18th Surgical Hospital Quang Tri 1968–Remembering a Tragedy

I didn’t find his name at the Wall last Sunday.  Although I was with him his last seconds on earth, I never knew his name.

We ran him in on a litter into the receiving ward at 18th Surgical Hospital at Quang Tri that summer of 1968.  He was pale from heavy loss of blood.  He looked to be about twenty, thin with sandy hair.  They all seemed to be thin and about twenty.

We got him on a table.  The nurses started cutting his clothes off of him.  And there it was–a blue little mouth of a bullet entry hole in his abdomen.

“How did it happen?” someone shouted.

“They said he was packing to go home tomorrow.  He was putting the pistol in the bag when it went off.”

The surgeon appeared at the table.  He examined him for an instant, then he cursed and yelled, “Gimme some adrenalin in a big syringe.”  The nurse handed it to him and, he cursed again and stabbed the young man in the middle of his chest pushing the clear fluid into his heart.

He worked like a whirling, sweating madman for another minute or two.  He pushed on his chest and issued a dry crying curse under his breath with every movement.  I should have been drawing some blood in order to cross match some for him, but I just stood there staring into the doctor’s eyes the whole time.  All of us just stared at him and not the patient, for we all knew that we could do nothing until hope sprang forth from the face of the doctor.   And it didn’t.

The doctor said nothing.  He turned around and went to the next table where a young thin man was writhing in pain.  I looked down at the young man with sandy hair.  His face was a powdery greyish white color, his skin cold.  I turned around and went to the next table to draw some blood.  And that was the last time I ever saw him.

I thought upon this tragedy as I slowly and reverently walked by the Wall.  I read many names who died hoping to somehow get back to “the World.”  Maybe I read his name today.

Kenneth Wayne Hancock, Spec. 4/ Medical Lab Tech/ 18th Surgical Hospital / Pleiku, An Khe, Quang Tri, Vietnam, Sept. 1967-Sept. 1968


Filed under death, Vietnam Stories

11 responses to “18th Surgical Hospital Quang Tri 1968–Remembering a Tragedy

  1. fiveblocks

    Very powerful story you have shared. I think that most families who have lost someone in a war situation would hope that their loved one would have people there like what you explain in the story…..after a while, for everyone and whatever they do, its a job but, everyone wants to do a good job and their best. I think what you have shared is the frustration of trying to do your best in the face of a situation that is already determined.

    I wonder(hope) if those that have to make the big decisions on war for our country have as much desire. The mechanics of pulling things out of the bucket are always much easier than putting them back in….there always seems like there is so much more to put back in.

    saludos, 5b

  2. wayneman5

    Thank you, 5b, for the thoughts. Many died before my eyes and in my arms that year in hell. All were heartbreaks until our 20 year old minds went numb and we went on automatic pilot. I suppose for self-preservation our minds have a way of forgetting most of the horror we go through. This is the one that I remember the most clearly. kwh

  3. LP

    Just now read this. Did thoughts of eternity cross your mind when you were face to face with this tragedy? The young man was not exempt from physical death – can we hope that you will see him in heaven?

  4. wayneman5

    LP, I do not know if I will see him again in heaven; God is the righteous judge; it was not a suicide. It was experiences like this that propelled me on the quest for answers to life’s mysteries, as to why we are here? why the savagery of war? why the suffering? I know that God was using it all to pull me along down the road to Him. That is all that I am sure of. KWH

  5. Sean

    Dear Mr. Hancock,

    On June 2, 1967, a long range recon group were ambushed in Pleiku. The soldiers were taken to the 18th Surg. One of the soldiers had his left leg was amputated. He lived for 12 days and died from infection. The docs didn’t find all the shrapnel. I have been trying to find someone who was at the 18th Surg. during June of 1967. Would you mind answering a few questions?

    Best regards,

  6. LTC Jim Moorhouse (USA Retired).

    I was a 1st Lt, RN, with the 18th from Feb 68 untilDec 68, and remember many such occurences, some more dramatic than others. I remember giving blood on a number of occasions, as we didn’t have the capability to store this item in large quantities. The whole place wasn’t worth one of our young men or women.

    • Thanks, Colonel Moorhouse, for your service. You are right; there were too many occasions of heartrending tragedy–too numerous to remember. We might have worked together possibly. Did you work in the ER receiving? If not, where? Do you remember the names of the two majors who were the the chief nurses? K W Hancock

    • Jose E.Figueroa

      my name is Jose Figueroa i was a corpsman there when you was there i still remember you.there was col kaku hosp commander,,after i get of the service i went to med school an now i an a physician at my home town in puerto Rico,my email is quito24@hotmail.com if you like to write to me

    • Sandy Hays

      Do you remember a surgeon at the 18th in mid 1968 named Hays. Frederick or Whitey Hays. Used to put up signs around his tent warning of rats (to piss off CO) smoked a pipe. Gave a dog a c-section because she could push the pups out.

  7. Col James Odom (ret) 1st Lt Odom in1967

    I remember “Whitey,” a “chest cutter,” He was one of my tent mates. Always reading- preparing for his boards. I think he went to Yale. Very layed back. We had a “big” celebration when one of his kids was born. Good guy. What ever happened to him?

  8. Col James Odom (ret) 1st Lt Odom in1967

    I’m trying to locate Jim Moorhouse and George Spann. Both were RNs in the 18th MASH…

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