My Father's Lives: During & After the Vietnam War
My Father was drafted into the army in 1968, at the young age of 18. The war in Vietnam marked one of America’s worst attempts to liberate a country in its history. Over fifty thousand American soldiers were killed in the jungles of Vietnam. My father on the other hand survived this bloody ordeal. Upon joining the army he was chosen to become a medic.
The beginning of his difficult ordeal was four months of basic training. Running, weight training, firing range and basic medical studies was his daily routine. The underlying purpose of basic training was to develop discipline and courage. My father and his fellow soldiers were constantly beaten and verbally abused which were common methods of forcing discipline upon a soldier in those days. After many months of training, studying and testing, my father became very efficient at taking orders and performing basic medical operations under stressful conditions. After the four months ended the time had come, when the soldiers were fit, ready and disciplined to go to war.
"the time had come when, the soldiers were fit, ready and disciplined to go to war."
Although his basic training was tough, his biggest test in life was yet to come. His position as a medic during the Vietnam war was a decision, which in many ways gave him the idea and opportunity to become a doctor later in life. When he was 38 years old, he decided to become an emergency physician. He used to say basic training and medical school were quite similar except for the rifles, gunfire and daily beatings. Upon joining medical school he immediately realized how difficult it was going to be. But with his refined ability from basic training to learn quickly and take orders he managed to push through ten strenuous years of medical school. A feat, which he said, was 10 times harder than basic training.
When I imagine my father rolling around in the mud as gunfire and mortars went off over his head I can only visualize a funny image. I picture him in his white lab coat holding an M-16 machine gun, with a cigar in his mouth and a stethoscope draped around his neck. An image bias to the fact that I have never seen him wear the army issued uniform of green camouflage, helmet, M-16 and dog tags.
He told me he had to carry over ninety pounds of equipment everywhere he went. Having to carry all this equipment around the jungles of Vietnam with little or no roads to travel by, the only way to get around was by helicopter. The medics used the helicopters as a way to commute to and from the battlefield to evacuate the wounded soldiers. During one of the rescue operations in Laos the helicopter my father was in got shot down. The pilot, my father and a few others were injured. An Eagle Dust Off ship tried to rescue them, but had to abort as the pilot was injured when it came under heavy fire. An hour later another helicopter managed to land and rescued my father and the Dust Off crew. Even though my father was injured he did not notice until they were evacuated and reached base camp, where he collapsed in pain. During this operation he had to carry the wounded pilot to safety as they waited for the rescue helicopter to arrive. For his action of bravery and courage my father received the Silver Star as well as the Purple Heart for the injury he received. My father spent one whole year in the jungles of Vietnam, traveling by helicopter every day, staring across at his friend’s faces, which were veiled by the fear of death and pain. Not knowing when the next mission, ambush or death would come my father and his fellow soldiers were always afraid, wet and exhausted. Many times I tried to imagine what they thought of life after the war. My father said none of them were ever the same. The extremely loud explosions, violently bloody scenes and the loss of friends were images the soldiers would have to live with for the rest of their lives. The bond that develops between men in combat does not exist anywhere else. “More than friends, more than brothers” my father would say.
"The bond that develops between men in combat does not exist anywhere else."
I wondered if my father’s daily routine seemed boring after the war. As his commute to work would be in a Toyota Corolla which travelled at 70 miles an hour. And the action for the day was stopping for red lights and old ladies crossing the street. Then I think to myself, he is not bored but grateful to live in a world without the fear of being killed or having to kill, what a relief it must be. And now he can walk freely from his car to the hospital without the possibility or fear of stepping on a landmine or tripwire he is safe, happy and relaxed now.
My father’s whole life has been surrounded by birth and death. The fear and nervousness of trying to save a man’s life in the hospital is frightening, but to save a man’s life in combat arouses a fear for his life as well as your own. Vietnam was a traumatic experience for my father. After the war even if a firecracker exploded nearby he would dive to the ground in fear it took many years for the pain and nightmares to vanish.
My father used to tell me, the main difference between his life now and his life in Vietnam was in Vietnam his job and choice was not only to save lives but to take life as well. And now being a certified doctor his motivation, work and oath is only to save and preserve life. The fear of having a man’s life in your hands in any circumstance be it in the bloody battlefields of Vietnam or in the comfort of a hospital, is truly a beautiful and frightening experience.
"Truly a beautiful and frightening experience."
© 2017 takasugi