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My War - Army Medic George Banda

By George Banda, oral history 
Originally published on Published Online: August 10, 2010 
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"I'm bleeding to death ... but I couldn't leave Ed. He was my friend." (Photo: James Gill/Wisconsin Public Television)
"I'm bleeding to death ... but I couldn't leave Ed. He was my friend." (Photo: James Gill/Wisconsin Public Television)
George Banda
Medical Specialist 4
2nd Battalion, 501st Infantry,
101st Airborne Division
December 1969-November 1970

Firebase Henderson in Quang Tri was not a good place to be. The jungle was right there. Anybody could sneak up real quick, and you wouldn't see them until it was too late. We had 15 of the recon platoon there, attached to Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 501st Infantry, 101st Airborne Division, as well as Alpha Company, some ARVN and artillery. This was a temporary base. We were just coming in, giving support and then we're gonna go. I was thinking, "OK, tomorrow morning we'll get up early and start making it more secure."

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I did that night's last watch, and the next morning, May 6, 1970, I was sitting by the foxhole at 5 when there was an explosion on the west side of the hill. Seconds later a trip flare goes off 50 feet in front of me. I hit the claymore positioned in that area, and it blows. I yelled: "Hey, you guys better wake up. Something's happening." An instant later, an RPG hit five feet away. I went flying up in the air, landed on my head.

I looked at myself, "OK, I'm not hurt. I'm not bleeding." I started shooting, mostly at shadows, until I ran out of ammunition. There was a box of hand grenades, and I tore it open. The other guys came around. One had half of his left foot blown off. My first-aid bag was blown to smithereens, so I took off my shirt and wrapped it around his foot. We were shooting down the hill, throwing frags, rocks—whatever we could find. Bullets were hitting near us.

One of the guys turned around, and there was a gook. Dave Matison shot him, and he fell right into an ammo dump, which started exploding, showering us with shrapnel. White phosphorus started falling on us, but we still stayed in that foxhole. Finally I said, "We can't stay here, we're gonna get killed." We went around the hill to where the others were, Ed Veser, Ken Schutte, Doc Diller, Doc Bowman, Lieutenant Hawley, Sergeant Snyder. It's chaos. Everybody's screaming.

At some point, I had caught a round on the left side of my head. Every time I moved, I would squirt five feet of blood. Being a medic, knowing an artery had been severed, I knew I was bleeding to death. Finally, it slowed down a little and I thought: "OK, I can handle this. Start taking care of these guys."

Schutte had been shot, and I think he had lost one eye, but he was still throwing hand grenades. Diller was just laying there on his back like he was asleep. I tried to pick him up and saw the back of his head was gone. I went over to Hawley. Dead. Snyder was dead. Then I thought, "Where the hell is Ed?" And I'm not sure how Ed Veser got down there, but there he was, leaned over in a pile of debris maybe 100 feet down the hill.

But I hesitated to go down there. I wanted to stay where I was. "I'm bleeding to death," I thought, "and Ed's way down there. If I go down there, I'm gonna get killed. What good can I do?" But I couldn't leave Ed down there—he was my friend.

I ripped off a piece of my T-shirt, rolled it into a ball and pushed it into the hole in my head until it hurt. I tied the rest of the shirt around my head, then crawled down the hill. Ed was in an open area, with nothing bigger than a small rock for protection.

I got to him, and the thing I'll always remember is, he said to me, "I knew you'd come." I still feel guilty about that. He was horribly wounded…should've been killed instantly. But he was strong, young. "Ed, if you help, we can get you back up there." But he couldn't help, he was injured too bad.

Banda in Vietnam. (Courtesy of George Banda)
Banda in Vietnam. (Courtesy of George Banda)
To this day I don't know how I dragged him up to the hill, but I got him to the sandbags and laid him down. "The helicopters will be coming," I told him. "We'll get you out of here." He could still speak, which is unbelievable, and he grabbed a hold of my dog tag real tight and said: "OK, OK. Don't leave me." And I said, "I won't Ed."

But after a while I said: "Ed, I gotta go check on the other guys. They're hurt too."  He said, "No, I don't want you to go."

I said, "Ed, I don't want to go, but I got to." I started pulling away, and he pulled one of my dog tags out. So he held onto that. "Ed, I'll be right back," I said as I went to check on Schutte and the others.

They seemed to be all right, so I turned to go back. That's when an Alpha Company team came to rescue us. The first guy who saw my wounds, his eyes got real big and he said, "Are you all right?" I said, "Yeah, I'm all right." I kept talking to Ed, trying to keep him conscious. "Hey your wife is waiting back there for you, Ed. Just hang in there. The medevacs will be here soon." But the ammo dump was exploding, and we were still taking a lot of fire, so the medevacs couldn't land. It was real frustrating because, you know, Ed's dying on me.

Finally, the medevacs landed and loaded Ed aboard. I thought, well, maybe they might be able to save him. I did another walk around to make sure I hadn't missed anybody. But everybody was dead; 32 Americans killed that morning. I jumped on the last helicopter and ended up in a Marine hospital for two weeks. In the chaos, I was reported missing in action. Ed didn't make it. He died at 7:40 a.m. But, that's war. We were both from Milwaukee, and at the cemetery where he's buried, I'll still go visit him.

From the documentary Wisconsin Vietnam War Stories, by Wisconsin Public Television,

12 Responses to “My War - Army Medic George Banda”

  1. 1
    Jerald Collman says:

    I was the Graves Registration Officer at Quang Tri Graves Registration at that time. We received all or most of the Human Remains from FSB Henderson. For us at Graves Registration it was also a nightmare!
    We started receiving Bodies on May 5th, 6th 7th from FSB Henderson, then nothing for two days, but we were notified on May 10th that a large amount of Body Remains would be arriving shortly..
    Little did we know that a Chinook with a cargo net of Body Remains would be delivered the way they were to Quang Tri Graves Registration on May 10th 1970. The pilot miss judged the attitude that he was at and dropped the cargonet of Bodies to high and many of Body Remains became Body Parts spewed all over the 18th Surgical Hospital/Graves Registration Heliicopter Pad. It was a complete mess. Between the Body Parts, the maggots, the smells, Graves Registration Soldiers, performed their duty.

    I would also like to just say something about FSB Ripcord (the last big battle of Viet Nam) which again Quang Tri Graves Registration was involved with receiving many of those Body Remains.

    Graves Registration Soldiers no matter where Body Remains were received always did their job with Honor, Dignity, and Respect.

    I returned back to Viet Nam in January 2007 with the first American Medical Team ever allowed back into Quang Tri/Dong Ha and placed a large marble Plaqueat the Quang Tri Graves Registration site honoring all of our Fallen Soldiers who died in Northern I Corp.

    Jerald Collman
    1st Lt. Co. C 75th Spt Bn, 1st Bde. 5th Inf Div (Mech)

  2. 2
    will abshire says:

    Jerald, thank u for the honor and the respect u displayed on their final stop before they headed home. I walked into a Graves pick up station in the Quang Tri area, three days after my arrival in Nam. I was shocked at the sight, I froze in my tracks. Some one told me "take off your hat. These are Marines." At that point, I realized that Vietnam was for real. Thank u for everything u did in Nam. Will Abshire. Army correspondent, 1st 44th Arty Dong Ha, 4/69 – 4/70 and USASUPCOM, DaNang 11/70 – 11/71

  3. 3
    leonard williams says:

    I was there during the overrun of LZ Henderson. I wasn't on Henderson though. I was stationed at Quang Tri, saw choppers and chinooks, coming in. I asked what was going on, found out and hopped on a chinook. I was a medic and knew the chinook was headed back out there. Apparently, they were going back to look for a sling load of weapons either they or some other chopper had accidentally dropped. They flew around for a while and then returned to the base camp. I thought they were going back to pick up casualties, my motivation to hop aboard so I could help.

  4. 4
    frank leger says:

    i was there that night on FSB Henderson still remember a few things about that night but for the most part i just draw a blank

  5. 5
    Craig Latham says:

    This story was compiled from members of:
    34th Public Information Detachment
    101st Airborne Division (Airmobile)
    1971 Republic of S. Vietnam.

    Members of the 34th PID were:
    Craig Latham
    Charles Kahn
    Mike Van Strien

    The sharp crack of an enemy rifle and the groan of a wounded Screaming Eagle trooper break the jungle's silence. In one simultaneous movement, everyone in the platoon hits the dirt to look for the enemy. All remain motionless, except for one man. He crawls through the low vines and shrubbery to the wounded trooper.

    While the two forces exchange fire, the medic quickly throws off his rucksack and begins treating the bullet wound in the trooper's lower leg. After cutting away the man's pant leg up to his knee, the medic reaches into his aid bag and pulls out a pressure bandage, places it on the wound and winds and ties the two straps around the man's leg. He reaches into his green bag a second time, pulling out an intravenous set and a pint bottle of clear saline solution. Ripping apart the sterile plastic bag that houses the set, he takes out the needle and tube, connects the tube to the bottle of solution, and then to the needle. After rolling up the wounded man's sleeve, a tourniquet is placed around his upper arm. Then the medic inserts the needle into the soldier's forearm. The bottle of vital, blood-replacing liquid will flow into the man's veins for 25 minutes, enough time to sustain the soldier until a "Medevac" helicopter can fly in to take him to the hospital.

    With three pieces of equipment — pressure dressings, a bottle of saline solution, and an intravenous set — Screaming Eagle medics have saved the lives of countless comrades. That's their job — "to conserve the fighting strength".

    There is one combat medic in every infantry platoon. Almost without exception, the medic is called "Doc" by his friends, a title which he earns. He is the infantryman's family doctor, helping the sick and injured, soothing the distraught, and befriending all.

    A soldier can become a combat medic in one of two ways. He either volunteers, or he has an aptitude for it, which makes it imperative that he be trained to become a medic.

    The combat medic arrives in Vietnam after 10 weeks of training at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. Half of his training is devoted to hospital work. The other half is spent on doing tourniquets, intravenous injections, pressure dressings and splints. A large amount of his time is spent practicing the life-saving steps on another trainee.

    The last week of training is spent on a field training exercise, climaxed by a life-saving trek. The class is divided into four-man litter teams, which have to carry a wounded man one quarter mile in the dark through thick foliage, barbed wire, and streams, keeping the patient protected at all times.

    "You don't have much need for a litter team in the 101st with the Medevac helicopters," said one medic, "but the exercise enforces the importance of doing your job in spite of all obstacles."

    "You get a short familiarization course in medications and minor ailments," said another medic, "but when you get to Vietnam, you have to become skillful at treating the ailments peculiar to this country. You have to learn which medication works best on a particular fungus, on a particular man. Some men will even tell you what medication to use, because it has worked for them in the past. You also pick up other bits of experience from other medics who have already been in the field for awhile."

    A green, zippered aid bag one-and-a-half feet long by a foot wide by six inches deep, strapped to the medic's rucksack contains everything he needs to treat anything from a combat casualty to an infected boil. Fully-loaded, the aid bag weighs 25 to 30 pounds and not an ounce is wasted. The medic has to work with what he carries on his back. And to be sure he has all he can carry, he uses his rucksack to hold extra bottles of saline or dextrin solution, giving up space that would normally be used for some of his personal items. Strapped to his rucksack, he also carries extra canteens of water for heat casualties in the summer, and for fever or chills during the winter monsoon.

    A normal day for a combat medic begins at dawn with sick call. Several troops gather around his rucksack. The "Doc" quickly washes the dirt from a cut on the first man's arm with hydrogen peroxide, dries it with gauze, and bandages it.

    "Let me dress it again tonight," he tells the man as he leaves, then turns to the next patient.

    "How's the hand?"

    "Still swollen." The medic pulls out his scissors and cuts the wrapped gauze from the soldier's hand, swollen from a bacterial infection.

    "Have you been taking the penicillin pills every six hours?"


    "Okay, I'll dress it again today, If it doesn't get better by tomorrow, we'll get you to the aid station and get it cleaned up."

    Five or six patients later, sick call ends and "Doc" makes his rounds, passing out the daily malaria pills. Then the platoon "rucks up" to move out on patrol. He stays with the patrol wherever it goes; walking, slipping, and sweating along with every other member of the unit. As they move, he is as alert for danger as the rest but, at the same time, he is keenly aware that only he has the life-saving skills which may be needed at any moment. His only wish is that that time will never come.

    Whatever the roll — "Doc", friend or both — the medic serves with a sense of devotion and responsibility that marks him as a "Man with a mission". Often that mission involves a life or death battle; usually the medic and life win.

  6. 6
    Bob Banda says:

    I love the story my brother and all the brothers that came back.Never forget the beloved ones we left behind they will remain in our hearts and prayers……….

  7. 7
    Gary Fowler says:

    My memories of that early morning are as stong today as they were then. As you were fighting for your life on one side of Henderson I was on the otherside. I was performing my second MOS at that moment I was an 11B, but it did not take long for my primary MOS to kick in, I was an 91A20 (Medic). It would be nice to say I remember you but I have to be honest I don't. But I remember moving around the firesbase bring the wounded to the LZ pad, I remember the fifty wounded we had, I remember the twelve dead ARVN , and I clearly remember the thirty dead americans lined up on the LZ. I was one of the lucky ones, after we had removed all the wounded and dead a Huey can it droping off supplies, after helping unload the copter I walked back to my position, I heard it coming but there was nothing I could do, a NVA mortar got me. Blew me down the hill into the wire, I think I remember a readheaded medic from North Carolina (don't remember his name) patched me up. That was my last day with Alpha, three weeks later I return to the 2/501, for a couple of months I worked with Recon but finished my tour in the bush with Delta Company. Its always a pleasure to know that there were others that survived the Hell hole, but sad to know that so many didnot make it.

    • 7.1
      Mrs.Gary F.Snyder says:

      I'm the wife of SFC. Gary F. Snyder. Do you recall anything of him or know if anyone else might remember him.

      • 7.1.1
        Penny Louya says:

        To Mrs Gary F Snyder:

        If he was from Toledo Ohio, I sure would like to speak with you. I am his sister about 16 years younger. I currently live in Charlotte, NC

  8. 8
    Mrs.Gary F.Snyder says:

    Yes, Gary was from Toledo Ohio.

  9. 9
    Ray Wenger says:

    Thank you forever for giving the accounting of Doc Dillers last moments. I was his cousin and childhood friend. We both served: he was with you and I was near Long Binh. I'll always remember the day the Red Cross summoned be back to give the news about Tommy. It will be a day etched into my memory. Thank you for filling in the details that were missing. All I was told was that the casket must never be opened at the funeral.

  10. 10
    Gregory Chavez says:

    My dad lost his life on that day, 5/6/70 at fsb Henderson. I was 3 days old. Anybody remember Gregory Anton Chavez?

    Dad, I have lived twice as long as you but still feel like I've accomplished nothing. How can I hurt so much for someone I never knew? I know you didn't want to be there, and that's ok.

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