Bradley “Rocky” Burns of North Port, Fla. was sent to Vietnam in 1969 as a 20-year-old poorly-trained medic who hated the war with a passion.
“I took a light observation helicopter to fly to our base camp at Tây Ninh where the hospital was located. It was flown by a guy who had to follow a road to get to our camp,” Burns said. “I landed in 100º heat and walked across the airport to the hospital itself.
“My MOS was ‘Emergency Room Medic.’ I worked in a Surgical Hospital in Vietnam. Our field hospital supplied medical services to their 25th Division, 1st Cavalry Division, and the 187th Assault Helicopter Unit. “
Although Burns received 10 weeks of medical training at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, he was not trained for what was in store for him at the hospital in Tây Ninh.
“When I started working at the hospital in Vietnam I had never given an I.V.,” he explained. “During our 10 weeks of training back in Texas I never stuck a needle into a living person. My first I.V. came while working at the hospital in Tây Ninh.
“When I arrived I was sent to the main bunker for an indoctrination period. New guys stayed a few days in the bunker to learn the difference between incoming and outgoing fire,” Burns said. “A few days later I was assigned to a ward. This is where I met the doctors and the rest of the medical staff I would be working with.
“Then it was all hands on deck. Our hospital received a large number of wounded flown in by helicopter. The helicopter in Vietnam was a blessing and a curse. Within 10 minutes after being wounded on a battlefield you could be flown to a field hospital like ours, so it was a blessing. At the same time the remains of badly injured G.I.s were flown back to hospitals, but they were so seriously wounded they could not be put back together, so it was a curse.
“I was a 20-year-old medic who hadn’t been trained for what I was getting into. The thing that sticks in my mind after 50 years were three litters with three G.I.s in the back of the tent who were dying and left alone to die.
“One man only had half his head. All three of these litter cases were making undistinguishable sounds I will never forget. Finally a nurse grabbed me and said, ‘Don’t worry about them because they are going to die anyway.’
“I was sent up front to take care of people up there. This was my indoctrination to Vietnam. Later the chaplain did come to the aide of the three mortally wounded G.I.s. He handled all their denominations: Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish.
“I was not cut out to be a medic in Vietnam. There was nothing I liked that I got into over there,” he said. “So I worked to get into a program where if you came home from overseas with less than five months to serve you were immediately discharged from the Army.
“I spent 13 months, five weeks, and two days in country.
“My dislike for Vietnam started in 1964 when I was just 14 and the older kids in my neighborhood were being drafted. The first kid I knew was a kid named Adams. He was killed over there and that would have been in 1965. Vietnam was something we were aware of as young kids.
“There were times when I was very bitter about the war. I’m not bitter anymore thanks to V.A. psychiatrists. These psychiatrists got me straightened out.
“I was dating a girl before I was sent to Vietnam. Twenty days before I went to Tay-ninh we got married. She stayed with her parents while I was over there. When I came home I found her in jail for possession of narcotics. She was arrested because she had a couple of joints on her. All the money I sent home to her was gone.
“I went back to work at the printing job I left when I went into the service. I lasted a couple of years more at that job and then moved on,” Burns said.
“After three marriages the V.A. was telling me I needed psychiatric help. I received it from one particular V.A. doctor.”
About the time he moved to North Port seven years ago, he went into business for himself. He started selling the American Legion Posts hat pins and Zippo lighters.
“I sold a quarter-million lighters and other veterans’ stuff to Legion Posts and they resold it to veterans,” he explained.
He retired at 52 after suffering three heart attacks. “The last one I had I called 911 and they found me dead on the living room floor. They had to shock me to get me going again. I’m on my second life.Name:
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, September 2, 2019, and is republished with permission.
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