24th Evac Home Guest Book History Reunions
Memories: 24th Evacuation Hospital
Kevin M. Perrier
and Mary Reynolds Powell
On September 26, 1970, twenty- year-old PVT Kevin Perrier of Minneapolis was admitted to the 24th Evacuation Hospital with a fever of unknown origin (FUO). He spent ten days as a patient on the internal medicine wards.
On November 19, 1970, twenty-three year old, 1LT Mary Reynolds of New York City arrived at the 24th Evacuation Hospital where she was assigned to work on the internal medicine wards. She stayed there for her one-year tour of duty. Kevin and Mary did not meet each other in Vietnam.
In April, 2000, Mary Reynolds Powell released "A World of Hurt: Between Innocence and Arrogance in Vietnam." Kevin read the book, contacted Mary, and began a correspondence with her in which he described his experiences as a patient. They thought it would be fun to combine their accounts for the 24th's web page. Kevin's memories are in italics.
I was drafted on Feb. 3, 1970 (lottery #40) and trained at Ft. Bragg, NC and Ft. Polk, LA. I arrived in RVN on July 11,1970. I was assigned to Echo Recon 2/7 1st Cavalry Division.
By the time I arrived in Vietnam, the overwhelming majority of troops in the Saigon area were from the 1st CAV. American troops began a withdrawal in July, 1969, and by Nov, 1970, Vietnamization was in full swing. By January 1971, in the area north of Saigon where there had once been nine divisions of American troops, only two brigades of the 1st CAV remained to back up the ARVN forces.
We worked the area east of Phuoc Vinh. I walked point for the first few months and then carried a radio the rest of the time. Echo Recon needed replacements for fifteen men wounded in an ambush on July 16. Only five of the twenty-man platoon were unhurt. In the first few months after Cambodia the malaria cases were a big problem. The NCO’s and the LT’s took some heat over the high number of cases. I think a few guys spit out that big orange pill and took their chances. Most of the guys considered malaria a "good sham." (I haven't used that phrase in thirty years.) It supposedly required a thirty-day convalescence in Cam Ranh.
The majority of our patients arrived with FUOs. In addition to malaria, soldiers with fevers might have had typhus, dengue fever, septicemia, encephalitis, meningitis or pneumonia. I recall sending patients to Cam Ranh Bay for convalescence, but I don't remember a particular disease being an automatic ticket to the beaches. I believe it had more to do with the condition of the soldier. Soldiers could be evacuated back to "the world" if they had three attacks of the same kind of malaria: either vivax or falcip.
I was medevac'd to the 24th on September 26th in the AM. We were on FSB Garry Owen, pulling our turn at base security the night I got sick, and I thought it was flu coming on. The guys in our bunker were playing cards and drinking beer. I got into my hammock to try and get some sleep and noticed it was pretty wet. I said something about the bunker leaking and they all laughed. Apparently one of the drunken guys had relieved himself on my bed. I went out and spent the night in the rain under a small overhang of the bunker. I remember I was pretty angry. When I awoke, I was feeling pretty bad but figured it was just a bad night. We loaded up that morning and CA’ed into a clearing near a river. We hacked a trail for our rubber rafts and spent all day moving our gear down to the bank. It was exhausting work. That night by the river I really got sick -- high fever, dry heaves and some bad shakes. The following morning the medic, Doc Tim Williams, checked me out and told me my temp wasn't high enough to evac at 103.5, but that he'd do it anyway because he knew it would go higher, and the noise I was making would give our position away. At the time, you needed a temp of 104 to be medevac'd. I was to go up on a hoist but after watching others get dragged through tree branches for a hundred feet or so, I told him I could make it back to the clearing on my feet.
Soldiers with medical problems came to the 24th by helicopter, truck, or jeep. After being seen in the emergency room or in the medical clinic, they arrived on the ward dressed in dirty fatigues, carrying admission papers. Emaciated and exhausted, with temperatures ranging anywhere from 103 to 106 degrees, they wanted only to lie down and feel better. In listless voices, one after another told us, "I'd have to get better to die." Jan Hyche, who worked with me, said that next to the dialysis patients she cared for many years later, the patients in Vietnam were the sickest she had ever seen.
After I checked into a bed at the 24th, my memory is foggy. I remember getting into the first real bed I'd slept in since home and how safe it felt. That soon changed as the daily work of the hospital personnel, the lights and noise started bothering me.
I have memories of constant motion on the ward and with it came noise. Every morning, the doctors discharged ten or twelve patients to return to the bush, Cam Ranh Bay or the States. Those beds were often filled by 3:00 or 4:00 PM. Reading what Kevin says about the noise and lights makes me wish we could have had a quieter environment for the sicker patients. The fluorescent lights were either all on or all off, and people were always coming and going, beds were being cleaned and remade. I guess I feel particularly bad because it never occurred to me in Vietnam that the sicker patients might be bothered by the noise.
I was on the outside wall of the unit next to a spring- loaded door that slammed way too often; it was constant. The TV was above the end of my bed and a few of the guys who were feeling better wanted to watch it. It just made me wish I was somewhere else. I noticed the TV would move whenever someone slammed the door. After a loud slam during a nap I hit the floor and when I got back up, the TV was in my bed.
Patients who had malaria felt OK on the days they didn't have attacks, so they were up and about going out to the quadrangle for shows or to the mess hall. I'm sure everyone remembers pushing some of the beds out for the guys to see the movies or sending patients out in wheelchairs with their IV poles. Jan called it the "drive-in movie." And of course, we all remember "Laugh-In, The Flip Wilson Show, and Bonanza" on AFVN- TV. Too bad we never realized what it was like to be the patient under the TV.
The first four days were a blur. I only remember counting the holes in my arm from the blood samples. The nurse would wake me and ask me which arm to take it from. They said they needed to catch the blood at the right time. I was (and still am) a skinny guy and the nurses sometimes had trouble sticking me to draw blood. It got to where I wanted to hide under my bed.
Many of our patients had malaria and to diagnose the correct kind, we had to catch the parasites at the right point in the cycle. Of course we were checking the blood for everything else. I don't remember which tests were done in Japan, but I know that we sent some blood there. Often we made the diagnosis based on clinical observation and then had it confirmed by the blood test.
Everyone in the ward was sick. Many had IVs and I didn't want one. They wanted me to eat, but I didn't want to get the heaves again. The nurses kept threatening me with tubes if I didn't, so I had the guy next to me eat my food for me. I fooled them.
I don't think anyone will ever forget the number of IVs we had running at any one time. I guess we were too busy to notice when a patient didn't eat his own food, but Kevin learned that while he could fool us, he couldn't fool Mother Nature.
One night I woke up in the shower, not knowing where I was or how I got there, with two men and a woman holding me in a chair telling me I'd gotten too hot and to sit still. I thought I was drowning. I remember the nurse's look of concern and the hands holding me down on a chair or a stool. After that night, things got better. The nurses didn't draw as much blood and I soon got my appetite back. I had lost about fifteen pounds; I was still pretty weak.
I don't know how high Kevin's temperature went, but we put a lot of effort into bringing temps down. We used cooling blankets and alcohol sponge baths or put the guys into a tepid shower -- which I'm sure felt icy cold to them. I'm sure by the time he had his shower experience, a diagnosis had been determined, meaning fewer blood tests, and he was started on medication, which made him feel better. He doesn't know what his diagnosis was, but he describes taking yellow pills....tetracycline for typhus??????
When I felt better, I walked the ward looking at all the guys with their unit patches over their beds. My company XO came to check on me and brought mail and stories from the bush. The guys had a run in with some VC or NVA on that river mission. I felt a little guilty missing it. I wish I could recall a single name of someone who helped me at the 24th. The only memory of a doctor is one who was from my home state of Minnesota, not far from where I grew up. Small world. I recall spending my last night at the 24th in some kind of storage area on a cot near the admitting area where I first arrived. I'm grateful for getting out of that war with nothing more than some hearing loss in one ear. I was sick again out in the bush, but never as bad as that time at the 24th.
Is it any surprise that he doesn't remember us??
Updated: July 7, 2003