Tag Archives: MASH

Memories of Pleiku, 18th Surgical Hospital, 1967

Pleiku.  The Highlands.  I was only there about a month or two.  Seemed longer at the time, like a short lifetime.  As it turned out, many lifetimes ended there.  I arrived in Pleiku the last week of October 1967.  I was in Saigon for med. lab training the month before, learning to test for malaria–something they didn’t teach us stateside.

I remember that it was so cool there.  It was up out of the steaming coastal areas where you could definitely breathe better.

The hospital physically looked like it had been there for many years.  The buildings were semi-permanent wooden structures that gave it an air of stability.  I can say that because the 18th Surg would go MASH in Nov.-Dec ’67.

I was just getting my bearings, green as heck, 20 years old, learning under a 30 year old Spec. 5 lifer who knew what he was doing.  I didn’t, of course, but I learned the ropes fast–obtaining blood samples from the wounded and then cross-matching units of blood for them.  That is what I did 95% of the time during my tour.  The hundred other lab tests that I was taught to do seemed insignificant, superfluous busy work discarded in the face of bloody ordeals.  That ought to tell you something about how many casualties we took in.  We worked a 12 hour shift, 7 days a week, always on call.

Many enlisted men (and a Major) turned to marijuana to ease the tension of the brutal toll taken on our nerves.  Yes, I was weak and succumbed to the temptation to forget everything chemically.  Just getting back home to the “world” was all that mattered at the time, in one piece, physically and mentally.  I am not proud of this fact, but God was good to me and allowed me to learn from my mistakes.  I am pleased now with the work we all did in saving lives.  That part makes me feel good.

I remember one night in Pleiku, I was walking back to our barracks at night, very stoned.  A big ruckus came blowing out the door and onto the front lawn.  I peaked in and saw a boot flying in slow motion through the air.  Excited yells echoed off the walls.  “I hit him!  There he is!  He’s still alive!  Let me have him!”  It turned out to be a rat that McDonald, the company clerk, had stunned.

He then picked it up, took it outside, and commenced to douse it with lighter fluid.  Soon the Zippo was out and a writhing animal bond-fire was ignited.  Everyone was laughing maniacally.  I guess the tension was being relieved like when some of us laugh during a horror movie.  It was pretty crazy.

Funny how you remember stupid things like that.  The mind has a way of forgetting the truly traumatic incidences in our lives.  God allows us to forget those times when we either did dark things or had them done to us.  I suppose it allows us to continue on, to walk on toward the sunshine.

I, of course, have forgotten the faces of suffering I saw everyday–the dying young men at the 18th Surgical Hospital during my year there in 1967-1968.  Hundreds, thousands were treated.  If I could remember them now, I would be so heartbroken all the time that I wouldn’t be much good for anything else.

I remember that I was welcomed by my brothers-in-arms because I was a professional barber before I was drafted.  Oakland, Calif. Barber College.  It was the family business; Dad was a barber, Uncle Dale and others…They told me that the Vietnamese barber that had been cutting their hair at the hospital had been captured and was a Vietcong.  He was holding scissors and razors against the heads of our men by day and raining down mortars on them by night.  So I was a big hit as I set up shop in our barracks during my free time.  The C. O., other officers, and many enlisted men were my clients.  I actually made more money cutting hair than I made in army salary.

Being in Pleiku was a pretty nice gig, except for the bloodshed.  We had a nice club and had bands come in–GI dudes who were very good rock musicians, working for the USO special services, making their rounds to the different NCO clubs.  I remember a trio–elec. guitar/lead vocals, bass, drums–that were dynamite. In fact they played “Mr. Dynamite” James Brown songs, cape and all, plus the wicked Pickett, Otis, Temptations, a big hit for us.

It was there in Pleiku that I got my nickname that stuck with me the whole year–“The Groove.”  It was a difficult name to live up to, but I tried very hard.  A short-timer named Tenant saw me on my cot playing the Martin guitar that I hauled all the way from home.  He comes over and says very loud and sarcastically, “Hey, everybody, look at this guy.  That’s just groovy, man.  He is so groovy.”  And it stuck.

My one to two months at Pleiku working at 18th Surg proved to be the best months during my tour.  We would move the hospital to Lai Khe/Long Bien in Nov. 1967, be over-run during the Tet Offensive and have to move again, finally winding up 15 miles from the DMZ in Quang Tri, where the salty red stuff flowed more abundantly, and a thousand personal insanities cried out for Mom, apple pie, and a good bed.    Kenneth Wayne Hancock

{If you were in 18th Surg during 1967-68, at Pleiku, Lai Khe, or Quang Tri, please make a comment.  I would love to hear from you.  I’m trying to get in touch with those who were there with me.  I would love to have some photos; I don’t have a one of my time there.  Thank you.  KWH}

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