Driving the Ambulance
Into a Fire Fight at Night
By Ken Zahn
Medic - 8th Bn 4th Arty

I recall the time that I was told by the battalion surgeon, Doc Sway, to drive him in the ambulance into a firefight at night. I think it was around Lang Vei to pick up wounded. Luckily I followed a Quad 50 in, and the firefight immediately ended when Charlie saw the Quad. It still was a stupid move by us, with that big red cross on the ambulance as a target, but we didn't know any better. Doc Sway really got chewed out for that move though.

The incident took place during Operation Lam Son 719 when we took the guns out toward Laos. Most likely, the firebases (A and B Batteries) were further down Rt 9 to the West. Headquarters and Service Batteries were at the Punch Bowl to the East. I think Doc Sway just took it upon himself to help our men at the firebase. They were getting hit pretty hard with ground fire and incoming. One of the men reported as hit was the Duster medic that we were really friendly with. I assumed that medivac choppers would not be called in during a ground attack. The duster medic might have been the only medic at the firebase at that time, or Doc Sway just didn't know if the medic who was hit was our firebase medic or the Duster medic, so a replacement may have been needed. We took another medic with us also (Mike Yacovelli). The Doc might have thought that his expertise was the best thing at the time.

As it turned out we couldn't save anyone. The badly wounded were already gone (treated and evacuated by road already by our firebase medics, Frank Bowen and Charlie George - a job well done!) or dead. Seven of our 8/4 ARTY men were wounded that night (early morning). There was one KIA, the Duster Medic. E-5 Masashi (Shorty) Nakashimo (KIA 2-27-1971). He had four days left in country at the time of his death. He left a wife and two daughters back home. He was a medic on his second tour, assigned to the 1/44th Dusters. He took a direct hit by an RPG to the chest. They awarded him the rank of E-6 and the Silver Star afterwards. Many men from the Dusters Co. were awarded medals for bravery that night. We were only awarded Purple Hearts.

From the S-3 Reports the official reason for no medivac was weather conditions. We took the KIA medic with us and Mike and I personally delivered him to the morgue at the M.A.S.H. Hospital.

I think the above tries to explain why the Doc wanted to go in that way and why a chopper wasn't deployed. He made have heard on the radio that the medic was hit and just wanted to try and save him or replace him or help with the wounded. I was only following his orders. The "higher ups" probably thought that the Doc was too important to risk his life the way he did after all he was our only battalion surgeon. So, instead of a medal he was chewed out for his actions.