Heat Casualties

Friday, July 5, 1968

The sun’s heat was relentless and combined with the high humidity we were all “out of gas.”  Any little effort would cause us to sweat.  There were no weather or temperature instruments, and Doc’s glass mercury thermometers were maxed out at 108 degrees.

A truck pulled into the Kilo compound, coming from the direction of Hill 52.  The driver yelled, “Heat Casualties,” and we carefully unloaded 14 Marines.  Most of them couldn’t walk, and two were unconscious.

The medical tent was now full, and Doc Furman made a quick assessment of each patient.  We had all hands on deck in the med tent, and we tried to cool the Marines by fanning them and giving them sips of water to re-hydrate.

I was working on one of the unconscious Marines and noted to Furman, “his skin is dry and too hot to touch.”  Also, his breathing was labored.  Doc said, “Carry the cot to the river and cool him off SLOWLY.”  At the river we set the cot down and splashed water on him.  The canvas cot became saturated and acted like a desert water bag, cooling by evaporation.  Returning to the med tent to get him out of the sun, the Marine went into convulsions; he was cramping and his stomach was rigid.

Captain Cavagnol came into the tent and announced, “Medevac is ten minutes out, everyone on your feet.”  Twelve Marines stood up and walked out toward the LZ.  As we carried the two cots out, Cavagnol ordered the others back into the med tent . . . there was only room for two, and the walking casualties would have to wait.

As the Chinook helicopter landed, a crewman exited and said, “NO COTS.”  I lifted the Marine up and over my shoulders (we had trained for this, but I never thought it would happen).  Running up the ramp of the helicopter, the Crew Chief was using hand signals, urging me to carry the Marine forward.  The deck was covered with wounded and some poncho-wrapped dead Marines.  I tried my best not to step on the ponchos, but it was impossible.  I laid my casualty down as the Crew Chief was yelling, “GET OUT, GET OUT!”

I literally ran over the dead Marines on my way out and was free from the helicopter as it took off.  As I was walking back to the med tent, Captain Cavagnol put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Good job, now go to the river and cool off.”

At the beach I took off my boots and waded into the water with my trousers on and sat down.  Someone tapped my arm (it was Trinh) and said, “I wash” pointing to my pants.  I took them off under water, and after they had been cleaned, she laid them next to my boots as I sat in the river.

The river was now thrashing with naked Marines (the heat casualties), and I got dressed and retreated to my hooch recliner.  Someone had issued the noon C-rats, and I got “Beans and Frankfurters.”  I ate the peach halves and laid down in my fighting hole and cried.  I was bothered by walking on the dead Marines . . . we never trained for that scenario.

Next Edition:  The Thuong Duc Market

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