By Jennifer Martin - email
JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - Robert Hays went on active duty with the Navy in June 1967.
"I went in. Spent 8 months at San Diego, for Hospital Corp school. 8 months at Naval Hospital in Memphis. And the final 8 months in Vietnam.
I was with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines"
He was a corpsman, a medic for injured Marines.
"I was made the senior corpsman of the company. I had, under me, four corpsmen. And I was responsible for making sure everybody had all their meds; making sure all of the logistic stuff got done right. If we got ambushed, I called in the helicopters, all that kind of stuff. I make sure things are done right, like IVs.
I got there not too long after the siege of Khe Sanh. And the North Vietnamese had pretty well pulled back. Things were pretty quiet for the first couple of months. The first operation that I went on was in November of 68. It was tough. You think of the pictures of jungles you have seen. We're talking about rugged mountains covered with triple canopy jungle. And they inserted us off the helicopter at the base of one of these mountains. And we found a trail and started going. And they didn't mess around.
We got lost about 3 or 4 days out, totally lost. There was no GPS then. The maps were horribly inaccurate."
They walked for days and nights, without sleep, without food and water. The men grew sick. Many had dysentery. Others began to hallucinate. A hard task master of an operations officer kept pushing them forward, until finally they met the junction of two rivers, which revealed their location. They had endured a terrible ordeal --and they hadn't even faced their first ambush yet.
"The first ambush, I think it was January if I remember right. Ambushes are scary things. You're walking down the trail, or down a creek bed, we happened to be in creek bed when this one hit and of course the jungle comes all the way down to the jungle so you can't see anything. And all of a sudden, everything is blowing up. Just bam, bam, bam.
Corpsmen were high targets. They were targets they really liked to hit. One corpsman, as long has he's alive, he can patch his guys up and send them back to fight. If he's out, or wounded, they're wounded, they're out."
The danger would only intensify in the coming months.
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