Corpsman, Up!

After a harrowing recon mission, the author would leave Vietnam with mental scars far worse than his physical wounds.
By Ralph DiPietro

In 1967, I was a Navy hospital corpsman assigned to Charlie Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division. We initially were based at Chu Lai and later at Da Nang, Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). A Navy corpsman’s job is to save lives, and I was honored to serve with the Marines. They called me “Doc.”

Recon’s main function was to pinpoint the locations of Viet Cong (VC) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops in strongholds near us. We patrolled in small teams of usually 10 to 12 men. Because we would be on patrol for four to seven days, we traveled light and wore no flak jackets or helmets. 

The night before one patrol in May 1967, Sergeant Rosas, who would lead the mission, was briefed that an NVA division had been spotted approximately 20 miles southwest of Da Nang in an area we called Charlie Ridge. Our probability of enemy contact was high—Charlie Ridge was a staging area for the NVA to harass Marine units.

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