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MY FIRST FLIGHT IN VIETNAM ON MEDEVAC
by Terry A. McCarl
Historian, 15th Medical Battalion Association
It was 10 December 1968 when I had my first ride on Medevac. I had just
reported to the 15th Medical Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division in Phuoc Vinh,
South Vietnam, five days previously. I was the new 1st Cavalry Division
Sanitarian. My task was to keep our fighting forces in fighting condition
health-wise. I would be dealing with all types of preventive medicine
activities, including food service sanitation, water supply, waste disposal
and malaria control. (I found out later that the M-60 machine guns on the
Medevac helicopters were often referred to as "preventive medicine.")
LTC Guthrie L. Turner, the Division Surgeon and 15th Med BN CO, told me
that morning he needed me to travel to Quan Loi to investigate the cause of
an outbreak of gastrointestinal disease (diarrhea) at one of the units
there. I asked how I would get there (not even knowing where Quan Loi was).
He said," Go to Air Operations and tell whoever is there that you need to
get to B Co. at Quan Loi. No doubt someone will be going there soon. When
you get there, report to CPT Decker, and he will have someone take you to
the unit that is having the problem."
This flight was to be my first of many helicopter flights in Vietnam! I
knew nothing about helicopter aviation other than that was the way I would
need to travel throughout the Division's area of operation to perform my
Medevac Air Operations
I headed to Air Operations. I assumed that it would be an up-and-back in
the same day trip. At that time, everyone in the Division had to wear a
steel helmet and carry a weapon whenever they left their assigned company
area. I assumed that I was all ready to go.
When I got to Air Ops, the only person there was a CPT sitting at a desk
doing some paperwork. When I walked in, he glanced up and said, "What do you
need, Lieutenant?" I saw an- ever-so-slight glimmer of a smile, which I
later realized meant, "Time for a little fun with the new guy!"
I said, "LTC Turner needs me to go to Quan Loi." (I thought it would be a
good idea to mention LTC Turner's name). The CPT said, "I'll be making a run
to Quan Loi in about an hour." Then he asked the question that I'm sure he
knew the answer to, which was, "Have you ever flown with Medevac before?" I
replied," No, Sir." He then said, "In that case, I need to fill you in on
our passenger policies."
Quan Loi and red clay
He began, "We're happy to give you a ride wherever you need to go, but
you must be aware that our primary duty is to the wounded. For example, this
trip to Quan Loi today is called a "milk run." We are returning some
recovered wounded soldiers to their units. I expect that it will be a
routine up-and-back trip. However, while in the air, we may get a call to
pick up wounded. If that happens, be aware that you are going with us. We
won't drop you off in a safe location and then make our pickup.
Furthermore, if we need room on the aircraft for the wounded, you will have
to get off and stay where we pick the patients up, probably in the jungle.
Getting back to Phuoc Vinh will be however you can get there. We won't come
back for you. Do you understand?" I remember gulping and saying, "Of
He continued: "Were you issued a field jacket? You just got here, so you
probably don't know yet that although it's normally hot all the time here,
nights can be damn chilly! If you are stuck out in the jungle for a night or
two, you will wish that you had taken it with you." I acknowledged that I
had been issued a field jacket and would go back to my hooch and get it.
He looked at the M-16 that I was carrying and asked," Do you know how to
use that 16?" I said that I had qualified on the rifle range. "How much ammo
do you have?" I pointed to the single magazine in the M-16. He said," That's
not enough! If we get shot down, we need everyone on board to defend our
aircraft and patients! Better get at least ten more magazines!"
I don't remember what else he suggested. Still, there were more items,
including a change of underwear and several canteens of water. As soon as
possible, I collected all the items that he said to get and put them in a
duffel bag, which was nearly full and returned to Air Ops.
Just before getting on the aircraft, the CPT said, "Oh, one more thing,
did anyone give you one of these cards to carry around that tell you what to
do if you are captured?" I said that no one had, so he handed me a card and
said, "Be sure and read this before we take off."
That was the crowning touch! I had not given much thought to the
potential dangers of making this trip. I was somewhat freaked out at that
point, with all kinds of visions of potential disasters racing through my
As I boarded the helicopter, I noted the other crew members seemed to be
laughing and smiling as l hoisted that duffel bag on board. One of them,
grinning, asked, "Sir, can I help you with that heavy bag?" I thought
perhaps someone had told a joke or something of that nature.
Bravo Company, Quan Loi
When we landed at the B Co. helipad at Quan Loi, the CPT said to me,
"Now, when you are ready to go back, come back here and tell Air Ops that
you need a ride to Phuoc Vinh. It's not likely that it will be us."
What about my mission that day? Someone in a mess hall at Quan Loi had
failed to realize that ice made with contaminated water was also
contaminated. Easy to solve, don't buy locally- made ice. Get ice through
regular supply channels.
When it came time to return to Phuoc Vinh, I returned to B Company.
Within an hour, I could catch a ride on a different Medevac that was
returning to Phuoc Vinh. Again, as I loaded that duffel bag on that
helicopter, I noticed that crew also seemed to be in a festive mood, smiling
and laughing. Again, I thought maybe someone had just told a joke.
Throughout my year tour, I made about 100 such trips, all without mishap.
Still, every time I boarded a helicopter, I thought about what that CPT had
said to me that day and when we landed safely, I always, in my mind, kissed
Since this CPT has been deceased for several years and since he cannot
confirm or deny this story, and since my memory of the occasion may not be
100 % accurate, I am not mentioning his name, but in the several months
afterward, we became good friends and had many good laughs about that day.
[ Return To Index ]
A PROFICIENT MEDIC IN THE AIR AND ON THE GROUND
BY LARRY HATCH, CORKY WALSH, AND
AS TOLD TO TERRY MCCARL, HISTORIAN, 15TH MEDICAL BATTALION ASSOCIATION
SFC (Ret.) John J. Crespi passed away on July 6, 2021, at 79. John's
Vietnam tour was Feb 67-Jan 68. From Jan -Mar 67, John was a medic with a
9th Infantry Division Battalion (unit unknown). In April of 1967, he
transferred to the 15th Medical Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile)
and served as a Flight Medic in the Air Ambulance Platoon (MEDEVAC) until
his DEROS in Jan 68. He then served 21 years in the Army, retiring at the
rank of SFC E-7.
John was a highly active member of the 15th Medical Battalion Association
for over 16 years. He served as Vice President 2007-2008 and President
2008-2009. He served in many capacities, including as Historian from
2011-2015 and as Chaplain from 2014-2021.
SSG John J. Crespi (facing camera) in Vietnam, Circa 1967
Corky Walsh, Medevac Crew Chief 1966-67, recalls a mission sometime in
July or August 1967. WO Larry Hatch was the Aircraft Commander, Corky Walsh
was the Crew Chief, Dave Barnum was the Door Gunner, and John Crespi was the
Medic. The Co-Pilot is unknown. They flew into the An Lao Valley Southwest
of LZ English (Bong Son). They landed, and John got out and was loading the
wounded onto the aircraft. The Company Commander of the Cav ground unit
talked to WO Hatch on the ground troop's radio frequency. One of the
patients ready for evacuation was their only Medic; he asked if John could
stay and treat some of the unit's injured.
WO Hatch agreed the ground unit had a much greater need for John than as
a Medevac crew member. So, he decided John would stay until the Medevac
returned after leaving them at the clearing station for treatment. The
Medevac would return to the LZ to pick him up later. Corky told Dave Barnum
to toss John's medical bag to him and tell him what was happening and that
they were leaving John at the LZ to serve as Medic to the ground unit. They
would return to get him ASAP. However, John could not hear Dave due to the
rotor noise and gunfire. The aircraft took off, leaving John on the ground,
wondering what was going on!
Three hours later, the crew returned to the
LZ to pick up John, who was angry about the whole situation. However, during
those 3 hours, he had provided life-saving medical care to several members
of the ground unit. John was a true hero that day!
John was upset at the time. But, Larry Hatch said, in later years at 15th
Medical Battalion Association reunions, John agreed that Larry had made the
correct decision leaving him at the LZ that day. Quoting Larry Hatch, "To
this day, those combat troops on the ground remember how a brave Medevac
medic stayed behind to provide medical help and are forever grateful for the
Quoting Larry Hatch: "Was John put in harm's way? Yes, he was, but we all
were on every mission, whether flying in the helicopter or on the ground.
Many Med Evac aircrew members lost their lives flying missions in Vietnam to
save others. John was aware of this, and he lived up to the Medic's creed to
help those in need, deal with their wounds and save a life. John went above
and beyond that day, and his family can be immensely proud of his actions.
John deserved a medal for his actions."
Dave Barnum (Door Gunner on the mission) recalled this memory of John:
"John started teaching me a lot about being trained in first aid. I was not
too fond of the sight of blood but quickly got over that. I asked John why I
had to know about starting IVs, administering the right amount of oxygen,
pressure bandages, etc. John's answer was simple enough. 'You might need to
help if we have more than one patient at a time (which we often did) once we
cleared the LZ. Most importantly, if I got wounded, who the hell do you
think is going to treat me?' That was John - clear and to the point!"
Quoting Larry Hatch: "Rest in peace, John. You fought a brave battle for
many years. Your good friend Corky Walsh kept me informed on how your battle
was going. I was sad to hear of your passing. We shared many Vietnam
memories and when we served in the 1st Cavalry Division (AM), 15th Medical
Battalion, Air Ambulance Platoon.
You and your family can be proud of your service flying Med Evac missions
on Huey Helicopters, flying into harm's way to save the lives of wounded
soldiers. In a way, you won your battle."
WO Larry Hatch, Circa 1967
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