I served as an Army trauma surgeon at the 85th Evacuation Hospital, Phu Bai, Vietnam, '70-'71. Into our emergency room were intermittently deposited the wounded, some grievous others not, by the daredevil Dust Off medieval pilots who risked imminent death with each mission. We routinely witnessed the devastation of war on the body, mind, and soul. The corpsmen, technicians, nurses, anesthesiologists, and surgeons explored every known and out-of-the-box technique to salvage life and limb. If the wounded arrived alive at the 85th, he had a 95% chance of survival. It was and still is that 5% whose injuries were so severe or whose blood loss could not be stemmed that haunt us today. That's PTS. By storytelling for fifty years since returning to the US in late August 1971, I have avoided the (D) and mollified my demons. The intense emotions during my traumatic experience have softened greatly but, I am back in Vietnam on a daily basis. In 2015 I compiled my stories into Welcome Home From Vietnam, Finally, A Vietnam Trauma Surgeon's Memoir. It is gripping, honest, real-life, and disturbing. Then we realize that the 58,000+ lives lost did not change a thing. No dominos fell and Vietnam is now our close trading partner. They have been gracious victors.
Dr. Gus Kappler served as a trauma surgeon during the Vietnam War at the 85th Evacuation Hospital ’70-‘71. His well-received 2015 memoir, Welcome Home From Vietnam, Finally, describes his surgical experiences and personal transformation.
After his military service, Gus enjoyed a successful solo surgical practice in the small city of Amsterdam located in the majestic Mohawk River Valley in upstate New York. He and his family enjoyed hiking, camping, snowshoeing, hunting, kayaking, and photographing in the valley and the nearby Adirondack Mountains.
Gus’s current historical medical mystery, One Degree, reflects his real-life knowledge gained in Vietnam, during solo surgical practice, living and recreating in the Mohawk Valley, teaching at Weill Cornell Medicine, and in understanding global politics.
Through reading One Degree, he wishes to remind us of how morality, personal goals, and life choices may be complicated by the unique influences introduced by an unfamiliar environment. The reader is introduced to the development of PTSD, the condoning of corrupt practices, and the virulent pursuit of wealth and power.
Yes, I’m in the minority. But I prefer Medivac to Medevac.
The young men that flew and manned the Dust-Off (Medivac) Huey UH1 helicopters of the 326th Medical Battalion were dedicated to rescue and deliver the wounded to our medical facility, the 85th Evacuation Hospital. Fourteen of their number
were KIA during the year I served.
My dear friend, Bob Nevins, piloted Dust Off missions for the 326th to the 85th that same year. They were heroic kids challenging the odds of survival as if crashing vehicles in a State Fair demolition derby.
The choppers were sitting ducks for penetrating small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. Not deterred, they flew in borderline weather of mist, rain, and wind to navigate jungle growth in attempting to extract the wounded.
Bob, a modest man, related one of his crashes wherein he extracted his crew from the wreckage, evaded the enemy, and
awaited rescue. He vividly describes the white-hot rocket going through his aircraft.
Few have heard his story and the stories of most veterans.
I dealt with my PTS by story-telling, talking. Most veterans do not allow themselves to do the same. That and other factors contribute to PTSD and suicide.
Bob Nevins has created the wildly successful equine-assisted Alliance 180 to address the veterans’ and first responder demons.
Welcome Home From Vietnam, Finally
Our call sign was Plasma Hotel. As the medivac Huey approached, they would hide the M60 machine gun and send a transmission reflecting the number and seriousness of their precious cargo. The enemy used the Red Cross for target practice. No chopper was safe when within range of the enemy. The official interpretation of the Geneva Conventions was that the medivac Hueys could not be armed. Nonsense! They carried an M60 machine gun swung from bungee cords for protection, but once over friendly terrain, the weapon was detached.