Navy Medicine in Vietnam: Passage to Freedom to the Fall of Saigon

April 23, 2010

One of the goals of this blog is to review new Government publications as soon as we can, so people can find out about and, we hope, read them. Navy Medicine in Vietnam just hit my desk. It’s not a long book – around 52 pages. It provides an excellent overview of Navy medical activities in Vietnam from Passage to Freedom – the evacuation of Vietnamese from north to south after the 1954 Geneva Accords – to the collapse of South Vietnam in 1975. Along the way, there are brief descriptions of the work of hospitals,  hospital ships, Navy corpsmen, medevac, and more.

To me, the most fascinating parts of the book are the oral histories: the nurse in Saigon who came under fire during the coup against the Diem government, the grim recollections of another nurse on the staff of the navy Support Activity Hospital in Danang, and the amazingly modest statement of a corpsman who threw himself on a grenade (which amazingly did not detonate)to protect his patients, received a Congressional Medal of Honor and said, “It didn’t appear to me worthy of a general flying in and saying, ‘you’re a hero’.”

For sheer suspense, though, nothing tops “Dr. Dinsmore’s Souvenir”, a first-person account of a Navy surgeon who removed an unexploded 60mm mortar shell from the chest of a South Vietnamese soldier.  The X-ray of the patient has to be seen to be believed. Captain Dinsmore received the Navy Cross for this operation, but I wonder whether Engineman First Class John Lyons, who was the only other person in the operating room and safely detonated the mortar round afterward, got some recognition, too. It’s an amazing story.

You’ll find gripping reading, as well as an informative account of wartime medical activities, in Navy Medicine in Vietnam.


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