There was always a bit of humor, even in the worst of times. The OR supervisor, who loved San Francisco, talked endlessly of going back. Mindful of the Scott McKenzie song, someone gave her a flower to wear in her hair. During one heavy mortar attack, we couldn't account for one of the nurses. I ran to her hooch and found her watching a small black-and-white television she had just received. She growled, "I'm gonna watch this, and no @$%& VC or mortar attack is going to stop me."
As at the 7th Surg, most wounds came from fragments propelled by land mines, grenades, and booby traps that exploded when a wire was tripped. Non-explosive devices often featured camouflaged stakes or nails smeared with human feces. Hand-to-hand combat was unusual, and most soldiers never saw their enemy. Even "tunnel rats," generally men of small stature who could fit it the narrow tunnels, encountered more booby traps of spiders and poisonous vipers than they did Viet Cong soldiers.
Unlike the 7th Surg, where a nurses' hooch was a big open room with bunks, we used bamboo matting to separate our hooches into cubicles. Each nurse had her privacy and could fix her space as she wanted.A fenced-in area in back of the nurses' hooches provided both relative safety and privacy. Bamboo matting on the ground offered some protection from dust and mud. With little greenery in an area so recently defoliated by Agent Orange, nurses had soldiers bring them trees to plant.
Nurses bought cheap tables and chairs in Cu Chi town. Flashlights hung from the ceiling provided light when the generator was off or broken. The only American women on the Cu Chi base camp were nurses and the few Red Cross Donut Dollies who were housed in another area. Being just a few women among thousands of men not only made for great social lives, but also gave us chances to do some pretty cool things.
Guys let us drive armored personnel carriers, ride in Bird Dog spotter planes on jet and B-52 bomber air strikes, shoot machine guns and big artillery, chase water buffalo in "bubble" helicopters, and much more. The fun came to a screeching halt when a nurse from another hospital was killed in a non-duty-related accident.
Within hours the 12th Evac started taking in mass casualties from places with names we would learn to dread. They included the HoBo Woods, the Boi Loi Woods, The Fil Hol Plantation, and the Michelin Rubber Plantation.Wounded soldiers were brought to the hospital in a never-ending stream of ambulances and UH-1 Huey "Dustoff" MedEvac helicopters. Scrub nurses often served as the surgeons' assistants. Soldiers who needed to be transported to larger hospitals were sometimes evacuated by the big twin-engine CH-47 Chinook helicopters.While we were dealing with the wounded soldiers, the hospital was taking its own hits. We were subject to frequent mortar attacks and occasional rockets. Nurses sometimes wore helmets and flak jackets in the OR. If you weren't needed, you tried to get to a bunker. If you had a patient on the OR table, you pulled him to the floor and placed your body over his.
The 12th Evac opened on schedule on December 1, 1966. We even had an officer's club called the Cu Chi Cu Inn, although it was only big enough for three people. The incoming staff quickly replaced it with a larger club called "The Crash and Burn."
Cu Chi was home to the 25th Infantry Division HQ and to many of the elements and units that supported its mission in Vietnam. Among these, were the medical support units, mainly the MASH 7th Surgical Hospital and the 12th Evacuation Hospital which resided side by side and the 45th Surgical Hospital in Tay Ninh. They were instrumental in saving many lives and limbs of the men they cared for that arrived by jeep, truck and the 159th Medical Detachment " Dust Off " helicopters.
Frustration with war sometimes brought out creativity. Nurses who tried to make things homey put up a white picket fence around their hooches. Soldiers often named or decorated their aircraft, tanks and weapons.
Beth Parks, 66-67 nurse at Cu Chi
Photos copyrighted - comments courtesy of Beth Parks, who was one of those shining bright stars, who devoted herself to saving lives in Vietnam. A tribute to all doctors and nurses who served in Vietnam. - Sarge