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Dog's Best Friend ...
K-9 Medevac Flight from Dong Tam to Tan Son Nhut AB, Saigon
Samson's handler was on R&R somewhere and had no idea that his best friend was fighting for his life!
"Would someone please help me? Please?" It was then that an angel -- a nurse -- yelled,
"Get the hell out of my way!" and shoved her way through the crowd.

by: Don Ray,
212th M.P. Company
Detachment / Soc Trang Army Airfield

1968
(© 2000)



 

One of the most touching moments in my tour in Vietnam. I made the journey in late 1968 -- probably in October. I was with the 212th M.P. Company at a small detachment at the Soc Trang Army Airfield.

Countless times in my 25+ years as a reporter, producer, author and teacher, I've looked into the eyes of people I was interviewing and realized that they weren't there with me -- they had taken a mental journey into the past. They were somewhere else. I eventually learned to remain as silent as possible so that they could stay in that place -- any questions would quickly bring them back to the present.

During the memorial presentation on Monday, I found myself in one of those trances -- I was in another place, in another time ....

The strange thing is that I wasn't with my dog Fritz, I was with a 105-pound German shepherd named Samson. I was back on a gunship in the middle of the night on our way from Dong Tam to Saigon. I was trying to take Samson to the veterinary hospital at Tan Son Nhut Airfield so a real veterinarian might keep him alive. Samson was suffering from encephalitis -- he was burning with fever and having trouble breathing through the muzzle. I had tied his paws together to keep him from trying to stand up.

Samson's handler was on R&R somewhere and had no idea that his best friend was fighting for his life. All I could think of was my own dog in a similar situation. How far would someone else go to save my dog Fritz? I was determined to get Samson to a place where someone could help him.

It had all begun a few hours earlier when someone discovered Samson nearly passed out in his kennel. Only a day or two earlier I had been "volunteered" to be the acting-vet tech at our little 12-dog detachment in Soc Trang, south of the Mekong Delta. The nearest veterinarian was in Can Tho. On the phone, he told us to get the temperature down (we put him in the dip tank with ice water) and rush him to Saigon. A local dust-off pilot agreed to take us as far as he could -- to the airfield at Dong Tam. It was after midnight, but I still insisted that the CQ runner awaken the officer-of-the-day. I don't know how I did it, but I convinced him to authorize a gunship to take us the rest of the way.

The pilot and copilot were not happy about the run. They were reluctant to help me load the stretcher into the copter. Of course, there were no side doors and no way to tie the stretcher down. I sat on the floor and held onto the back of the pilot's seat as we took off on a most frightening ride. As they'd bank to the right or the left, the stretcher would slide toward the open door. It took all my strength to keep the stretcher and me from falling out.

We eventually landed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base at an evac hospital for people. Two Vietnamese ambulance drivers were too afraid to load the dog into their 3/4 ambulance. They finally helped me and then drove us to the triage area.

Two more Vietnamese workers were equally shocked to see a dog patient and not a man. One of them helped me carry the stretcher to one of the empty racks in what seemed like an ocean of occupied stretchers. Soon about 15-20 medical personnel were crowded around us pointing, laughing, and talking.

It was about that time Samson completely stopped breathing! All I could think of was doing that leg-lift-chest-push artificial respiration. But his front paws were tied together with gauze. I couldn't get them untied. All I could think about was Samson's handler coming home from R&R to find his dog was dead.

Everyone around me were just spectators -- amused spectators! By this time I was crying.

"Would someone please help me? Please?"

It was then that an angel -- a nurse -- yelled, "Get the hell out of my way!" and shoved her way through the crowd. "What can I do?" she asked. I told her I couldn't untie the gauze. She reached in a pocket a pulled out some scissors and freed Samson's front legs. She lifted his right leg and I pushed on his rib cage. Within two minutes he started breathing again. At almost that moment, some vet techs from the veterinary hospital arrived in a jeep and I helped them load Samson into it. It happened so quickly that
I didn't have a chance to thank that beautiful angel. She had vanished.

By sunrise it was clear Samson was going to survive. I knew I could face Samson's handler.

 

Decades later, as I sat listening to the poignant comments at the War Dogs! Memorial dedication, I looked at all of the guys around me and I could feel the love each one had for his dog and the lengths they would have gone to save the life of a their dog or the dog of any other handler.

After all, I'm convinced every dog handler who attended the ceremony was able to be there because of their dogs -- and maybe because of the dogs of their fellow handlers. And I wondered how many lives Samson went on to save when he went back to work. And I wonder what ever became of that beautiful
nurse. If she only knew the importance of her work that night.

Thanks to all of you who worked so hard to make the
War Dogs! Memorial, March Field Museum (K-9 Handlers Attending Dedication) become a reality -- and for letting me take a journey back to that most frightening time.

Don Ray

 

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