It is strange how a memory can be lost for 50 years and suddenly out of nowhere a flashback can appear and you are back in Vietnam.
I have been writing stories on Vietnam for more than four years now, and I thought there was nothing else I could write that would add to those stories. After all, one battle or one patrol in Vietnam was not much different than another. More than anything, I did not want to be redundant in my writing. I think, however, that flashbacks are topics worth covering. I feel I must pursue this recent occurrence.
This flashback was spontaneous and lasted a few seconds. I was involuntarily transported back in time. Even though it only lasted for a short time, a lot happened during that period. I was not only remembering the event; I was living it. I was there, surrounded by images, smells, sounds, feelings and facts. The sad story is “I don’t live in Vietnam, but Vietnam lives in me.”
This flashback involved a battle with the Viet Cong in Nui Dat Son, near Hill 55. It was a fierce battle, and we sustained several casualties. I especially remember treating a young Black Marine. We were in a rice paddy, and the water was covering the lower half of his body. He was in pain because of a gunshot wound in his upper left leg, and he was yelling in agony. It was difficult for me to find his exact wound location because of the low light conditions, his dark skin and the muddy rice paddy water that covered and camouflaged his wound.
All this time, we were receiving rounds from the V.C. After a few bullets splashed close to us, I knew I had to get this soldier out of the area as soon as possible. I grabbed him from behind and put my arm around his chest so I could drag him to a nearby dike. A couple of Marines witnessed my struggle and helped me pull him to the back side of the dike.
Once we were settled, I grabbed his dog tag and started writing on a casualty card. I noticed this Marine was only 18 years old. He had only been out of high school one year. While I was filling out the card, the other Marines were securing an area for medical evacuation to arrive so this soldier could be transported to the battalion aid station. After I wrote all the pertinent information on the card, a couple of Marines helped me move the wounded man to the dust-off area.
While we were waiting for the medevac helicopter to arrive, I tried to calm this young Marine down, as he was still confused and in a lot of pain. He was cussing God for what had happened to him. Actually, I remember several wounded Marines blaming God for their injuries. I never did understand why they never blamed Satan.
These were the darkest hours this Marine had ever experienced. His injury, pain and fear of dying were overwhelming. I tried to calm him down and witness to him, knowing this could be his last chance to accept the Lord as his personal savior. I tried to be strong and positive. As a corpsman, I knew well I could be his last contact in this life.
Obviously, I do not remember exactly what I said to this young man, as it has been more than 50 years since this event. However, I clearly remember parts of what I said. It is particularly important that I get this right — or as close to the truth as I can — because this next paragraph of my story is central. This is the reason I am writing my story — I want the reader to understand the importance for me to answer the Marine’s question.
He asked me why God would allow this to happen to him. I told him that, one day, God may reveal the answer to him. I told him even if God did not provide him with an answer; he would still have to deal with it. What you must remember, I said, is that even if you do not get the answer you want or need, or if you get no answer at all, you are still in God’s hand.
After a while, we heard the whop-whop-whop of the Huey arriving. Four Marines picked up the litter and transported this injured soldier to the chopper. I never heard another word on how he was doing, but then we never did hear anything from any casualties that were evacuated. They were either transported back to the states or reassigned to another company.
After many years, I still question why bad things happen, but I know we live in a world of uncertainties. At least now I believe I am much wiser than I was in my early years. We witnessed the trauma back then but overlooked the grace. Adversity is difficult, but in time, it is common to find that the more we come to know, the more we seem not to know.
We must remember that when bad things happen, Satan and his minions want to keep us from knowing why they happen. It is Satan who can spur us to shake our fist at God and to blame him for tragedy. Often, it is not that God does not provide answers, it is that we do not understand what he is telling us.
Hospital Corpsman Master Chief Ronald C. Mosbaugh served in Vietnam in 1966-1967. He is the author of “Marine Down, Corpsman Up.” He lives in Joplin. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.