Before going to Vietnam in August 1966, I was a Corpsman attached to, Oakland Naval Hospital. Daily we received warriors who had lost their limbs from injuries in Vietnam. Our job was to treat the amputees and fit them for prosthesis; some were double and triple amputees. It was so sad to see these young boys, 18-19 and 20-year-old kids, experiencing this kind of trauma. It was not only their physical disability but their emotional wellbeing as well. Their life was changed forever.
Hospital Corpsmen were in high demand. Every one of us knew we would be receiving orders for Vietnam. Daily we feared the inevitable. When the war ended, more than 10,000 Corpsmen served with the Marine Corps; 640 of those Corpsmen were KIA’s and 3,300 WIA’s.
The day I got orders for field medical school training at Camp Pendleton, California, I submitted my paperwork for leave, knowing when we graduated from the FMF five-week training, one hundred and fifty of us Corpsmen would be transported by military buses to the Los Angeles airport, headed for Vietnam.
I was anxious to see my folks and my girlfriend as she wanted to get married before I left for Vietnam. Seeing our casualties at the hospital and knowing what could happen to me, I talked her out of it, until I returned from Vietnam. Little did I know that three months later I received a “dear John” Letter from her, stating that she was engaged to someone else. On my last day home, Dad and Mom wanted me to have some prayer time with them before I left for the war. Mom opened the Bible and read Psalms 91, which is God’s umbrella of protection, just as she had done for my other four brothers. Between five of us boys, we represented the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. My folks were very religious and loved the Lord; it was important to them that I took Psalm 91 to heart. They said that Psalms 91 is the number one Psalm for trusting in God’s protection — His shelter and refuge. This “Wisdom Psalm” expresses the utmost confidence in Almighty God, and He alone. The psalmist knew that God is the only One who can provide real and lasting protection and providence for those who trust and take refuge in Him.
The morning of departure, the air lines were on strike, so I was forced to ride a greyhound bus to Los Angles, California. My folks took me to the bus station, and we said our goodbyes. They prayed for me, and Mom gave me a copy of Psalm 91, “Security for those who trust in the Lord.” She typed it on a sheet of paper, and I read it many times while in Vietnam. The bus trip was a two-day drive. I couldn’t believe the number of stops we made along the way. I was feeling very melancholy, sad, and confused. As I was sitting in the bus, I pulled out the sheets of paper that Mom gave me. The first sheet was a personal letter that said, “Dear Son, you know that we love you and will miss you terribly, I just want you to know that we will pray for your safety daily and so will many in our church congregation. When you find the time in Vietnam, please read Psalm 91 and try to memorize some of your favorite verses, also. Meditate on it daily. The Holy Spirit will remind you of what God has promised you. Psalm 91 is quoted as being one of the most powerful chapters and prayers of the entire Holy Bible, if not the most powerful. Commonly invoked during times of uncertainty and hardship, this definitely applies to those in war. The second sheet was a copy of Psalm 91, “Security for those who trust in the Lord” or sometimes referred to as, “God’s impenetrable prayer of protection.” I am not going to read it now, as it is too long. If you have a chance to read it from your Bible, it is well worth your time.
Before leaving for Vietnam, I was very concerned about me killing a person. If the situation presented itself, could I pull the trigger? In studying the Bible, I learned that God’s command was against murder, not killing. Nowhere did the Bible say that believers should not join the military and, thus, should not participate in defending their country. Numbers 25:8-13 was one of many Biblical accounts where killing was required to eradicate sin. God, I knew, was a loving God, but he was also a just God. I was reassured by Matthew 10:34, which stated, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
During my thirteen-months in Vietnam, I ran close to 300 patrols and treated approximately 200 casualties. With only two to three corpsmen assigned to Hotel Company, we were running day and night patrols continuously.
Before each patrol we had a briefing informing us where we were going and what our objective was. Many times, during these briefings I would look at the faces of these Marines wondering who would not return to our camp. I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that we would lose marines on the upcoming patrol. Also, during these briefings, I would silently pray Psalms 91 for protection and his guidance for our warriors and to help me in treating our casualties.
As a Combat Corpsman, I was the one who had the responsibility to put myself in harm’s way and treat wounded Marines no matter where in the field they were hit. Many times, it was in the middle of the rice paddies with no protection. That’s why so many Corpsmen and medics were killed or wounded in action. Personally, I was wounded twice in Vietnam. I could easily have been a KIA/WIA statistic as the opportunity was always there. I have no doubt that God watched over me during my tour. Many times, God and his Angels protected me while treating wounded Marines in the rice paddies. At times seeing bullets splash in the water near me or a bullet passing close to me, I stood spellbound in astonishment realizing that I was protected!
We were on a routine patrol near Hill 55 when a marine was shot, and word was passed down: “Corpsman Up!’ The casualty was lying about thirty yards in the rice paddy. Of course, there was no cover. As I was running toward the casualty, the mud was slowing me down immensely. Even though I knew I was protected by God and his Angels, I still felt fear and terror, not being strong enough in my faith. I believe in God’s word, but I still had little faith. My mind flashed back to the passage from Matthew 17:20-21 states, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Is it a lack of faith or simply not God’s will? That’s another subject to ponder.
The fear of dying is beyond description. It is finality. Life as we know it ends. However, I have always taken comfort from the words of our apostle Paul, when he said, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” Being a Christian and saved at a very young age helped pave my path through Vietnam. I can’t tell you how many times I could have been killed but was saved through his grace.
I could hear the casualty moaning and in great pain. I was thinking of Psalms 91:112 “God sends Angels with special orders to protect you wherever you go, defending you from all harm. If you walk into a trap, they’ll be there for you and keep you from stumbling. You’ll walk unharmed among the fiercest powers of darkness, trampling every one of them beneath your feet!” As I was getting closer to the wounded marine, the Vietcong were shooting at me as bullets were splashing in the rice paddy water near me. During my time in Vietnam, I can’t tell you how many times bullets zipped past my body or close to my ear: if a bullet had been an inch or two closer, my name would have been on the Vietnam Wall. “Why not me, Lord?”
When I reached the casualty, I was shocked to see that it was Corporal Hernandez, I threw my body on the opposite side from where the Vietcong were firing. The first thing I did was check his wound. His abdomen was bleeding profusely, and he needed a battle dressing ASAP. The bullet had landed low in his belly and had torn open his stomach. Fecal material oozed to the surface along with blood and other body fluids. He had urinated and defecated. The smell was very strong. These responses were normal occurrences during this type of injury. I tried to calm him down as much as I could and told him, “Everything is going to be all right, Marine; a medevac is in the air.” He was very pale, his pupils were dilated, and his eyes showed fear and confusion. His breathing was also irregular.
All these symptoms indicated he was going into shock. Because he had lost so much blood and fluids, he was going into hypovolemic shock. He needed fluids and a blood transfusion as soon as possible. After I applied a battle dressing, I injected two surettes of morphine and wrote an “M" on his forehead. I then started to drag him to safety and instantly I became blinded. What had just happened? I scooped up some rice-paddy water and splashed my face and eyes. I then saw Corporal Hernandez had been hit again. A bullet had hit him in the right temple. This marine went from a WIA to a KIA instantly. Now, it was my turn to feel the shock. I was in disbelief and confusion. How could this happen? I fell in a prone position behind his body once again and feared for my life. The only cover I had was the Marine’s body. Panic set in. Should I get up and run or just lie here? I had felt fear during other operations, but not to the extent I felt it at that moment. I prayed quite often in Vietnam, but at this moment I was praying for my life. I knew that bullet was meant for me. The Vietcong had a bounty on corpsmen. They figured if we were put out of commission, more wounded Marines would be out of commission, too. Again, I say, “Why not me Lord?”
When I returned to base camp, I had time to reflect on the events of our patrol. If I had to describe war, I would say that war was complete insanity in apocalyptic proportions.
There was something about being there—hearing the cries of the wounded, rifle firing, grenades exploding, the smell of cordite in the air, blood, and urine—and seeing the trauma before me that brought home the reality of war. I thought, if this is what my life is going to be like for the rest of my tour, I’m not sure it’s worth it? Maybe the Marine we just lost today was the lucky one. Doubt was already creeping in; the thought of dying seemed perhaps an option. Satan was already planting a seed of doubt and despair. As the Marines would say, “I just want to do my time and leave the slime.”
In another operation we were on during the monsoon season, we were riding on top of an Amtrak, due to the very high water. We had sandbags stacked up three high to protect us from enemy fire. I was talking to a Marine who was sitting next to me. As we were talking, we started receiving enemy fire. I looked in the other direction trying to locate Charlie shooting at us. When I looked back toward the marine, he was slumped over; I turned him over. He had been shot in the face, another KIA. That bullet could have hit me just as easily as not.” Why not me, Lord?” I could go on and on, but you get the idea.
The truth is I knew I was protected, and that God had a plan for my life. The thought of dying didn’t really bother me. I figured if I died, I would instantly be in Heaven, and my odyssey would begin. This was a great comfort and allowed me to concentrate on my job of saving lives. However, the thought of disfigurement or losing a limb or becoming a paraplegic or quadriplegic concerned me deeply.
Living by Christian principals in Vietnam was important to me; I took the word of God literally. The Book of John 15:13 states, “Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.” The duties of a Corpsman were many; but as a Combat corpsman, our main duty was to save lives and treat the wounded. I felt the duties of a Christian and a Corpsman were synonymous; I should be willing to lose my life in an attempt to save another’s life.
The sights and sounds of that war have been buried deep in the corridors of my mind for over fifty years, like haunting clouds always on the horizon. I witnessed killings, old and young alike; some enemy and most not. I witnessed rape and other carnage that I would rather not talk about or even think about. I am certain that Satan enjoyed every minute of it! This might seem weird to many of you, but I do not doubt that every soldier in Vietnam had a demon, or an Angel assigned to him. Each was whispering into our ears on how to carry out their mission.
Since I am on this subject, I have always thought that two wars were happening at the same time, one between us and the Vietcong and the other between Satan’s demons and God's Angels. This was a spiritual battle. They were highly likely fighting in Vietnam with a veil separating us.
Many times, in Vietnam, Corpsman was put in harm’s way in treating casualties on the battlefield. I know I personally had a guardian angel watching over me. He was my personal bodyguard, whose mission was to protect me. Verse 11 of Psalm 91 says, “for he will give his angels charge concerning you.” What does that mean? If angels are taking charge of the things that concern us, God has given the angels, not the circumstances, the authority to act on our behalf. The same truth is repeated in Hebrews: Are they (Angels) not all ministering spirits, sent out to him to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation? Hebrews 1:14
When we look to God as the source of our protection and provisions, the angels are constantly rendering us aid and taking charge of our affairs. Psalms 103:20 says, His Angels mighty in strength... Obeying the voice of his word! As we proclaim God's word, the Angels hastened to carry it out.
Angels are fascinating spiritual beings. Not only do they serve a role as God's messengers, but they are also His warriors. They praise and worship God, while also protecting and directing us on His behalf. When we get to heaven, we will probably be amazed to discover just how often God's Angels protected us or intervened on our behalf. If you were a warrior in Vietnam, this was huge! Whether you realize it or not, Angels watching over you at this very moment. What a wonderful creator God is. Won't it be wonderful to someday hear the Angels’ stories about what was going on behind the scenes in Vietnam?
Later that day we were crossing another rice paddy into a graveyard near a village called Vinh Hoa, a hostile village where many Vietcong sympathizers lived. Our platoons were leapfrogging from one cemetery to another. The final graveyard we entered was a little less than two acres with one hundred graves. Each grave was above eye level with tall grass growing on each one. The tombs were also approximately 6 to 8 feet in diameter. As the first platoon was walking through the graveyard, the Vietcong sprung their trap as they were lying on top of each grave and opened fire on us at a point-blank distance. Many were engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Everywhere you looked there were dead and wounded Marines and Vietcong. A call was made by the radio operator, Corporal Gerace (aka “Bomar”), that the first platoon needed a corpsman. The CO said they needed me ASAP. The sense of urgency caused me to feel apprehensive and fear. I began running across the rice paddy, actually, it was more of a stumble then a run, I could hear bullets passing by me and the bullets were splashing in the water near me so I threw myself down into the water, if I got myself any lower, I would have drowned! After a minute, I got up and started to run again, once again they were shooting at me.
This time a bullet came so close to my ear that it sounded like a bumble bee flying past me, It was the most horrifying and frightening sound I have ever heard in my life. The sound seemed to magnify and was very eerie. Another close call came right after. One of my three canteens was hit, and water started running down my leg.
At first, I thought it was blood, but then I saw it was water. Somehow, I escaped death once again; “Why not me Lord?” was I losing it or was I in a twilight zone? So many emotions were happening to me at the same time. i.e., fear, confusion, high anxiety and so much more, I have never been as scared in my life. As I was approaching the graves, my adrenaline was running so fast and the mud was trying to suck my jungle boots off my feet, and it was wearing me out immensely! it seemed I was running in slow motion. When I got to the first grave, I fell and tried to catch my breath, I was beyond tired.
I immediately went to prayer; it was from Psalm 91 God’s Impenetrable prayer of protection. I didn’t have Mom’s printed paper that she gave me before I left home, but I’d read it enough times that I memorized part of.
“A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.
If you say, ‘The Lord is my refuge,’
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent.
For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.”
At this moment I was having a fight-or-flight reaction. I was terrified and thought this could very well be the last day of my life: despair! This suicidal waltz is known as “doing your duty.” This day alone, I could have been killed several times. Only God knows why that did not happen. “Why not me Lord?”
The sound of weapons firing and grenades exploding was deafening, I could hear marines yelling from being wounded and in pain. As I went around the graves looking for wounded, what I saw was overwhelming. I was confused and in a panic. Who was I going to treat first? Where was the other corpsman? I screamed in my head, “I need help.” I also needed to watch for the Vietcong. I tried to use triage as much as possible, but with so many marines needing medical care, I just had to do the best I could. I was not prepared for as many causalities as we endured. Consequently, I ran out of battle dressings. Some of the marines carried them in their pockets, so I always checked their pants first. I also ran out of morphine, which caused more agony for the maimed.
I’d never encountered guerrilla warfare of this magnitude. The Vietcong wanted a great victory. This was the only battle where we encountered hand-to-hand combat during my tour in Vietnam. This battle got personal and up close, a fight to the death. It was a life changer that crushed all I perceived of what life was about. Chaos was everywhere. We were all fighting for our lives. I was constantly looking for wounded Marines and watching for the enemy; they too were everywhere. While I was treating a marine for a gut wound, I looked up and saw a Vietcong looking at me. He was about twenty feet from me with a rifle in his hand. The shock was so great that the boy I was died of fright. At this moment, the world around me seemed to be suspended in time. The noise of the battle ceased, and everything was at a standstill. I was in a twilight zone where it was hard for me to digest the events taking place.
The Vietcong was holding his rifle in one hand, the barrel pointing slightly downward. My hands were busy treating the marine. My 45-caliber pistol was in my holster, and my rifle was lying on the ground next to me. I had no doubt that the VC was contemplating on whether to kill me or move on. He was about my age with black shorts, black shirt, and sandals. His hair was dark black, thick, and unkempt. The dark eyes stared at me with a haunting glaze. It was as if he was looking through me. My life was at his discretion. All he had to do was lift the rifle up and fire. So many things were going through my mind.
The fear of dying is beyond description. It is finality, was this the last day of my life? Would I ever see my family again? What would happen to the Marine I was treating and the rest of our casualties? Suddenly, I thought of Psalms 91 and boldly declared, I am in covenant with the living God, and I have a blood covering that protects me from anything you might attempt to do. In the name of Jesus, I command you to put down that gun!” I started to feel calmness. I no longer felt fear. I think the Lord was speaking to me. I started to look at the Viet Cong as a warrior who was doing what his conscious or Holy Spirit was telling him to do. He could see that I was treating a fellow Marine. Would he not do the same thing for one of his comrades? I started to feel compassion for him, and at that moment I wanted to live. I started yelling at him telling him I was a “bac si,” a doctor. I told him “didimau” or go quickly. I knew that if a Marine saw him, he would kill him instantly. The Marine I was treating was in much pain. I looked down at him and he was in shock and bleeding out. I looked back at the Vietcong, and he was gone! I now asked myself, did he see my Guardian Angel or other Angels protecting me? Why else would he drop his weapon and run for his life? This is only speculative of course, but I truly believe that God and his angels intervened. “Why not me Lord?”
At this instant, the chaos of the war returned, and we were no longer suspended in time. Usually, the Vietcong were not as brave or experienced. It was later learned that these combatants were North Vietnamese. We started with about 90 Marines, and only 26 of us walked out without an injury. Later that day I started to feel very melancholy. I felt unworthy to be called a Corpsman. I could probably have saved some more lives. I learned later that this was a common thought among other corpsmen or medics. Psalms 91:112 “God sends Angels with special orders to protect you wherever you go, defending you from all harm. If you walk into a trap, they’ll be there for you and keep you from stumbling. You’ll walk unharmed among the fiercest powers of darkness, trampling every one of them beneath your feet!”
Many times, in telling my testimonies, I have mentioned how God saved my life, not counting other times I was protected. This is what gave me hope when I was in Vietnam. I knew my Guardian Angel watched over me, not only by faith, but I could feel his spirit. One of the fascinating things about studying angelology is the stories people tell about Angelic encounters in warfare. There are literally thousands.
During the six-day war in 1967 there were many angel encounters, one story that was told was that of an Israeli soldier, Gershon Saloman lay badly wounded and saw Syrian soldiers moving into their area shooting wounded Israeli soldiers. They were about to shoot him, when all of a sudden, they fled the area leaving their weapons behind. The Syrian soldiers later reported to UN officers that they saw "thousands of Angels" surrounding the wounded soldiers and that was why they ran away. This story was authenticated by eyewitnesses.
My memories of events that happened over 55 years ago are so vivid that I still relive them over and over as if they are happening now. In my mind, I am transported back to Vietnam, and I find myself once again in the thick of battle.
During my tour in Vietnam, I treated many Marines. Many of these guys were dying, and most of them knew it. This gave me a perfect opportunity to witness to many of them. The first thing I did was ask them if they were saved. Many had no idea what that meant. I then said, “when a person dies, his body decomposes but your soul and spirit live forever. There is a literal heaven and a literal hell, and it is up to you to choose where you want to spend eternity.”
I noticed that when I was talking most of their moaning ceased and they were listening. I would say, if you want to go to heaven, you need to repent of your sins right now, repeat what I say and mean it in your heart. God knows your heart. “Jesus please forgive me for my sins and come into my heart. When I had the time, I would tell him that the thief on the cross repented of his sins and ask Jesus into his heart. This happened within minutes before his death. Jesus told the thief “Today you will be with Me in paradise.”
HMCM Ronald C. Mosbaugh
USNR- Retired 31 years