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Vietnam War Era medics receive hero’s welcome at Fort Sam Houston

| AMEDDC&S, HRCoE Public Affairs | Sept. 23, 2015


Vietnam War veteran medics visiting Fort Sam Houston Sept. 12 received a hero’s welcome from Soldier medics, who lined each side of the entrance to MacArthur Parade Pavilion waving U.S. flags and applauding as they entered the pavilion.

After they entered, Maj. Gen. Steve Jones, commanding general, U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School, U.S. Army Health Readiness Center of Excellence and Sgt. Maj. Andrew Rhoades, AMEDDC&S, HRCoE, were waiting to greet and honor them.

The Vietnam War-era veterans served with Company C, 23rd Medical Battalion, attached to the 196th Light  Infantry Battalion, American  Division and were in San Antonio to celebrate their 12th reunion.

Jones and Rhoades greeted the veterans and thanked them for their legacy, lessons learned and the contributions providing medical care to wounded comrades during combat operations.

“The combat medics have raised the survivability rate on the battlefield to 92 percent, which means that 8,000 young men and women who would have died in previous wars were able to return to their families,” Jones said.

“As the general said, the 8,000 who would have died in previous wars are alive because of your legacy, because of the lessons learned that we garnered from the Vietnam War.” said Rhoades, also a combat medic. “Thank you for what you did, and I know you had some rough conditions back then, you are the combat multiplier that allowed the warfighter the comfort of being able to do what they did, knowing that if something bad happened, you were there for them and I thank you for that.”

Jones and Rhoades presented each veteran with a certificate of appreciation that included the phrase, “You set the standard answering the call ‘medic’ and allowed those who have followed in your footsteps to earn the title ‘Doc.’” Each veteran also received the Army pin along with the certificate.

Members of the Sgt. Audie Murphy Club, as well as and 232nd Medical Battalion Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Shanklin and medics assigned to the battalion were on hand to welcome the veterans. The 232nd Medical Battalion is responsible for the training of all newly assigned combat medics.

Sgt. 1st Class Jesse Kaplan, Directorate of Combat Medic instructor, 232nd Medical Battalion, along with several medic instructors and young medic trainees assigned to the battalion, introduced some of the new equipment now used to train combat medics to the Vietnam War veterans.

“There are lots of changes – the way we train our medics, it all goes back to what you did, how our medics have evolved over the years, tactics, and procedures we are doing today,” Rhoades said to the Vietnam War veteran medics.

The veteran medics continued their visit at the U.S. Army Medical Department Museum and enjoyed lunch at the Slagel Dining Facility.

The Soldiers of Company C, 23rd Medical Battalion, operated aid stations located between Da Nang and Chu Lai, Vietnam. In 1968, the company was located on Hill 63 called Landing Zone Baldy near Da Nang, Vietnam, then moved in Dec. 1969 to Forward Fire Base – called Hawk Hill 29 – closer to Chu Lai, Vietnam.

1st Lt. Roger Coffin, whose duties involved administration of the emergency room at Hawk Hill, spoke briefly about the men about their experiences. He said they all great men and he was proud to be a part of it.

“Hawk Hill was a fire base, a clearing station type of unit that received combat casualties within ten minutes where the unit had direct action with the enemy,” Coffin said.

He said the helicopters would continually rotate on the pad while the medics stabilized the patient for evacuation.

“I was lucky to learn tracheotomy and chest tubes because we were shorthanded. The medics here performed all kinds of surgeries that normally a physician would perform,” Coffin continued.

He said no matter what their mission was and when there were mass casualties, everyone helped out with gauze bandages and to control shock.

Spc. Ivan Donovan, a medic at Hawk Hill said, “When we didn’t get casualties, we served the Vietnamese with some medical assistance.”

“I was able to assist with the birth of two babies. When the word got out about the births, all the Soldiers would come out just to see the baby,” said Donovan, who served from Oct. 1969 to Nov. 1970. He now lives in Inglewood, N.J.

Coffin said it was the best year of his life and he learned that the United States Soldier is the best Soldier in the world. He congratulated the young medics on hand and said, “I don’t have to ask any questions, you are the best of the best. I salute you all.”