In January of 1967, a small-town boy from flyover country shipped out for Vietnam with a company of soldiers comprised wholly of southern California surfers. Flyover country. A term for that part of the United States that falls between the coasts -- between NY and LA. No doubt the surfers from SoCal have many names for those of us backward enough to be born and raised in flyover country. But, in this particular case, in 1967, one of those names was "Doc" .
The differences between the members of this newly commissioned unit went well beyond geography: they expanded to include opposite worldviews and each man's perspective on bearing arms. You see, Doc was a non-combatant and was committed to doing everything in his power to preserve life. Others in the company had no such qualms and, in fact, had a highly skeptical attitude toward a comrade who didn't 'have their back' as they saw it.
Now Doc wasn't really a physician; at least not by any of the typical standards that can be applied. He had only the skills that a few weeks of medic training can provide. No more. No less. Yet what Doc lacked in medical knowledge he made up for with love and concern for those who relied upon him for help. In this sense, he truly was a physician.
Through the first six months of their deployment in Vietnam these young men slept together, patrolled together, fought together, bled together, and forged a bond that those of us who have never served can never understand. They learned to trust each other and, in Doc's case, they learned that whether or not a medic carried a weapon had no bearing on his ability to perform his duty and contribute to the unit. Through these shared experiences they became not just a group of men, not just any company, but they became Charlie Company.
That's what made June 19, 1967 so hard.
As part of Operation Concordia I, Charlie Company was ordered into battle on June the 19th. By noon, Charlie Company and the rest of their Battalion were involved in a fierce fire-fight with enemy forces that were not only superior in number but which also held better positions and the element of surprise. Through the day, over forty American soldiers were killed and over 150 wounded and, in the middle of it all, was Doc.
Early in the fighting several of the other medics were either killed or wounded. Further, Alpha Company had walked into a trap and many of their casualties were in the open and still under fire. I do not have a clear understanding of the details of this day. I know that many bronze and silver stars were awarded for the efforts made to rescue those who were ambushed. I know that many died trying to save their comrades. I know that Doc and several other men were able to rescue a handful of wounded soldiers and load them onto a helicopter -- only to have that helicopter shot down, killing some on board and nearly crashing onto the rescuers (see details). What I know is that there was a small part of Doc that died that day too, and left him wondering what he could have done better; what he could have done more.
And I also know that over 35 years later, an officer who was on the field that day looked me in the eyes and said "I do not know a braver man than your father."
You see, Doc is my dad. And on this Fathers Day -- June the 19th -- 44 years after Operation Concordia, I cannot be with him. But I know about June the 19th, and I know about my dad, and I know that many of you who read this blog will see him in church. And I know that Doc wouldn't want a big fuss made over him, so don't make a big fuss. But if you get the chance, just tell him "Thanks, Doc." (see Doc)
I cannot write this post without also mentioning dad's cousin, Denny Nieman. Denny was part of Alpha Company and was wounded on May 15th. As a result of his injury he was shipped home. On June the 19th many -- over half I think -- of the men Denny served with were either killed or wounded. Both Denny and Doc need your prayers this Fathers Day as they remember things that nobody should have to remember and grieve for losses that no one should have to suffer.