Chu Lai, South Vietnam

 B-MED Unit-: Late Afternoon,

August 18, 1965

By John Testa

 

              At the time of this recollection I was a Corporal U.S. Marine Corps. My outfit was H&S Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines.  During major operations I was sent by my First Sergeant to Regimental Headquarters (BMED) to report on unit casualties. Early afternoon of August 18th, 1965 started out quiet enough, the choppers began to appear around dusk, a long steady stream, I recall it being a clear hot evening and still remember the sounds of the blades cutting through the thick night air.

              I vaguely remember the approximate arrival time of the first choppers, it makes sense that the casualties should have been arriving in early afternoon or at the least late afternoon time frame since the heaviest fighting started at mid day, I had several other ops that I had to cover during my tour so that might add to the time confusion but of the two main battles that we had the heaviest casualties were STARLITE (August 65) and TEXAS (March 66).  It was dusk with Starlite, thatís my recollection.  

                  Attached to H&S Company, Headquarters Platoon, I was in an Admin Pool in the company CP, I made a few patrols, a night ambush and was in a hole every night guarding the CP.  I didn't received any training on what to expect on causality reporting, the First Sergeant just said go to Regimental Headquarters (at the Chu Lai Airstrip)  that's also where B Medical Battalion was located and where the First Sergeant said I was to go  find out what I could about 2/4's casualties.  Looking back it was a total waste of time, whenever there was a major operation, the people working on the wounded or processing the dying didn't have time for me.

              The first few landings on the August 18th were handled by the BMED CP personnel but as the landings continued I was summoned to put down my rifle and help carry the wounded from the aircraft. As I approached the landing area fighting off dust and debris being thrown about by the moving blades several wounded men lay wrapped in ponchos in the open hatchway, I grappled with the body closest to the door with a corpsman, while lifting him off the slippery floor board several objects fell from his poncho, while balancing his head and shoulders on my lap I instinctively tried to catch the falling objects only to find they were some of his body parts.

              I finished carrying the marine to one of the holding stations tents and went back and continued unloading, I did this for a long time.   I still have clear recollections of that night even today.  The Doctorís and nurses took over once the marines arrived at the holding tents.  They segregated the wounded based on their injuries, the most critical wounded directly to surgery, less critical waited on line, others to burn unit tents, and those they couldnít do anything for but still had a pulse were sent to the dying tents. The dead were sent directly to graves registration.  In one of the holding tents I saw a corpsman unlacing a pilotís boots; he had crashed and had severe burns over 90% of his body which was charcoal in color from his head to his ankles. The only areaís that had skin left was on his feet where his boots protected them. He died a short time later. 

              The burn unit tent had several other guys like the pilot that were too badly burned and to far gone to do anything with and could only be given meds to ease the pain until the end.  I remember the horrifying moans, even under the heavy doses of morphine. I resumed my task the next morning of trying to identify 2/4 casualties but with the total chaos from the night before I was unable to provide any information.  I visited graves registration thinking I could gather some information on the KIAís.  At the Graves Registration tent I found two corpsmen washing down a dead marineís body. 

              A Doctor would then note the probable cause of death, describing wounds like shot through and through or multiple fragmentations completing the forms with the deceased personal information from their dog tags. The body orificeís were then filled with cotton, put in body bags, tagged and finally moved to a refrigeration area. Because of the number of dead they were being stacked outside the preparation tent.  The final count of our dead and wounded was 46 KIA s and 204 WIA s.

                  Out of the several causality reporting assignments I was sent on I only recall providing one name and that was because he was a friend of mine (he was in the CP Admin Pool but transferred out to Company E right before that TEXAS operation),  I ID him after he was killed in that operation. We had spent many night perimeter night watches together.  I'm attaching a letter I wrote related to him and left at the wall a few years ago.

                                               
Chaplain John J. Glynn/Cpl. John J. Testa Chu Lai Vietnam 1965

 

 

 

 

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