Phu Bai
3rd Med. Bn. Triage
1st Marine Division

Christmas Eve, 1967

If I could just remember his name ...

by Paul Scimone
L/Cpl., H&S co. 3rd Med. Bn.,
Phu Bai, RVN
© 2002

 


I've never encountered a veteran from 'Nam who had total and clear recollection of the names of guys they served with in 'Nam for up to (and over ) a year. It seems to be the most common disease shared by nearly all Vietnam vets. Several personal incidents remain imbedded in my mind as clearly as if they had happened only yesterday, and yet, I can't recall one single name.

There is one name in particular I wish I could remember, 'cause I sat up with him all night waiting for him to die, praying for him to die, wanting him to be at peace. Maybe I was wishing it for myself so I could go back to my hooch, close my eyes, and dream about being back home with my family and friends.

As the company driver/litter-bearer for 3rd Med. Bn. triage in Phu Bai from 9/67 to 9/68, duties included driving ambulance, taking the docs (corpsmen and surgeons) wherever they needed to go, transporting the KIA's to graves registration, etceteras. Seeing dead, twisted, and torn young men was a daily occurrence. It was somehow easy to become complacent and detached about what you saw and how you felt. After all ... "better him than me", right?

On Christmas Eve of 1967, things were relatively quiet around our area. I can remember only one incoming med-evac coming in around 9 p.m. with just one casualty: a 2/26 marine who'd been shot "through'n through" (head-shot). It didn't take long for the docs to determine that he was brain-dead, even though they were amazed at his almost normal vitals. The docs instructed me to wheel him back to S&D ( a shock and debriedment room) on a gurney, and from where I was sure I'd be taking him to Graves the next morning. Just leave him in that dark cool room all night, and he'll slip away quietly and peacefully. After all, he couldn't feel anything ... wasn't aware of anyone or anything around him, so what's the diff?

I went back to my hooch and BS'd with my buds. We sat around quietly that Christmas Eve night talking about family, girlfriends and wives, what we were going to do when we got home, and stuff like that. Everyone took a turn at telling their teary-eyed stories and having a good cry with each other.

I don't know if it was that I was so drunk, had the holiday blues, or what, but I found myself wandering back over to a pretty quiet and dark triage, and feeling compelled to check in on the young marine in S&D. I suddenly felt compelled to stay with him. It was Christmas eve, he was alone ... I was alone.

I thought of him laying there alone in the dark, left to die -- it just didn't set right with me. I wouldn't want to die that way -- not on CHRISTMAS EVE! I held his still warm hand and began "talking" softly to him, telling him it was okay to let go ... head for the light ... anything I could think of that would be appropriate to tell a dying man. I dozed off several times, cursing myself for not being more attentive. One time after nodding off, I'd have sworn that he squeezed my hand, as if to say "... Hey, you were doing fine ... don't go to sleep on me now!"

It was around 6:30 a.m. when a corpsman came in and was startled to find me there with this guy, holding his hand no less. The corpsman had a hint of morbidity in his voice 'till I told him why I'd spent the night, then he started crying, and left us alone.

We packed him off to Đà Nẵng Air Base that day. I have no idea what happened to him after that, but he still had strong vitals when we put him on the med-evac. I wish I could have remembered his name. I'd promised him I would let his folks know that he wasn't alone on what I believe was his last Christmas Eve. Like so many other promises I'd made to myself or others ( keep in touch, etc.), once I left 'Nam, all was nearly forgotten. Do we want it this way?

My memories of 'Nam come to me in the form of dreams and nightmares. I find myself trying to escape from a bodybag, or trying to scream out that "I'm not dead!" No one ever hears me.

If only I could remember his name ....

L/Cpl. Paul Dean Scimone,
H&S co. 3rd Med. Bn.,
Phu Bai, RVN.

 

1967 Christmas card handed out by

 

 

 

Vietnam Christmas Card: 1967 Christmas card handed out by 1st Marine Division for men to send home.

 

Paul: Thank you for staying with that unknown marine on Christmas Eve those decades ago. Of the nearly 1,000 stories I have posted, I find your loyalty and kindness to a fellow veteran one of the most touching and rewarding, and in the spirit of what I have hoped for 7 years to accomplish with War Stories .., by bringing out the humanity and camaraderie of young men at war. Your special gift to that dying young man, is a gift to all veterans who read of it this day.

Don Poss,
Webmaster, War Stories

 


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