Geoffrey Morris of Venice. Fla. was a conscientious objector who volunteered to become a medic with the 237th Medical Detachment. He flew out of Quang Tri, Vietnam in 1970-71 aboard a DMZ Dust Off helicopter rescuing wounded soldiers and taking them to the 18th Surgical Hospital for emergency treatment.
“Our unit was small, approximately 32 members and five helicopters. The casualty rate was very high: 14 men were killed and another three or four were sent home early with disabling injuries,” he wrote years later. “In all candor, it was very dangerous work as we were expected to fly into hostile landing zones, in horrible weather, in remote areas with no gunship cover, with constant fear that you might be the next casualty.”
For one of the rescue missions he went on, Morris was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry. During the 14 months he served in the war zone, he was often in the midst of a lot of killing, caring for horrendously wounded soldiers day in and day out, but he sustained hardly a scratch.
How could this be?
“Luck,” the long-time West Coast Florida lawyer said at his Venice office almost 45 years later.
“We had a pilot who arrived over there with us and four days later he was killed. Sometimes someone would go up on a routine mission, the weather would turn bad, the helicopter would crash and all would be killed. We lost seven people one night because of bad weather. You just never knew because things like that happened for no rhyme or reason,” he explained.
“I was stationed with 40 other men who flew patients to the hospital in Quang Tri. It was in the very northern part of South Vietnam near the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone),” Morris said. “We flew in an unarmed Huey helicopter. There was a pilot, co-pilot, crew-chief and medic. Many times we flew into a hot landing zone day or night. It was a high risk job. You didn’t have to do it. You volunteered to do it.”
During a rescue attempt by helicopter, the chopper stayed no more than 11 seconds on the Landing Zone. Six, seven or eight seconds was average. The longer a helicopter was on the ground at an L. Z. the greater the chance of it being shot up by NVA or VC (Vietcong) troops.
“We’d fly into a L.Z. and yank the wounded into the helicopter. We could get nine or 10 wounded soldiers in a Huey if we didn’t use stretchers,” Morris said. “Once we got ’em in the chopper we’d sort ’em out later.”
The worst of the worst were the night ambulance flights. Often they couldn’t see the L.Z. About the only thing lit up that was visible were the green tracer bullets coming from the muzzles of enemy weapons pointed at them.
On June 1, 1970 Morris was the medic aboard an air ambulance on a rescue mission near Hue, the ancient capital of Vietnam. His Huey attempted to pick up a couple of wounded soldiers when all hell brook lose.
“As we came in to land on the side of a hill, the wind kicked up and picked our helicopter about 12 feet off the ground. At that moment a shell from a 57-millimeter recoilless rifle was fired at us. It hit the ground right below our helicopter and caused it to break in two.
“All but Bobby Campbell, the crew-chief from Kingsville, Texas scrambled out of the burning chopper. When I realized he had not gotten out I went back and pulled him out. He had frags (shrapnel) all over him,” Morris said.
“There were lots of other wounded on the ground, probably 30 or 40 in the company I had to take care of. We were surrounded by NVA (North Vietnamese Army) soldiers shooting at us,” he said. “After we were shot down the next helicopter that came into rescue us was also shot down. We were probably on the ground a couple of hours before two more helicopters flew in and rescued all of us.”
Morris spent 14 months flying as a medic aboard a rescue helicopter in Vietnam. He served in the Army for a total of 19 months. When he returned to the States in July 1971 he was discharged at Fort Lewis, Wash.
He said he doesn’t recall being hassled by anti-war protesters when he got home. He wasn’t spit on or called “Baby Killer” like so many other soldiers returning from the Vietnam War.
Almost immediately he got a job working in a Canadian gold mine company a short distance from the Arctic Circle for six months . Then he took the G.I. Bill, returned to the USA and went to law school.
By then he and Pamela, his wife, got married. After graduation Morris passed the Florida Bar test and the couple moved to Venice in 1976. They have four grown children: Julie, Grayson, Andrew and Emily.
Looking back on his service in the military, Morris observed, “It was just luck I wasn’t killed in Vietnam.
“The guys I worked with over there in the 237th Medical Detachment were just ordinary guys who stepped up to the plate. They were common men in uncommon times. They were all volunteers who knew their chances of getting hurt were pretty high if they keep on doing what they were doing. They were my heroes.”
Foot Note: In the introduction to Phil Marshall’s book, “DMZ Dustoff Vietnam” he writes: “The 237th Medical Detachment, Helicopter Ambulance was the last Dustoff unit to arrive in Vietnam and the last one to leave.
“After the war it was determined 98% of the wounded who were picked up in our Hueys survived the war. ‘The Wall’ in Washington D.C. would have been much longer had it not been for all these men and their helicopters, not to mention the medical teams who took care of the wounded after we delivered them.”
Name: Geoffrey Morris
D.O.B: 12 Aug 1946
Hometown: Manchester, Conn.
Currently: Venice, Fla.
Entered Service: 1969
Rank: Warrant Officer I
Unit: 237th Medical Detachment
Commendations: Silver Star
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 and is republished with permission.
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