Conscientious Objectors

Tom Dier

I knew two Conscientious Objectors while I served in Viet Nam. Both were Army medics. The first was nicknamed Rocky (are you out there?). He was badly wounded during a firefight on Highway 5b near the Tra Khuc River in Quang Ngai Province. When the Medevac was taking off, it was fired upon and Rocky was wounded again. I saw him shortly after in the hospital. His face was glowing because he was going home. I wondered if I would ever see my home again.

Art was the other CO that I met during my time in Vietnam. After I put in 8 months in the field, I was reassigned to Battalion Psyops. Part of my job was to plot grids on a map, call them in to the Brigade (it could have been the Division, I can't remember exactly) and they would drop propaganda leaflets. I also accompanied Medcaps. Medcaps were medical teams that were dropped off by choppers into villages in order to give medical treatment to the civilians. Occasionally someone with a bad infection or other serious condition would accompany us back for more extensive treatment. Sometimes we had to cajole that individual into getting onto a helicopter with us. Many Vietnamese were afraid of flying. This was understandable. My job on the Medcaps was to distribute more leaflets and soap and candy to the civilians, and otherwise mingle with the Popular Forces. Sound like a dick job? It was. Before I forget, I also was the Reenlistment NCO for the battalion - which was even easier - I reupped 2 guys in 3 months. Mostly it was paperwork.

I worked with Art and a 1st LT. Each of us had served in an infantry company and looked at our jobs as being the next step to home. Humping the boonies was a thing of the past.

Art knew some Quakers in Quang Ngai City - the provincial capital. They ran a small medical clinic there. One day we left Chu Lai, drove down Highway 1, past LZ Dottie (formerly LT Calley's forward LZ) and down to Quang Ngai City.

Once at the clinic, the first thing we did was check our firearms at the door. L.T. and I each carried 45's, and gave each other strange looks because each of us was reluctant to leave our weapons unsecured - in this little foyer. Art reassured us that it was all right. It was that the Quakers were very much opposed to firearms.

Art introduced us to his friends. I don't remember their names so I'll call them John and Mary. They were husband and wife - each was a doctor. They were in Vietnam to pick up the pieces of war. This was evident as I was led into a courtyard where about 40 or 50 Vietnamese of different ages sat weaving baskets and making small crafts - trying to rehabilitate their bodies and their lives. Each person was missing at least one limb. I'll never forget the way I felt at that instant in time.

A short time later, I was introduced to a British doctor who specialized in making prosthetics. He seemed much different than his Quaker employers. While the Quakers were very reserved, this British doctor was comical and outgoing.

I'll always remember him repeatedly dipping a knife into an OD Green, GI issue can of peanut butter, during dinner, and spreading it onto saltines. To him peanut butter was a delicacy. He motioned for me to join him in this snack, but I declined and said, "No thanks". I had plenty of other things to eat. I felt like telling him that I had subsisted primarily on peanut butter and crackers in the bush and the thought of peanut butter was sickening, but I remained silent and listened as Art engaged his friends in what seemed to me an intellectual conversation.

They were talking about C.S. Lewis, an author I had not heard of, while I sat quietly. I can't remember what we ate. I do remember a mama san serving us, and how paper thin the carrots were sliced.

I had a tremendous urge to light up a smoke, but guess what? It was not allowed. I was beginning to get uncomfortable. I was wondering about our weapons.

We sat around in the living room after dinner. Magazines and medical journals were stacked up on an old coffee table.

Finally we left. We found our weapons exactly as we had left them, I lit a cigarette and cranked the jeep.

Quang Ngai City was the only real city I saw while in Vietnam. Helmeted policemen directed traffic at the busy intersections.

We were stopped in traffic, waiting for the go ahead, when we heard two loud explosions to our right in a nearby school yard. My first thought was incoming. This seemed unlikely, as we were deep in a security zone. Then I thought that it could have been a couple of grenades. In the little time that it took me to think these things, Art was already among the crowd of people that had gathered. He was waving to us, motioning for us to bring the jeep.

"Get over there," the L.T. said.

Another possibilityfor the explosions presented itself to me as I slowly drove the jeep to where Art was. Land mine.

Art emerged from the crowd, with a little boy, perhaps 10 years old. Both were covered with blood. The boy was unconscious from a very bad head wound. He told us, "Get back over to Johns. He's still alive, I think we can save him."

I turned the jeep and headed back to the clinic. A policeman jumped on the rear of the jeep, and started firing his sidearm into the air, trying to get the crowd to disperse - scaring the shit out of us. L.T. angrily told him to cease fire.

How far or how fast I drove, I can't recall. We've all had experiences like that. I do remember Art carrying the little boy into the clinic. The L.T. and I forgot to remove our sidearms and no one seemed to notice or to care.

It's odd to think that we didn't stay. We had to get back. Highway 1 could turn violent at night. I can't say whether or not he was medevacced, or what happened to him - whether he lived or died.

I often think about how Art would have me stop the jeep whenever we saw a particular religious shrine. L.T. and I would roll our eyes at each other as Art would take pictures and tell us the significance of each shrine, and what certain symbols meant. It would be five years later before I took the opportunity to read C.S. Lewis. I can't hear C.S. Lewis's name without thinking of Art. Or the L.T. Or the little Vietnamese boy. I wonder if he made it.

Copyright 1996 Thomas E. Dier

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Added 11/26/96