From: Kendall McNabney
To: Richard B. Abell
Sent: Wednesday, July 23, 2003 11:26 PM
Subject: De-ja vu
From bottom to top: Helipad, ambulance,1st bubble (rubberized Quonset hut) is pre-op, 2nd bubble is X-ray, Next box is rocket-mortar shelter, 3 similar
boxes with AC conduits are the 3 ORs, Last two bubbles are post-op.
Different view. That is a 10 foot revetment around bubbles that went down frequently with frags. Airstrip is in background.
From: Richard Abell
To: Kendall McNabney
Sent: Monday, July 28, 2003 10:15 AM
Subject: Re: 5 April 70, 1020 hrs
Vignettes, recollections, and responses to your queries: When I first landed in Vietnam (via Hawaii and Guam) I spent
several days at in-country processing as they decided to which unit to send me. I believe it was Long Binh? The
confidences that soldiers, will on occasion, entrust to near complete strangers is no doubt a function of their
stress/anxiety. I recall a black soldier that I befriended. At some point he decided that I was a father-confessor: no
doubt he wished to relieve the moral pressure of personal guilt (in reality this says good things about him) for an
egregious sin. At any rate he related to me how he had impregnated a girl. She had the child in her house on the
couch without anyone's knowledge, and, whether by accident or malice aforethought the infant was smothered to
death. She then called him and had him come and take the infant corpse into the woods and bury it. He did and his
complicity in this untoward event troubled him greatly. He had never told this story to anyone. I "counseled" him for an
afternoon although I sincerely hesitate to think that I should counsel anyone about anything. Hopefully I did not make
matters worse. Of course, I have no idea whatever happened to him.
Another more positive recollection is that a group of us were sitting and discoursing in the barracks at Long Binh
when one of the soldiers told us how he had telepathic abilities. We were skeptical at best as to this assertion so he
suggested an experiment. I should indicate that there was no betting/chancing of any kind. He stood in one corner of
our barracks with his back to us facing the corner with another soldier standing next to him to watch him (we all
changed places several times during this experiment in order to be certain that there was no trick). There were no
mirrors or other reflective devices nearby that I could ascertain. Then three of us stood in the opposite diagonal
corner (30-40 feet distance). One of us would pull a card from a deck of cards (facing the corner) and concentrate
thereon. Ergo, he had a one in fifty-two chance to guess the card. Over a fifteen minute period he guessed correctly
two out of three times! Of the other third, he might guess the number correctly but err on the suit. He could "read"
some of us better than others. There are many things in this life that are scientifically inexplicable, but I consider it
unscientific to deny them when we have no scientific explanation.
At one point, I decided to go to the large PX to purchase some Vietnamese items to send home to my wife.
Fortunately I did this at the beginning of my tour; generally most men waited till near the end of their tour. I sent
several Vietnamese dresses, a silver bracelet, and in-laid pearl chopsticks home with both South Vietnamese and
Military Payment Certificate currencies. I had been processing at the time and had several garden variety rather
worthless printed documents in my hand - but they were official appearing. When I was looking at items in the PX I was
attended by a young attractive Vietnamese female. She noticed that I had paperwork in my hands and initiated a
conversation about where I was going, etc. She was candidly flirting with me and while flirting casually turning the
documents that I had laid down on the counter (they had initially faced me) until they were turned 180 degrees and
she could glance down and scan them. I quickly realized what was afoot and pretended not to notice so as to see
where this was going. At some point, she concluded that they were meaningless printed circulars given to all recently
landed troops and of zero intelligence value. I knew precisely when she so concluded because her flirting ceased
abruptly! I presume that there were spies everywhere.
When I was essentially immobile in the Third Corps Hospital in Saigon for perhaps two weeks I remember a young
soldier in fatigues (not dressed the same as the other personnel) stopping by and asking if I was a Christian. When I
responded in the affirmative he asked if I should like him to pray with me. Of course I said yes. He never actually ever
indicated his denomination. He stopped by once a day for five or six days always at different times to pray with me
until there came a time when he explained that he could not stop by again - that this would be the last time. I inquired
as to why and he told me that the ward personnel were not comfortable with his presence (our praying was virtually
sotto voce), it disrupted matters, and disturbed the other patients. Whether this was true of not, I do not know, but I
was more than disconcerted.
When Americans stealthily move through the jungle they are noted for (a) excessive noise, and (b) trash. There is too
much metal clinking on metal. That is why we placed our dog tags on our bootlaces. They clinked suspended around
our necks. I actually picked up live grenades dropped by troopers ahead of me on sweeps through the jungle - and
nobody gave a damn! Once I found an unused M-72 rocket launcher that had presumably fallen off an APC (the 11th
Armored Cav was in our AO - the red horse regiment). My NCO was irritated that I had handed it to him inasmuch as
he would now have to go to the trouble of handing it in. So ... leave it for Charlie?
My records indicate that I arrived in-country in early March. Therefore, I was in-country for a month before being
delivered to your OR. All-in-all I prefer being an early statistic to that of my squad comrade whom "bought the ranch"
when he had less than a month to go. I suspect that I mentally absorbed a lifetime of life experiences during those
weeks! (I should add that I could write ad nauseam of my two year experiences in the Peace Corps in South America. I
kept a diary there but have not even looked at it in decades.)
I found your explication comments on why the one trooper gave me mouth-to-mouth logical. It had never occurred to
me that the medical personnel could have Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder but it makes imminent good sense.
Thank you for the photos of the 45th. They mean something to me.
My daughter was named Rachel for a maternal Colombian great-aunt, Mercedes for a Colombian aunt, and Cadavid
for my wife's maternal surname. My son is named Christian for a Yankee ancestor whom served in the 74th
Pennsylvania, Aven for a Confederate militiaman called up to duty at the age of 58 to protect his country, and
Lombana for my wife's paternal surname. I am named Richard for my direct Rebel ancestor whom served in the 31st
Alabama during the recent unpleasantness. Genealogy is my avocation along with history.
Perhaps of interest, while on a company size multiple day operation in the jungle somewhere in Tay Ninh Province,
after an insertion into a hot LZ, we continually found copies of the small multi-coloured attractive leaflets that were
part of our Chieu Hoi Program. These were printed by us, air dropped into the jungle, and if a NVA soldier were to
approach us waiving one of these we were not to shoot. As I understood it, these were "passes" for surrender and
when used as such, the bearer would not go to a POW camp as such but rather to a camp for those being
re-introduced into South Vietnam life - an amnesty plan. However, in addition to our leaflet/passes, we also found their
leaflets for us! Printed on newspaper quality paper and with numerous grammatical and orthographical errors, they
told us to go home. I still have a copy of each that had been preserved in my "official" First Cav plastic wallet (but it
had sealed water-protected sections therein) that I carried with me. I also still have the 7.62 mm bullet that I found
taped onto my pillow when I woke up in Third Corps Saigon (presumably placed there by you?). It now is suspended
as a rhodium plated watch fob. No doubt I will recall more! Godspeed. ~ Richard
|Note: The Medical Unit Self-Contained Transportable (MUST) units were
introduced in Vietnam. These were expandable, mobile shelters with
inflatable ward sections. Expandable sections were also provided for the
radiology, laboratory, pharmacy, dental and kitchen areas. Most notable
among the MUST units was the 45th Surgical Hospital in Tay Ninh, Vietnam.
|The Chiêu Hồi Program
([tɕiə̯w˧ hoj˧˩] (also spelled "chu hoi" or "chu-hoi" i
English) Loosely translated as "Open Arms" was an
initiative by the South Vietnamese to encourage
defection by the Viet Cong and their supporters to the
side of the Government during the Vietnam War
Defection was urged by means of a propaganda
campaign, usually leaflets delivered by artillery shell or
dropped over enemy-controlled areas by aircraft, or
messages broadcast over areas of South Vietnam. A
number of incentives were offered to those who chose to
cooperate, along with psychological warfare to break
For More Information Click on Links Below
Kendall McNabney replied:
What a compelling story teller you are. Even knowing the punch line you brought tears of
delight as well as tears of empathy for your candor, for your family and for your courage. From my perspective your
story is truly unique, now that I know your background of taking the 'road less traveled’. To volunteer for the infantry
as a grunt with your education, family and seniority is unheard of in my experience and then to survive 5 April 70 is
truly an inspiration just as your nephew stated. However, I do have many questions as you have stimulated my
memory or lack of: How long had you been in country? The comments about experience, juxtaposition to R&R, the
continuum of being too green but not being too short. This was also a critical issue and I thought well covered in
"Platoon.” Of all the movies I saw about Vietnam I thought Platoon reflected the fact that Oliver Stone had ' been
there.’ Of course it was fiction and the suggestion that all of those things could happen to one platoon created
controversy among veterans. Mouth-to mouth (lip lock); another thought on that would be that you had just received
morphine which is a respiratory depressant made worse with blood loss and shock and he may have thought you
were not breathing. He was also more scared than you! The do something or as we say in medicine the treatment
imperative.M-79 grenades- As you probably know several of these were removed undetonated after accidentally
discharging from launcher. Most were embedded in thigh. We were told that this removal was not risky because
activation of grenade occurred after so many rotations. Therefore if you didn't twist it upon removal it was OK. I am
glad I never had to test that theory.
Your survival of blood loss, time from injury to treatment and rough handling is an absolute miracle. I never would
have guessed you were shot at 1020 hrs. That shows once again the protective nature of low blood pressure and
hypercoagulability associated with shock. That is why even now it is controversial as to how much saline or blood
should be given before you get the patient to OR. "Corps Woman" was registered nurse. I know that it was common
for GIs to place their dog tags on their boots rather than around neck, but I never knew why. Why? Incidence of Post-
Traumatic Stress Disorder, according to VA, is very high among combat infantry and amazingly the corpsmen and
hospital personnel. In other words, the injured and the caregivers to the injured. I never thought about it at the time,
but in retrospect it had a greater effect than I perceived at the time. Once again your prescience is inexplicable, Now
that I know you saw 45th from air I will send you likeness under separate mailing. Mercedes is a beautiful name. I had
a patient who survived a plane crash near Cali, Columbia with that name. She was also a miracle!
From: Richard Abell
To: "W. Kendall McNabney, M.D."
Sent: Wednesday, July 30, 2003 1:45 PM
Subject: More ...
It seems that each time I am convinced that the well is dry, I recall more ... After I had been at Valley Forge Military
Hospital near Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, for several months, I was starting to get some "cabin fever." Besides medical
home leave, I realized that hospital security was not up to standards. To that end one of my fellow patients and myself
would frequently wander off base to drink at a local watering hole. At night, after theward was closed down, with the
implicit knowledge of the on-duty night nurses (we had a good rapport with the nurses), my colleague from
Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and myself would walk out a side gate in our government issue pajamas, bathrobes, and
slippers (dark blue denim with a US logo and the medical serpent symbol on the upper left pocket) down the street,
and into a local taproom (bars are called taprooms in eastern Pennsylvania and rural New York State) called the
My associate was a BIG fellow with baseball mitts for hands – definitely intimidating. We would drink cheap beer and
play darts and then wander on back through the side gate – always after hours. The guards didn't really care. The
nurses were amused. The doctors never found out (or at least they never indicated knowledge). Of interest, the
proprietor of the Stables and the other bartenders and patrons never showed any recognition that we were wearing
pajamas! They were a somewhat singular set. We did this numerous times. I should also mention that for part of this
time I still had my colostomy bag. Valley Forge Military Hospital is now a Christian college. My brother lives in a rural
area a mere fifteen minutes from the Stables. He still occasionally stops by and patronizes therein. He informs me that
almost nothing has changed in thirty-three years! Same proprietor, same family-run taproom, no change in the interior
or exterior ... except that now they have added a small hot dog rotisserie on top of the bar! They still have the same
billiards table and dartboard. Nothing has changed. However, he also told me, "Rick, don't go there on Thursday
nights, that's Lesbo softball night." Well, maybe some things do change!
I now recall the first time on a Huey when we were going into a hot LZ. The doors were open. I was sitting on the end
seat looking out into the great beyond. The seats were a hard plastic (?) with no handles, armrests, etc., on which to
place your arm or anything else. I was holding onto my M-16 in front of me with the butt on the floor and barrel
pointing up. As the chopper was banking I glanced out and realized that I was looking almost straight down (not
actually but it appeared to me that way). I do not wish to acknowledge that I was fearful, but ... The only thing that
seemed to be keeping me in was centrifugal force. I held onto my rifle with such firmness that my knuckles were white.
And, of course my rifle was firmly held in place by ... nothing! At the time, I did not see the humor of this.
Before being sent to my unit in the field I spent several days at our base at Tay Ninh. I was placed on perimeter guard
duty in the extensive bunker and trench fortifications around Tay Ninh. The city of Tay Ninh is overlooked by a
mountain named Nui Ba Den (spelling?). This translates as Black Virgin Mountain. We held the top and the bottom;
the NVA held the middle. There was a Special Forces camp/base on the top that was being continually attacked by
the bad guys. Our men would hold sweeps of the mountain, clear out the caves that apparently honeycombed the
mountain, and then sit and wait for the caves to refill with more NVA and the process would repeat itself. This was an
active war zone. Penetrations of the perimeter, mortar attacks, etc., were common. Feeder trails from the Ho Chi Minh
Trail came out of Cambodia and through Tay Ninh on their way further south and east. Of course, immediately beyond
our bunkers and trench system were claymore mines, razor wire, trip flares, buried fu gas (spelling?), etc.
One day on duty at a perimeter bunker I was examining our hand-held flares - a tube of perhaps @12 inches. They
have an aluminum top/cover that you take off and place over the other end in order to fire them. Inside of the
aluminum cap is an aluminum pin projecting up. This acts as a firing pin when put in the proper place. On the base of
the flare is an insert of primer. This is quite similar to a bullet. Sometimes the primer is flush with the rest of the base,
and sometimes sits a little in. It makes little difference for the purposes of firing the flare. When places the cap over
the base - carefully, holds the flare in the left hand (for right handed troops) and then slaps hard the capped
aluminum base with the right palm. This sends the pin into the primer and ignites the flare which is then sent out of the
tube and into the air. It goes presumably up into the air and lights up everything in the area for clear visual
observation for several minutes. Simple and effective. The down side, however, is that it cannot actually be aimed; it
may not go precisely where you wish it. The act of slapping the bottom may send it off in another direction. I was
cogitating on this tactical matter with my M-79 Grenade Launcher by my side. I realized that the smooth bore M-79
tube could easily contain the flare tube. I broke open the M-79 and noted that the firing pin stuck out a fraction of an
inch after the trigger was pulled. This appeared to be enough projection that it would trigger the primer of the flare if I
used a flare having a primer insert flush with its own base.
Whether it was that night or the next I do not recall, but I was on night duty in a bunker when we were picking up
sound in the wire before us. Of course it could be a sapper. After fruitless visual search and night scope search, we
saw nothing. We continued to pick up sound. Eventually we sought permission to send up a flare. It was given. I then
positioned myself on top of the bunker with my flare and M-79. When my buddies saw that I was inserting the flare into
the M-79 tube, they went berserk jumping down inside the bunker and yelling at me that I would explode myself. They
had never seen anything like this in training, nor had I! I do not gamble unless the cards are stacked in my favor. But,
I had concluded that this was do-able. I tried my experiment and it worked like a charm. I could direct my flare. The
only downside was the emission of sparks from where the M-79 tube met its rear break. Nonetheless, we still saw
nothing. So, we requested permission to fire the claymores. It was given and we fired multiple claymore electronic
mines with their thousands of BBs. After that there was no longer any noise in the wire. The next morning we went out
to see what/who had tried to penetrate our bunker complex. We found small pieces of brown and white fur all over the
concertina wire! We bagged a communist canine no doubt with mal-intent! No doubt I will remember more! Godspeed.
From: Kendall McNabney
To: Richard B. Abell
Sent: Wednesday, July 30, 2003 11:05 PM
Subject: Nui Ba Den
I will complete your Nui series in case you didn't have a camera in Tay Ninh
| Standing Orders, Rogers Rangers
Major Robert Rogers, 1759
Standing Orders, Rogers Rangers was taken from USARV GTA 21-3 (September 1967).
Each soldier arriving in the Republic of Vietnam was issued this General Training Aid
(GTA), which measured 2 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches, and required to keep it on his person at all
times. Although written during the French and Indian Wars, the tactical doctrine
contained in these rules was entirely applicable to operations in Vietnam.
1. Don’t forget nothing.
2. Have your musket clean as a whistle, hatchet scoured, sixty rounds powder and ball,
and be ready to march at a minute’s warning.
3. When you are on the march, act the way you would if you were sneaking up on a deer.
See the enemy first.
4. Tell the truth about what you see and what you do. There is an army depending on us
for correct information. You can lie all you please when you tell other folks about the
rangers, but don’t never lie to a ranger or officer.
5. Don’t never take a chance you don’t have to.
6. When we’re on march we march single file, far enough apart so no one shot can go
through two men.
7. If we strike swamps, or soft ground, we spread out abreast, so it’s hard to track us.
8. When we march, we keep moving till dark, so as to give the enemy the least possible
chance at us.
9. When we camp, half the party stays awake while the other half sleeps.
10. If we take prisoners, we keep ‘em separate till we have time to examine them, so they
can’t cook up a story between ‘em.
11. Don’t ever march home the same way. Take a different route so you won’t be
12. No matter whether we travel in big parties or little ones, each party has to keep a
scout 20 yards ahead, 20 yards on each flank, and 20 yards in the rear, so the main
body can’t be surprised and wiped out.
13. Every night you’ll be told where to meet if surrounded by a superior force.
14. Don’t sit down to eat without posting sentries.
15. Don’t sleep beyond dawn. Dawn’s when the French and Indians attack.
16. Don’t cross a river at a regular ford.
17. If somebody’s trailing you, make a circle, come back onto your own tracks, and
ambush the folks that aim to ambush you.
18. Don’t stand up when the enemy’s coming against you. Kneel down, lie down, hide
behind a tree.
19. Let the enemy come till he’s almost close enough to touch. Then let him have it and
jump out and finish him up with your hatchet.
REVISED FROM MAJOR ROBERT ROGERS' "28 RULES OF RANGING",c. 1789