Bravo! The Project - A Documentary Film

Posts Tagged ‘Corpsmen’

Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh

September 26, 2018

Michael E. O’Hara Muses On Navy Corpsmen and Marines

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FLEET MARINE FORCE

(FMF)

Navy Corpsman

In today’s guest blog, a reprint of an entry from January 2016, BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara muses on Navy Corpsmen and Marines

The latter part of 2015 was not especially kind to me. I had a serious surgery in September and in November I suddenly fell ill once again and suffered a somewhat sustained period of time in the VA hospital, about 45 days all told. I am now home and greatly improved, Thank You very much. I mention that only because it reminded me of a time long ago and the special folks who endeared themselves to me.

Never, in our glorious past has any one group of individuals EVER earned the respect and the admiration of Marines across the globe than our FMF Navy Corpsmen, more commonly referred to as “Doc.” Most folks have no idea what these brave men have endured just to be called Doc. They train with the Marines, they deploy with the Marines, and they patrol with the Marines. They are as much a Marine as anyone can be without actually enlisting. Not a patrol goes through the wire without Doc.

Doc is everywhere. He was on the beach at Tarawa and on every island campaign in the Pacific. There was even a Doc who helped raise the flag on Iwo Jima. Doc was at the “Frozen Chosin” Reservoir when Chesty Puller’s men were withdrawing through that awful frozen (-30) tundra of North Korea. Doc not only tended to the wounded but was required to deal with many horrific amputations due to frostbite. Sometimes they had a real M.D. to help, but not very often.

Doc was in Lebanon in 1958 and again in 1983 when the Marine Barracks was attacked and over 200 Marines were lost. Doc is everywhere. Doc has been to all the little unknown conflicts most people have long since forgotten. Doc also went to a place that became known as “The Nam.”

2 January 1968. Bravo Company, 1/26 had been deployed Oct-Dec to 881 South. When we left the hill the day after Christmas, 1967, we ran a long operation up the Rao Quan River to the north. It was January when we got back and were assigned to the combat base. The NVA had broken a truce (SOOPRISE) and we were called back to the base. We sacked in with Alpha Company on the north side of the runway. By midnight, Danny Horton and I were delirious. We had not used our purification tablets which made our water non-potable, and as a result were really sick.

John “Doc” Cicala, US Navy Corpsman with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines at Khe Sanh.

Our platoon sergeant, Staff Sergeant Gus Alvarado, was dispatched to tend to us and we were taken straight away to a tent. A firefight had just erupted with members of Lima Company close to the tent we were in. I was so sick I never moved from the table. Everyone else was on the ground. This was the beginning of my very first hospital stay, if that is what you would call it.

I think I was there 16 days, maybe. They finally said we had amoebic dysentery. It can kill you if not properly treated. But Doc was there. This tent was known as the BAS, Battalion Aid Station. It was a dark, sandbagged hole in the ground. I don’t remember much of the first ten days but I know Doc took wonderful care of me. Soon I was discharged from BAS and sent back to Bravo. I was very weak.

I would see or hear about Doc’s brave actions many more times during the Siege. You see, the reason Marines love Doc is because they know that if they take a bullet, if they lose a limb to a mortar round and call for Doc, he will come, just like he has always done. It makes no matter how heavy the volley, Doc will charge into the guns to tend to his wounded Marines. He has always done so and he continues to do so to this day. Make no mistake, Doc for sure is one of our most unsung Heroes.

Doc Cicala from our 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, is a fine example. Shot through one of his lungs and with grenade fragments to his groin, he still continued on the day of the 25 February ambush doing what he could to help guide others who were literally crawling back to the perimeter on their stomachs.

Second Platoon’s Doc Thomas Hoody, who spent many nights braving the incoming artillery patching up Marines, would visit me in the night twice during the month of March to check on my wounds.

I am sure the Docs in first platoon showed every bit as much raw courage and bravery as well. But one of the most searing moments of my tour came on 30 March when Doc and I met up close and very personal when our roles were reversed in the middle of one of the bloodiest damn firefights of the entire war.

Richard Blanchfield had served better than 6 years as a United States Marine. He got out, enlisted in the United States Navy and became a Doc. He was a replacement for the Third Platoon on 30 March. He had only been there a few days at the most. I didn’t even know him.

By the time I met him, the entire company was at “Fix Bayonets” and we were definitely engaging Charley. In fact, we were all in a virtual dead run to get these guys who had killed so many of our fellow Marines. Doc Blanchfield was well ahead of me. He had already tended to a wounded Marine and had just got up on the edge of a bomb crater when mortars simply rained down on him and the whole command group as well.

When I reached the edge of the crater, he was about halfway down and sliding in the loose dirt. There were two dead Marines and numerous dead NVA in the crater. Those two Marines certainly earned their pay that day. Doc had, by this time, stuck 2 morphine needles in his own leg. His arm was nearly blown off at the shoulder. At first I was in as much shock as he was, but I regained my composure and began to tie him off. After slowing down the bleeding, I tied two battle dressings together and wrapped him all around so he at least wouldn’t do any more damage to what was left of his arm. I thought he would die.

Guest blogger Michael E. O’Hara at Khe Sanh

The battle was still in full assault so I laid him back and comforted him as well as I could and left him. I have not seen him since but he did survive and miraculously his arm was saved.

After getting involved with the Khe Sanh Veterans in 1992 I found out Doc Blanchfield was living in Oceanside, California. We talk once a year on the phone. He has never failed to send me a card for each and every holiday since that first call. I still have not seen him. He was very pained by what happened to him and I understand. He did say Thank You that first call.

Like I said earlier, I was in the hospital over this past Veterans Day holiday. Most folks understand that 10 November is the Marine Corps Birthday, so we were also celebrating 240 years of glorious history. That is a very long time for sure, a time in which we have come to celebrate the lives and courageous acts of many from our ranks. I could write pages, even a book or two recounting all of our Heroes for sure.

A wheelchair-bound Marine (a volunteer) was my only visitor on this Marine Corps Birthday. He had lost both legs in Vietnam. We had a grand conversation. He brought me candy, S/F.

I have read a great deal about the wars of the last ten years and the men who have gone in my stead now that I am old and grey. Don’t ever let anyone tell you this generation is lost. I am just as proud of our young Marines today as I ever have been.

And never forget this: Wherever you find these Marines, you will find Doc, ready, willing and able to charge into the guns if necessary. He will, as he has always done, come when he hears the word Doc.

Guest blogger Michael E. O’Hara.

Semper Fidelis to our Navy Corpsmen everywhere you serve.

Michael E. O’Hara served with 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines at Khe Sanh during 1967 and 1968. He earned three Purple Hearts.

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Documentary Film,Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Marines,Vietnam War

December 3, 2012

On War, Marines and BRAVO!

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Guest blogger and BRAVO! supporter Cobb Hammond muses on the film and associated issues.

I have now watched the movie/documentary Bravo at least for the 20th time! It is interesting to note that these young men, most only 18-20 years of age, went through this crucible, and most—the ones who were not severely wounded or killed, continued their tours of duty in very precarious duty, which is not naturally covered within the scope of this documentary. No doubt these men went through some of the most hazardous conditions of any grunt units within the context of the entire Vietnam conflict.

Through some further reading I have done on the respective battalions at Khe Sanh, all had literally life-and-death struggles with the NVA prior to and not too long after the siege. There was no ‘long-term’ rest and recuperation time. Many went back to their battalion or regimental bases, caught a few days or a week, and went back at it, usually in the conditions one associates with the “I-Corps” area, typically fighting a well-led, and sometimes fanatical enemy that in that area of Vietnam was very good at what it did.

What has struck me while watching this well-focused and received homage to the Marines and Corpsmen at Khe Sanh is the general humbleness of these men and their spirit and muscular bravery. Their nurturing of one another is expected, but the ability to rise above the fray, and the exhibition of the fragility and strength of the basic human endeavor(s) of this episode never ceases to amaze me. They were, and are, gentle in their description of what they and their fellow Marines went through, and to a man obviously do not regret their choice and fate of being in that time and place, and under those sometimes horrific conditions.

Conditions that consisted I would assume of extreme loneliness at times, a very basic diet of tasty C-Rations week after week (or month after month if one was tasked to hold the hills above the base), and the constant concern for one’s own mortality, and of course for their friends around them. This is not to mention the obvious conditions of being in a combat theatre, far from any visible means of support, even though it was ever-present, and precarious though it was to provide the basic means of survival for the proud Marines of Khe Sanh.

Cobb Hammond

Combat itself, I would assume, is an inexact science, and affects one and all in different and unexplainable ways. It is the ultimate test, and one that apparently these men met, conquered and no doubt won. Winning, even with a desperate enemy wanting to vanquish their presence and existence, in conjunction with poor decisions in many cases coming down from the top, the men persevered.

Some I would assume are bitter. Others naturally do not want to speak of it. However, all show their love for their fellow warrior, and at times a general and well-deserved lack of respect (contempt?) for the ones back home who avoided, escaped and even fled their obligation. An obligation to serve their country, but also a test usually reserved for the tempted and the best. It makes them stronger, maybe somewhat calloused—and firm. And the Best showed up, served, and in the end did win. History will show this. It is finally honoring it. It initially did not, but in the end truth wins.

Cobb Hammond is an investment broker in Memphis, Tennessee, who writes military history as a hobby. For questions or comments about this blog you can reach Cobb Hammond at chammond40@yahoo.com.

Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Vietnam War

November 5, 2012

Happy Birthday

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BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara muses on tradition, the Marine Corps Birthday and one of the men of Bravo Company with whom he served.

Soon it will be 10 November, the birthday of the United States Marine Corps. Marines take this event very seriously holding “Birthday Balls” all over the world at Naval Bases, MCB’s, on board ships and our foreign embassies (provided they are there in the first place). Retired Marines hold small ceremonies as well in their local VFW halls and Marine Corps League facilities. The oldest and youngest Marines are honored and a cake cutting ceremony is usually held. If feasible the cake is cut with the traditional Mameluke Sword, which was presented to Lt. Presley O’Bannon in 1805 by Hamet Bey the rightful ruler of Tripoli when we were trying to subdue the Barbary Pirates during Thomas Jefferson’s administration. (He eventually paid the pirates ransom and sent Hamet packing. Some things never change.) Even in the Mayor’s office in Indianapolis there will be a cake cutting ceremony. Mayor Ballard is himself a retired Marine Officer.

It is a very special day for me as well. Being so close to Veterans Day, it always invokes past memories of “My Marines.” Those brave and courageous young men who I was so privileged to have known. I want to tell you all about just one. He isn’t technically a Marine. He is a USN Hospitalman, what we call “Corpsmen.” Marines revere their Navy Corpsmen. They train with Marines, they go into battle with Marines, armed only with their medical gear to treat the wounded and the dying. Many times over the history of our Corps they performed valiantly, many times giving their own lives trying to save Marines. They are a rare breed in and of themselves. I want to tell you about just one, Richard Blanchfield, USN.

I never really knew Dick. He was a new replacement for our third platoon, I believe, which had been decimated in late February. It was now March 30, 1968. We were in a pitched battle with the NVA. Many folks were getting banged up pretty bad. We were still in the advance when I came upon Doc. I found him at the bottom of a 500-lb bomb crater. He had been tending to two other Marines who were, by this time, deceased. He had taken a near direct hit from an 82mm Chi-Com mortar. When I got down to him his arm was nearly torn from his torso. He had already stuck two morphine needles into his leg and didn’t know or care about much. All I could do was tie two battle dressings together and compress his arm against his torso and try desperately to stop his bleeding.

But we were still in the advance stages and it was time to move on. Others would have to tend to him later, although I thought sure he would not survive his wounds. But he did. We made contact via the telephone in 1993 and that has been the only contact I have had with him since. Except. Every year since 1993 I have received a birthday card from Dick celebrating the birth of the Corps. He is as proud of being called a Marine as I am of being called his friend. These are the bonds that tie men together on the fields of war. They can never be broken, not even by death itself.

Semper Fidelis, Dick Blanchfield, and a Happy Birthday to you as well.