I correspond regularly with a man who was a navy corpsman with the Marines in Vietnam. Marines don’t have medics that go with them into combat. Navy corpsman do the job. They’re right there in the middle of the fighting on the battlefield and do all they can to take care of the wounded.
According to my research, some 10,000 corpsmen served in Vietnam. Of those, 645 were killed in action and another 3,300 were wounded. They are credited with saving thousands of lives.
In a recent letter to my corpsman friend, I told him about the picture of my combat boots on display at the Palette and the Page, an art/book shop (see https://www.facebook.com/patti.paulus.7/posts/10214344159217895). In the display, at the bottom of the picture is a quote from my novel, Last of the Annamese: “Do what you have to do, whatever it takes.”
Those words were the motto of the men facing the fall of Saigon in the book. Put beneath the picture of a man’s combat boots, they implied that the owner had done what it took and had given up his life on the battlefield.
That was the reaction of my corpsman friend. He said that Americans who have never faced combat have no idea of the sacrifices combatants make. Young people these days are not required to do military duty and never even think about being willing to give up their lives for their country or to save the life of the man fighting next to them.
“You and I,” he said, “we have to think about it.” We lived it. What we went through, saw before us, and participated in is burned into our souls. Our memories of the unspeakable savagery of combat never fade. We have to learn to cope.
My corpsman friend and I are alike in one respect. Neither of us was on the battlefield as a combatant. He was there to save the lives of the wounded; I was there to provide intelligence on the enemy. I know my friend was armed. I was, too—I carried a .38 revolver, but I never fired it on the battlefield. He was wounded in combat; I was not.
Despite the roles we played, we were there. We saw close hand the brutality of combat and the grisly deaths of our buddies.
We both write about those experiences because we have to.
God bless and preserve those who never were subjected to combat. May their lives always be free of unbearable memories.