Vietnam War Navy Corpsman Recalls His Darkest Days - WSET.com - ABC13

Vietnam War Navy Corpsman Recalls His Darkest Days

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All this week on ABC 13 News, we'll profile heroes from right here in the Heart of Virginia who have served and sacrificed for us.

Reporter:  Shelley Basinger

Lynchburg, VA - When fighting for our country during war, all service members are thrown into the most high-stress situations imaginable.  But there's one military job that has some added pressure.  Whether an injured soldier lives or dies is in your hands.

At just a glance of a few pictures, Jerry "Doc" Bumgarner is taken right back to the very spot he was during the Vietnam War.

Before joining the Navy, he was in college pursuing a career in medicine but had to drop out due to a family illness.

"They said ‘oh, you've got medical experience,' we're going to make you a hospital corpsman," said Bumgarner.

He was attached to the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines.  Then he would respond if any member in his unit got shot or was hit with shrapnel during combat.

Bumgarner said, "It was my job to get to them and keep them alive long enough for a medevac chopper to come in and take them to a field hospital."

On average, the wait time for a chopper was 24 hours.  He carried minimal supplies.

"We adlibbed with what we had," said Bumgarner. "I remember I had to do a trach on a guy once, who was shot through the jaw, and this was after dark.  This was with nothing but a flashlight with a red lens on it."

Then on February 22nd, 1969, his medical skills and sanity were tested to the limit.  There was a firefight that lasted for a full day.  The unit went from 180 Marines to 13.

"It was... the worst day of my life.  You never forget the looks on these kids' faces when you get to them sometimes, and they're mortally wounded.  Sometimes you can't do anything."

But it's the times he could do something he prefers to remember.  Hundreds of men returned to their families because of hospital corpsmen.  As for the title "Hero," Bumgarner says at war they all saved each other.

"I would say yes, I saw a lot of heroes," said Bumgarner.

Bumgarner was hit twice during his service and once refused to be flown to a hospital since there were so few corpsmen still standing.  He received two purple hearts.

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To share your hero's story with us, visit our Heroes from the Heart of Virginia page.

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