [00:23:12] The, it’s important to, to have those legacies out there for future generations, because that’s the only way you’re going to learn more about the Vietnam era. What better way to really explore the Vietnam War, the Vietnam era than the lens of the people who lived through it and what they did and know that these aren’t some strangers. They came from your hometowns. They, they were your uncles, your great uncles, your father, your grandfather, your great grandfather. They, they all went and did things. They were also your aunt, your great aunts, your grandmother. They all went. And during this divisive time in our history answered the calls stood up and they performed a vital role in serving in the United States military during the Vietnam War. And we can learn so much about it by their first person lens of what they saw, what they did, who they met, who they were with, and really just help give a holistic view of that entire war and the people who went through it and those that didn’t return home.
HOST: [00:24:28] Hmm. And what would you like our listeners to know about how to participate? Like, what’s the first thing they should do? What’s the first step?
ADAM: [00:24:32] The easiest thing to do is to just go and create that profile.
HOST: [00:24:37] Ok, well, give us a give and tell us where to go to do that.
ADAM: [00:24:39] So you’re going to go to Registry.vvmf.org/
HOST: [00:24:46] Registry.vvmf.org/
ADAM: [00:24:47] You can also just go right to our website, VVMF.org And click on the, the link for Registry. It’s right there at the top of the page, easy to find, and once you get there, it’s a nice, guided journey that’s really easy to ask you some questions about service, you know, some biographical information, and I encourage people to just even if you don’t have all the answers. If you don’t have your written biography fully filled out, you don’t need to. You can create that profile with the most basic amount of information and come back and add to it and add to it. And, you know, for people sometimes who aren’t, maybe, you know, feel like they aren’t tech-savvy or don’t understand a lot about computers. I encourage you to get a friend, get a grandchild, get somebody at the library, someone to help you do this. It doesn’t. It takes minutes and it can be done. And then you’ve added your bit into this web to help create more and more connections. And you may find people that are long lost for years. Or maybe who, you know, knew one of your relatives that you’ve created a profile for and really just helps honor and preserve that legacy for perpetuity, for generations to come. It’s our hope that these ones will live right alongside the ones that are on our wall of faces and in our In Memory program for years and years and years to come. And hopefully, when we’re celebrating the 60th anniversary of the memorial, we’ll have the service of all of our Vietnam and Vietnam era veterans right there alongside those who who died and those who came home and later died as a result of their service.
HOST: [00:26:33] Our guest in the first half of this episode, Terry McCarl is the historian and secretary of the 15th Medical Battalion Association. In talking with Terry, I learned about some first-person narratives published on the association’s website https://15thmedbnassociation.org/. Several of those stories were written by Ron Huether, and they were very compelling, so compelling that I asked Ron to read one of them for us here on the podcast. So here’s Ron Huether reading his story “Fergs and Beans” and just a warning in case you have young listeners nearby or people who are squeamish. This story does contain graphic descriptions of gruesome combat injuries.
RON: [00:27:22] Life of a medevac crew member. In Vietnam was something similar to the fire department, where you sit and wait and wait and wait until a mission comes. In October of 1970, things were changing in Vietnam. The rain had stopped and it was starting to get warm. But by the end of the month, three hundred and seventy four U.S. soldiers would have lost their lives. Medevac crew are the 15th Medical Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division was stationed with a clearing station at fire support base Mace. A clearing station is just an aid station with a physician. And some rudimentary surgical ability. Fire Support Base, mace was located thirty-six miles east of the big airbase at Bein Hoa in a short 28 distance inland from the East Sea. The focus for this week for the crew members was dedicated to seeing if I, with the call sign medevac 2, was ready to become an aircraft commander. If I could successfully conduct helicopter ambulance missions while doing most of the decision-making, I would be promoted from a pilot to an aircraft commander. The pilot responsible for this week-long evaluation was Hank Tuel, known to us all as Little Okie since he came from Oklahoma. He had the call sign of medevac 1. Okie, it was a much decorated medevac pilot and always had a tobacco chew in his mouth and an empty can on the center console for the brown, slimy spit. We had flown together many times, making up the one-two punch since he was medevac 1 and I was medevac 2.
RON: [00:29:28] Ok was within a week of going home to the states and probably harbored thoughts that I would pass my check right come hell or high water, passing the check ride would allow Okie to leave the unit without a shortage of combat ready aircraft commanders. The rest of the crew on the aircraft, which is named Super Kong, where Jim Ferguson, we called him Fergie. He was the crew chief. Dan Brady, the flight medic and Don Tegethoff have the right side M60 machine gunner. The GIBs what we pilots called guys in the back often worked together and functioned as a formidable, life saving crew. Fergie was the best helicopter crew chief in the unit and was revered for his knowledge and standards. Brady was a consummate soldier lifesaver that could stick an IV and a bleeding out patient as the helicopter hammered up and down at max speed without even breaking a sweat. Enemy shooting at our medevac didn’t know it, but Tiny T could shoot a cigarette out of their hand at 900 feet. When he had you in his sights, you had nowhere to run. October 16th, 1970 was just another day for our crew. Nothing happened in the morning other than me performing a pre-flight inspection of the aircraft. Fergie did his normal daily inspection and took a fuel sample. At the same time, Brady and Tiny T made sure they had everything ready for the inevitable first mission of the day.
RON: [00:31:04] They knew a mission would come in because Medivac stand by at fire support base Mace was beginning to gain a reputation as the most dangerous field stand by. Sure enough, a call came in for some priority patients due to a Cav unit springing an ambush on enemy soldiers. There was one U.S. casualty and one Viet Cong casualty, resulting in one of the little known missions of the U.S. medical soldiers that attending to any patient on any side of the conflict. By Geneva Conventions medical service members are neutral in any conflict. The mantra for medevac was so that others may live. And it did not make a distinction which side of the conflict the soldier got hurt on. It had been quite a while since the first cav soldiers sprung the ambush and there was no further enemy contact. So the medevac crew of Okie, me, Fergie, Brady, and Tiny T bounced on the mission without the assistance of any armed Cobra attack helicopters. We would conduct the mission only with the defensive weapons we had of two M-16 machine guns mounted towards the rear of the cargo department more lovingly called the hell hole. The mission went routinely well, with the crew picking up one wounded U.S. soldier and one VC soldier, both soldiers were sporting brand new gunshot wounds. There was profuse bleeding from both soldiers, causing some pools of blood on the cargo floor.
RON: [00:32:46] But Brady had no trouble assessing the injuries and providing life-saving procedures. The return flight promised to be a routine flight. We listen to the songs on the aircraft radio that received AM radio stations. The top 10 hits for the week of October 1970 presented an accurate description of surviving a year in Vietnam. Raindrops keep falling on my head by BG Thomas was an off heard chant in the bush, and every soldier dreamed of leaving on a jet plane. Someday we’ll get together as sung by the talented Diana Ross and the Supremes, putting the soldiers down on the corner and the Jackson five wailing out. I want you back. Aboujt halfway back to mace, just coming up on a landmark that we call the French train, which was an incapacitated old train from the French occupation of Vietnam, this routine mission changed abruptly while in flight. A radio call came from the second of the 8th Cav unit that had heavy enemy contact, resulting in a soldier with a sucking chest. Sucking chest wounds are critical situations caused when the bullet pierces the chest cavity. The wound allows air into the cavity between the rib cage and the lungs, eventually collapsing the soldier’s lung and the soldier slowly suffocates. I talked over the radio to probably a 19 year old medic on the ground and told him it would be about 20 minutes before we could return.
RON: [00:34:31] We first had to drop off. The two patients that were on the aircraft get a couple of JP-4 aviation fuel squirts team up with two blue max attack aircraft and return for the ground medics patient. With our aircraft slicing through the air slightly above the maximum allowable speed of 124 knots our medevac continued toward the clearing station landing pad at Fire Support Base Mace. Okie was on the radio coordinating with the clearing station so that medics could be waiting on the pad for our patients. He quickly changed radio frequencies and put a warning order out to the Blue Max red team 2 attack aircraft. Their support would be needed because the unit was still in contact with the enemy. With speed acquired from months of working as a cohesive team, Brady and Tiny T offloaded the patients and I conducted a high hover over to the refueling pad. There was no time to shut down the aircraft, with the Lycoming engine still operating at idle and exhaust gas temperatures thrusting over the tail boom at over 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. Fergie added a few gallons of JP-4 for jet fuel to the helicopter. Now we’re three-quarters full on fuel and to Blue Max attack aircraft trailing, we raced towards the injured soldier with the sucking chest wound on the way we cavalierly flew in an inverted V formation. The medevac in the lead and one attack aircraft trailing slightly behind on each side.
RON: [00:36:16] Noone knew this formation was about to result in almost losing our medevac and our seasoned crew of five. The traditional role of the Blue Max attack aircraft covering a medevac conducting a hoist mission was that one of the Cobras would circle the medevac at a couple of hundred feet above the jungle canopy to provide many gun close in support, attempting to keep the enemy soldiers from mounting a deadly attack against the medevac. The second Cobra would circle one hundred and eighty degrees out from the first cobra at an altitude of about fifteen feet. The high cobra was ready to support the medevac by firing 2.5 Folding fin rockets at the enemy position. By setting up these orbits, at least one cobra was always ready to provide instant assistance to our medevac. But having arrived in a V-of-three formation, I came to a stationary hover above the triple canopy jungle. The Blue Max Red team split off and began establishing their orbits while leaving us to enemy fire until their traditional orbits were established. This seemingly insignificant error of arriving in a V-of-three formation resulted in my medevac being unprotected by Blue Max and presented itself as the world’s biggest target for the enemy forces. Once said, however, I coordinated with the medic on the ground and the blue team red team. But almost immediately, the enemy unleashed a fury of automatic weapons fire.
RON: [00:37:57] Had us, intensive seconds, the enemy fire engulfed every crew position in a hail of AK 47 rifle and machine gun fire. Fergie and Tiny T were rocking and rolling, firing them M60 machine guns furiously to subdue the enemy fire. Fergie was shooting at muzzle flashes in the jungle and watching fuel spew from punctured fuel cell on the right side of the aircraft under his foot. At one point, Brady yelled over the intercom, Fergie’s hit, though I was at the controls and maintaining the aircraft at a stationary hover. I looked over my shoulder into the cargo compartment. One quick look. Just an instance. Told the whole story, Fergie was on the cargo compartment floor flailing around and Brady on top of him to keep Fergie from slipping out the open cargo door over a medevac. There was blood all over the place and what looked like brains splattered on Fergie’s two piece no max flight suit, as well as brains and skull pieces splattered on the soundproof blanket surrounding the transmission compartment. Two enemy rifle rounds pierced the left windscreen two seconds later, both rounds missed my face by only inches. They then exited through the greenhouse Plexiglas and the aircraft’s skin above my seat. I remember vividly the hot metal jackets dropping in my lap and burning a sensitive part of my male anatomy. The bullets also created capillary wounds on my face, making the bleeding face look worse than it really was.
RON: [00:39:46] At this point, Okie. also came on the controls, ensuring that at least one pilot would be at the controls if the other was wounded or killed. Enemy semi-automatic rifle fire continued to slam into our medevac with the unmistakable thud sound when the bullet hit the aircraft, with rounds coming up through the floor onto Okie’s seat, piercing the right jump door and barely missing Brady and Tiny T. There was no safe place in our helicopter. No location provided better protection. With Okie at the controls, he pulled up from the jungle and departed as fast as possible. I had already coordinated with Blue Max so that there wasn’t an accidental mid-air collision between Blue Max and our medevac. And landing back at fire support base Mace, I knew I’d have to unlock somehow and slide back the armored side plate, allowing me to exit my armored seat. Normally, the crew chief would be on the skid shoe to unlock the armored plate and slide it back for the pilot. But with Fergie’s brains all over the cargo compartment, this wasn’t an option. As if by magic, I looked to the left and Fergie stood on the Skid Toe, unlocking the armored plate and sliding it aft. Fergie was dead. How could this be? It turned out that the first Cav had a shortage of ammo belt guides for the M60 machine guns, the ammo belt guide function is to direct the linked ammo belt into the machine gun receiver not having a belt guide.
RON: [00:41:35] Fergie knew a C-ration can would be a suitable solution. Fergie had decided if he got shot down and had to survive an escape in the jungle, he would use a full C-ration can more specifically a full C-ration can of franks and beans. Either the heat from the belted ammo crossing the C-ration can while Fergie shot or an enemy bullet that hit the C-ration can the can exploded, the exploded contents of the can left Fergie splattered with franks and beans and a generous portion of army food splattering the soundproof blanket on the transmission compartment. Fergie thought the enemy had a bead on him, having already received shrapnel wounds from any bullets hitting very close to him. Fergie decided to leap from the hellhole into the cargo compartment. Meanwhile, under the impression, Fergie had a serious wound. Brady announced that Fergie was hit over the intercom. Brady dove on top of Fergie to keep his flailing body from undulating out the open left cargo door to jump into the cargo compartment, disconnected Fergie’s intercom wire. So Fergie could not tell Brady he was all right. The blood on the cargo floor was from the previous mercy mission, and the brains were nothing more than an exploded C-ration can of franks and beans. And from then on, Fergie was dubbed with the catchphrase Fergs and beans.
HOST: [00:43:21] Thanks for checking out the official podcast from the founders of The Wall in Washington, D.C., who publish a new episode every two weeks, so be sure to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Full Interview with Terry McCarl
- VVMF Topic Page on Medics & Corpsmen – https://www.vvmf.org/topics/Medics-and-Corpsmen/
- VVMF Registry – http://registry.vvmf.org/
- 15th Medevac Battalion Association – https://15thmedbnassociation.org/
- Full Interview with Terry McCarl – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-vUl1eRl7A
- The Wall That Heals – https://www.vvmf.org/The-Wall-That-Heals/
- YouTube Echoes of the Vietnam War Interview playlist – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLK63b6Cn53unMMj-yZYEch0RuYy1YN1zl