Americans Do Not Torture
A Vietnam War Story
Two marines and a Vietnamese scout come rushing in to the medical bunker
unexpectedly with an obviously wounded Vietnamese solder. He has a hole in his trachea[windpipe] from shrapnel. A major spray of blood comes gushing out with each exhale and I see he is obviously in severe shortness of breath, in danger of asphyxiating from blood. accumulating in his lungs with each inhale. Also his eyes are in absolute terror and panic as he looks at me. I had never seen this before. He managed to keep flailing his arms, trying to keep the corpsmen on and myself away. One of the Marines tells me as they leave that the solder believes he is there to be tortured.
The only ones who understand a word of Vietnamese in the bunker are the scout and the wounded prisoner.
I repeatedly tell the scout to tell the prisoner I want to help him, to save his life. Each time the scout talks to
him, the wounded soldier goes again into another wildly flailing episode as if fighting us for his life.
I am meanwhile hurriedly preparing a surgical tray with expanders, scalpels, etc to stop the bleeding and secure an
airway by doing the tracheotomy before he suffocates from his own blood. By necessity, this has to be done in full view of the soldier.
In the context of Vietnam, I knew there was a 50-50 chance the scout was still telling him I really was going
to torture him if he did not give information about his combat unit and their plans.
To this day, I do not do not know and will never know what was being said. If
he thought to the end that I was there to torture him or to help him.
All of this was happening in 3-4 chaotic minutes.
Finally did the only thing which seemed save his life in the midst of chaos of blood spraying, prisoner terror, etc,
Pushed the scout aside, had 6 corpsman hold the wounded guy down and gave him just enough of a dose of IV sedative dared to which would sedate him but not fatally suppress his already reduced breathing ability.
Good part of the picture. It worked. Tracheal tube put in under sedation. Stable when helicopter picked him up. Every reason to believe he survived.
Not so good part of the story. Was uncomfortable to be seen as part of a possible system of medical torturing. I knew it was not true of any American doctors in Viet Nam. Had real suspicions whether it was also not true of the South Vietnamese or Korean ‘allies’. But the wound soldier lumped
myself and them as part of the same adversary.
A day in Viet Nam. Dr. Paul L
American Military: A Peculiar Breed
Tom Burns, a 61-year-old Vietnam veteran photo. on
"Marines are about the most peculiar breed of human beings I have ever witnessed. They treat their service as if it were some kind of cult, plastering their emblem on almost everything they own, making themselves up to look like insane fanatics with haircuts to ungentlemanly lengths, worshipping their Commandant almost as if he were a god, and making weird animal noises like a band of savages. They'll fight like rabid dogs at the drop of a hat just for the sake of a little action, and are the cockiest sons of bitches I have ever known. Most have the foulest mouths and drink well beyond man's normal limits, but their high spirits and sense of brotherhood set them apart and, generally speaking, the United States Marines I've come in contact with are the most professional soldiers and the finest men I have ever had the pleasure to meet."
--An Anonymous Canadian Citizen
Americans will go down in military history as a strange bunch of guys.
Think about it. Great soldiers, military hardware. Aircraft,etc. No problem
with bombing, etc.
Then on the other hand, with the Viet Cong prisoner, I can call in a medivac
chopper from Dang Nang to come in before nightfall[that crew knew they were risking incoming to come in
before dark} to pick up someone who likely would have been in a rice patty the day before shooting at
There was no ambivalence with the Marines who brought him in...they wanted him to
be treated. And would go out on patrol risking arms, legs and life against the Viet Cong, the NVA, each day to keep
them at arms length from the base.
A day in Viet Nam. Dr. Paul L
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