The Vietnam War — Jim Keul — with the Army Medical Service Corps | News, Sports, Jobs
We heard about Jim Keul and his service in Vietnam. Jim graduated from Tracy High School in 1962 and then from St. John’s University in 1966 with an Army ROTC commission.
The Army assigned Jim to the Medical Service Corps and taught him how to handle combat casualties as the battalion’s assistant surgeon.
Jim’s first assignment was as an assistant hospital administrator in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, working to support outpatients at the hospital. He served from March to December 1967, when he received orders in Vietnam. He was indifferent to orders because he was young and thought he was invincible.
Jim arrived in Vietnam shortly after New Years 1968. The Army appointed him medical platoon leader for the 25th Infantry Division’s Armored Cavalry Squadron. He described his trip there.
“They put us two and a half. I think the driver and his shotgun (passenger seat) had a gun. We drove forty-five miles northwest to Cu Chi in the back of the truck with our duffle bags and no weapons. (Jim chuckles) I got there and boarded the Cav.
Jim described his unit, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment
“We have three companies (called A, B and C troops in the cavalry) of tanks, armored personnel carriers (APC) and dismounted infantry. Then we have D Troop, which is all helicopters; Cobras (gunships), our colonel’s observation helicopter and medical evacuations. And we had E Troop, which was our long-range reconnaissance patrols. We had about six hundred guys in our [Squadron]just a small part of this 25 [Infantry Division].
He described their base camp at Cu Chi.
“We have our tanks; APC, dispensary (which Jim and his men ran), canteens and hootchs. All of our helicopters were [at the airfield]. Living conditions were the same for enlisted and officers. We were in non-air-conditioned huts with bunk beds, ten to fifteen to a hut. Each of [Cavalry Troops] had their own dining halls. There were latrines. Those for officers were three-hole with three 55-gallon barrels. They took out the drums every day; throw diesel fuel; and burn faeces. The shower was outside and no hot water. Part of my job as a doctor was to inspect latrines and dining halls. »
Jim described the mission of his medical platoon and doctors.
“Our mission is to treat and evacuate or treat routine snakebites and ankle sprains. As a combat medic, you were sorting; stopping the bleeding; putting in an airway; bringing the helicopter; treating the shock; making sure they feel comfortable; and assuring them that they will be fine when they see that beautiful nurse at Evac Hospital.
Jim spent two weeks learning about his clinic, the APCs and Medevac jeeps, and his doctors at base camp. Most, however, were in the field with their units. But his time was not his.
“One of those two weeks is in-country training. They talked about punji pits and snakes; where to look for tripwires; and that kind of stuff.
Jim was two weeks with Cav when he got an operational alert.
“It was January 31, four or five in the morning. Our Charlie Troop was ambushed by Tan Son Nhut Air Base. I didn’t even know half of my men because I had been in orientation. The day before we were converting our tracks to diesel, so we didn’t have all our machine guns and radios mounted. We rushed to do that when they said, “We need more doctors. Charlie Troop is heavily engaged and has many men down.
Jim knew the mission was dangerous, so he didn’t order men he barely knew to accompany him.
“I asked for volunteers and got a driver, .50 caliber, and two others to go to Tan Son Nhut. We had an escort; a track in front and a track behind. We pulled all the way. (Jim’s voice stiffens) When we arrived, Charlie Troop (Jim’s voice was shaking) their tanks were on fire; they have no more ammunition; Viet Cong insurgents crawling all over the road; and I didn’t know if I would make it.
Jim did things he hadn’t trained for, but learned from the troops who volunteered to go with him.
“I had never called dust collectors before, so I listen to these guys and I get it. We did it and I felt like a veteran because of them. We probably lost twelve or fifteen in Charlie Troop and Bravo Troop.
That day was a turning point.
“My first day in combat was a hell of a wake up call because I didn’t know what to expect. I was lucky to be with these guys who volunteered to help this stupid lieutenant.
Two days after aiding ambushed cavalry troops, Jim learned a startling truth about his volunteer troops.
“One of them approached me and said, ‘Lieutenant, we have to go back to base camp.’ I said, ‘Why the hell?’ He said, ‘We’re going home tomorrow.’ (Jim’s voice tighter) They were leaving Vietnam and volunteering to go.
Jim knew he had grown since that day, but it also left him with a terrible feeling.
“It was a difficult day. I thought (Jim’s voice trembled) that I would never last a year.
The Departmental Museum of Lyon is organizing an exhibition on the impact of the Vietnam War on the department of Lyon. If you would like to share experiences in Vietnam or help with the exhibit, please contact me at [email protected] or call the museum at 537-6580.