Down and Out in the 8th Field Hospital
Avionics & Bandit Gunner
I remember being brought into the 8th Field Hospital in Nha Trang, RVN after being shot by a psychotic door gunner in my own platoon. It was Halloween 1968. I had been shot in the left thigh and the right shoulder, treated on the scene then transported to the hospital. As I was carried in and placed on a table I begged the medics to knock me out but they told me they needed to take x-rays first. I looked down at my left leg. It was attached but it didn’t work. It wiggled around, something like a wet noodle. My left thigh was mangled and bleeding and much of the muscle had been blown away. I reached up and grabbed a Medic’s shirt and asked him to promise they wouldn’t amputate. He told me to take it easy. He told me I’d be okay. The place was busy, kind of like a scene from the movie, MASH, but no one was telling jokes and no one was laughing. There were other wounded soldiers there and the doctors, nurses and technicians were busy and caring for them as well.
Each time they repositioned me on the x-ray table I felt the bones grate and grind in my leg and shoulder. One of the 7.62 mm rounds had shattered and pretty much taken out my scapula. Parts of the bullet had entered my right lung and each time I coughed, a mix of blood and air sprayed out of my mouth. I felt pretty sure I was dying. I wanted to be knocked out but at the same time feared I would never wake up.
But, I did wake up, and in terrible pain. I wasn’t the John Wayne type (at least not anymore) and I immediately asked a nurse for morphine. I recall her telling me to quiet down, that there were others in worse shape, and I wasn’t the only one who’d ever been shot. She was right of course, but at the time, I didn’t care what she said. I wanted relief. I fired a few obscenities at her and she finally gave me something.
I’ve looked back and remembered what it was like in that hospital. There were guys with limbs blown off, burns, and gruesome shrapnel wounds. I recall a pilot who’s Huey had been hit in the chin bubble by a B-40 rocket. The round had entered the helicopter low and from the front. There is no armor in that location and the pilots are extremely vulnerable from that angle. As a result of the explosion, his legs were gone, his privates blown off, and his fingers, hands, forearms and face were badly burned. He was the only one aboard who survived. Night after night he cried and moaned in pain. My wounds paled in comparison to his and I wept for him.
The medical personnel at the Nha Trang hospital and all the medical people who served in Vietnam are true heroes. They went about their business each day of saving lives through endless streams of gruesome casualties. They gave so much of themselves in treating and comforting the wounded and dying. I had seen Delta medics in action and the results of their work during extractions etc, but on this night, their skill and dedication became more personal for me than ever before. From the Special Forces medic who first treated me in the Bandits hooch to all of those personnel who cared for me afterward, the dedication never wavered. They saved my life and the lives of many others that night and I wish now that I could personally thank each and every one of them .
I have long forgotten my own physical pain from that night but the sounds of that night remain with me. When I think of all those wounded men I am touched again by their anguish and suffering. They were brave souls, all of them.
Paul J. Greiner