I went to Communication's School (MCRD) at San Diego in 1967 just before receiving my orders for WESTPAC...Republic of South Vietnam. There were 33 Marines in my class and all but one of us received orders for Vietnam. None of us were surprised, however, because during our 18 week course we had been told time and time again to pay attention to everything that was said because all of us would be heading to Vietnam when our course was completed. Looking back on those weeks, I can't help remembering just how little we actually did learn regarding radio procedure in preparation for Vietnam. We learned "morse code," which, of course, was never used. We learned how to operate a huge radio referred to as MARS; a shack sized box that you stood inside of and was capable of communicating world-wide. We learned how to operate every other ground radio that the USMC used. In Vietnam I used two radios: the PRC-25 (radio carried on a backpack harness) during foot patrols and the PRC-47 radio which was secured to our vehicles.
We also learned about calling in medevacs. We were taught that there were three types: Routine Medevacs were called when somebody received abrasions or wasn't hurt badly but had an injury that prevented him from remaining in the field. Special Medevacs were called for more serious wounds but not an immediate life or death matter and lastly the Priority Medevac. This was for a Marine who needed immediate evacuation as his life depended upon reaction time of the medevac. I left for Vietnam armed with this "important" information, knowing nothing about the damage that hot fragments of steel did to a body. I wasn't prepared for a body being ripped apart and the pain that some endured while while waiting for a damn medical evacuation. Several hours after landing in DaNang, South Vietnam I received my new orders assigning me to 3rd Amtrac Battalion; 1st Marine Division located about 8 miles south of DaNang.
John "Dusty" Hollman from Jacksonville, North Carolina was an Amtracer with "B" Company. Dusty and I had spent a couple of months together on operations in the field, both of us frequently talking about home. I talked about girl friends, fast cars and generally just having fun when I got home from Nam. Dusty always talked about his wife. He was really in love with her; so much so that on those occassions when many of us in "B" Company found company with a prostitute, Dusty always remained "true" to his wife. "B" company had finished the operation we were participating in and we were called back to battalion area until our next op.
3rd Amtrac's Battalion area was enormous. It would take several hours just to walk around the entire perimeter. This area was patrolled on foot by Amtracers 24 hours a day and after a couple of days back in the battalion area, Dusty, myself and 8 other amtracers were selected for patrol. It was mid-morning when we exited the battalion area through the rear or east gate. We walked south for some 200 meters before turning west. We had been walking west for about 50 meters when the ground at our feet came alive. Rapid AK-47 rifle fire was coming at us from a small cluster of trees about 50 meters away. This small patch of trees was located right between us and our battalion area. I was carrying the radio but immediately began firing my M-16 at the trees.
Our 10 man squad was returning fire into the treeline; the machine gunner had setup his M-60 on its tripod and it was spitting rounds at the trees. All this was happening simotaneously and at any moment I expected the area to our rear to open up with enemy fire. It would have been the perfect ambush as there was nothing to cover us. Fortunately, they had only hidden themselves in the cluster of trees in front of us. There was a slight incline where we could cover our asses and continue to return fire at them. It was only a moment after the shooting began when I heard somebody yell, "Corpsman Up"! A call that reached no Corpsman's ear that day since no "doc" had been sent out with us. I then heard my name being shouted over the loud noise of all the rifle fire. Another Amtracer (the years have since wiped his name from my memory) was signalling me. He and Dusty were some twenty feet away and after crawling to them on my stomach, I saw that Dusty had been shot in the arm. The blood that was running down his arm was mixed with his own sweat and the dirt he was lying in. There was a gaping hole where his elbow had once been. Dusty wasn't hollering out in pain but rather just lying there on his stomach. I slightly propped his head out of the sandy terrain with "something" but he was silent while his eyes stared downwards. The Marine at Dusty's side had already applied a tourniquet around his upper arm. I hadn't been on more than a couple of "Echo" foot patrols around our battalion peremiter and it was painfully clear to me that I was responsible for calling in Dusty's medevac. I asked Dusty if he had been hit anyplace else and it appeared to me that he shook his head ever so slightly, indicating no. "Echo, Echo1," I began. "We got one Marine down and need a medevac out here." I'd learned on other medevacs in the Bush that what we had been taught in communication's school about the "different" types of medevacs was crap. After speaking into the PRC25 handset I "unkeyed" the radio and the voice from the battalion area immediately responded. "Give me your location." I told him the route we travelled to our present position and he shouted, "Tell me exactly where you are." I knew that an officer was on the other end and I responded with, "I don't know," quickly adding, "We left the east gate, we walked 200 meters south and turned west. We're 50 meters in. I can see the battalion area from here."
Dusty was just lying there; we had no Corpsman, I was a FNG (fucking new guy) at least on foot patrols and I really didn't know what else to say. "If" I had thought the situation through, I'd have realized that we were about 100 meters south east of the battalion's southern gate. Having spent so little time in the battalion area though, I didn't even know that there was a south gate but I should have. I'm certainly not proud of my ignorance nor inability at that moment to coordinate my thoughts and that will always remain with me. The incoming rounds were targeting our position nonstop and with the medevac already called in, it was just easier to squeeze off rounds, firing at the enemy than trying to think through what I should have known. First medevac on patrols was no excuse. I was scared and the responsibility of getting that damn medevac for Dusty was overwhelming. Everybody else was occupied, returning fire into the cluster of trees. Passage of time in a situation like the one unfolding is difficult if not impossible to judge without looking at a watch so I really don't know how long I continued to try to comfort Dusty even though he was most likely in shock. I remember firing at the treeline in a hopeless effort to do "something."
Fifteen minutes had "probably" elapsed when I caught a glimpse of two Amtracs coming toward us. When one of them was adajecent to the treeline, it veered off. The 50 caliber machine gun on top of that Amtrac began shredding tree limbs. The other Amtrac continued in our direction. A Corpsman, another Marine and a lieutenant jumped off the top of the tractor when they were near us and ran to Dusty. The shooting from the cluster of trees had ceased. We later learned that the little "bastards" managed to escape. The Corpsman and the Marine began to pick Dusty up from the ground, gently turning him face up as they placed him onto the stretcher. When I saw Dusty face up I felt like I'd been kicked in the stomach; my breath was gone and my chest was tight. I just couldn't believe what I was seeing! Dusty had not only been hit in the arm but he had also been shot in the groin and the ground underneath him was damp with his freshly lost blood. My mind was swirling with feelings of guilt, anger, confusion and never had I felt so damn helpless as I did during those moments! He had to have lost a lot of blood while lying there, not knowing himself (I believe) that he'd also been hit in the groin. "Finish this Goddamned patrol," the lieutenant barked at our squad leader (an e4--corporal) as he leaped on top of the Amtrac that returned them to the battalion area where a chopper was waiting for Dusty.
During the remaining 5 or 6 hours of the patrol, I couldn't help thinking both about Dusty and also the possibility of again getting ambushed!
I kept thinking, "what if Dusty's balls had been blown off?" I really wanted to know how he was. That wound I didn't see was very critical and I simply could not stop thinking about how badly he'd been bleeding when he was loaded onto the stretcher. I didn't know if he would live. The hours that took us around the battalion area, up Marble Mountain, through Nui Kim Son Ville and back through our front gate lasted forever. Once we were back inside our peremiter, I rushed down to COC (Command Operation's Center) and asked if anybody knew how Dusty was doing? "He was still alive when he was loaded onto the chopper," someobdy said.
A couple of weeks later "B" Company received a letter from an Army Hospital in Japan. It was from Dusty and his words brought smiles (tears to my eyes) and quiet satisfaction from those who knew Dusty well as the letter was read aloud. He wrote that he'd be back in the States soon but mentioned nothing about his wound. When I returned stateside I was stationed at Camp Lejuene, North Carolina. Dusty had been medically discharged and was still living in Jacksonville, NC (right outside Camp Leguene). I immediately looked him up. When I knocked on his front door I was prepared to see Dusty in a wheelchair. His wife answered my knock at the door. She called to Dusty and said, "A friend is here to see you." Even though her and I had never met, she knew that I was there to see her husband. She had already invited me into their home and I was still standing in the doorway when I got my first glimsp of Dusty. All I noticed was the big smile that light up his face and my heart. We embraced each other; no words were spoken for a few moments. When my eyes cleared, I looked at his forearm and saw that his upper arm was nothing more than thin bone covered with a few layers of scarred skin. Seeing him standing there on his two feet was a feeling that I'll never forget!
We never mentioned those moments while we waited for the Amtrac medevac. I don't know if he was remembering them or just how much he really did recall of that day; I never asked him. Dusty and I had been sitting in his living room and for several hours we laughed and talked about the "good" memories that we had shared together. I have long since lost touch with Dusty but...GOD BLESS YOU BROTHER and you're still obviously in my thoughts. I love you Marine!!!
Such strange things happen! On March 21, 2000 I received an email from a Mike LeMasters who also was on this patrol. Neither of us remember each other but the fact that this article brought us together after all these years was, of course, mind boggling as there were only 10 of us on that patrol that morning.