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Book and Media Reviews
April 22 2009

Navy Medicine in Vietnam: Oral Histories from Dien Bien Phu to the Fall of Saigon

JAMA. 2009;301(16):1716-1717. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.512

The Navy corpsman serving in combat with the Marines and the medevac helicopter occupies a central place in the iconography of the Vietnam War. However, the role of Navy medicine in Vietnam was far more varied and complex than these well-known images suggest. It involved not only corpsmen and physicians but thousands of nurses, dentists, technicians, administrators, aviators, and ordinary sailors and Marines. They served in hospital ships, helicopters, and warships and in the large field hospitals at Phu Bai, Da Nang, and Chu Lai in the northernmost provinces of South Vietnam as well as at aid stations at advanced outposts like Dong Ha and Khe Sanh, within the range of North Vietnamese artillery. Their collective accomplishments were impressive. If a patient arrived alive at “Charley Med” (Da Nang) or one of the other two field hospitals in northern South Vietnam at which the Marines operated, he had a 98% chance of survival. The price of effectiveness was high. Among corpsmen alone, 700 of the approximately 5000 who served were killed in action, 4500 received purple hearts, 127 were awarded silver stars, 29 were decorated with the navy cross, and 4 received the medal of honor.

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