Nearly 50 years later, the North Dakota combat medic reunites with the people he rescued in Vietnam | Information Forum

2021-12-06 12:20:01 By : Mr. yuiyin zhang

Fort Benning, Georgia — Scanning a canteen full of veterans, Dan Schlecht, a retired high school science teacher, noticed a man walking about 30 feet away with the help of forearm crutches.

Schlecht came to the gathering of the 50th Infantry Regiment to reconnect with old friends and hope to find out the whereabouts of a comrade he met briefly in combat about 50 years ago.

On that day in May 2017, he found this person across the room, and he was sure that he had found the person he was looking for.

Despite his advanced age and mutilated limbs, Tom Keelin from Cartletsburg, Kentucky, looks healthy. He sat down at a table, unaware that he was about to reconnect with the combat medic who had saved his life in Vietnam.

Dan Schlecht was born in Jamestown and moved to Wimbledon with his family when he was 9 years old. The Veterans Memorial Park to the west of the town has left a deep impression on the tourists in the town. The funds and labor for the granite soldier statue, military aircraft and surrounding flags were all donated by residents, reflecting the town’s sense of national service.

Dan Schlecht is one of the 10 children of the Schlecht family. The photo was taken in 1958 at his home in Wimbledon, North Dakota. Contribution/Dan Schlecht

The town is part of the surrounding farmer community, who consider themselves part of Wimbledon.

Compared with the prosperous period when Schlecht grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, there are now almost no businesses. The changed agricultural economy has few survivors in home appliance and hardware stores, railway express companies, restaurants, and farm tool dealers.

The Mobil gas station and Crawley’s pharmacy no longer exist.

The Red Owl grocery store run by Schlecht's uncle Jack and the place where his father worked was sold a few years ago and is now home to a non-profit organization.

In Dan’s time, the town’s population was 450, and it has now been reduced by half.

But some things have not changed.

The outdoor sirens of the voluntary fire department sounded every day at noon and 6 pm, and the church in Wimbledon continued to serve the community, just as Dan and his family were worshiping at St. Boniface. The American Legion remains the mainstay of the community, sponsoring the annual Independence Day parade.

In 1986, the Schlecht family reunited at St. Boniface Church in Wimbledon, North Dakota. Contribution/Dan Schlecht

Schlecht can trace his professional ethics back to his parents and the community in which he grew up.

His father, Tang, a veteran of the World War II navy, had fought in the South Pacific and witnessed the Japanese kamikaze attack near Okinawa, which instilled a sense of mission in his 10 children. He is a local butcher and a long-term member and head of the town's voluntary fire department.

Schlecht's mother Phyllis also works hard every day, baking bread, preparing meals, sewing clothes and providing a loving home.

Although their families occasionally go through difficult times, they never lack necessities. They never feel poor. They gradually got used to the hard work and the relentless North Dakota winter.

In 1965, after graduating from high school with 17 students, Schlecht continued his education at what is now Walli City State University, until the end of his sophomore year when his tuition was exhausted and he was enlisted in the army.

He performed well in basic training and was selected to receive senior military training at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.

The mantra of "stabilization and evacuation" was instilled in him and his students. They were trained to stop life-threatening bleeding, clear blocked airways, restore vital functions, and transfer combat casualties to hospitals as quickly as possible. They want to do this in the hustle and bustle of fighting, regardless of the pain, danger, chaos and panic around them.

After completing the training, Schlecht was randomly selected and sent to Germany in December 1967. He doesn't seem to be required to use his newly acquired medical skills in battle.

Brothers Dan and Pat Schlecht took a group photo in July 1968, shortly before Dan was sent to Vietnam. Contribution / Dan Schlecht

However, it was at this time that Schlecht learned that Pat, a younger brother of the Navy, had been sent to Vietnam. When his brother was serving in the war zone, he thought he could not drink beer at the Oktoberfest conscientiously. He asked for transfer to Vietnam.

Another younger brother, Russ, will also serve as an infantryman in Vietnam.

When Schlecht deployed to Vietnam, he was assigned to the 1st Battalion (mechanized) or 1/50 of the 50th Infantry Regiment, which had been transferred to the Anxi base in Radcliffe Camp. The mission of the battalion was very specific: guard a section of Highway 19 to ensure adequate supplies of Allied forces fighting in the northern half of South Vietnam at the time.

Predicting the enemy's attack on Highway 19 is 1/50 of the job. To this end, a night ambush team was deployed along the road to engage the enemy and warn of threats.

Every morning, a road clearing unit patrols the highway, digging and disposing of the enemy landmines planted the night before. The North Vietnamese Army often targets these forces.

In the early morning of January 15, 1969, the night patrol reported that there was threatening activity near Highway 19.

Company A, half of the first row, is scheduled to open the passage that day, clear all the mines on the road, and rescue the other half of the first row.

They acquired four armored personnel carriers (APC), as well as an M48 Patton tank and crew from the 69th Armored Regiment. The cargo of the tank includes C4 synthetic explosive blocks, which are used to detonate landmines and a hideout for captured enemy weapons. C4 is housed in a metal compartment connected to the outer hull of the tank.

At dawn, the task force began its mission.

From left: Gary Jaecks, Sam Aluna and Tom Keelin served in Vietnam in 1968. Contribution/Sam Aluna

Tom Killing was equipped with an M60 machine gun in the last APC. Corporal Ray Cheneweth from Dove Creek, Colorado, stood beside him.

After driving several miles west, the leading APC climbed to a hill and stopped. The lead driver saw a culvert on the downhill road was blown up. He turned the vehicle around and tried to sound the alarm-in time to avoid the worst effect of the incoming rocket sweeping the rotating APC.

The enemy's mortars, heavy machine guns, rockets and light weapons were stacked on top of the column. All the senses have been shocked.

The sound of incoming weapons was mixed with shouts, screams, and crashes.

Smoke from the explosion enveloped the track.

After firing only one bullet with a 90mm gun, the tank was hit by a rocket at the bottom of its turret, freezing the turret in place. The C4 cargo was detonated and produced dazzling smoke. The pungent C4 gas, rocket propellant and gunpowder mixed with the smell of burning human flesh.

At the beginning of the attack, a hollow rocket found its mark in Keelin's APC. It passed through the shell of the APC and exploded.

Tom felt so hot and unconscious.

Tom Keelin's injured armored personnel carrier was severely damaged after the exchange of fire on January 15, 1969. Contribution/1st Battalion, 50th Infantry Association

When he woke up, his left calf was lying beside him. He could see the bare remains of his left femur.

Surprisingly, he did not feel any pain in his leg, at least not immediately.

Then he noticed Cheneweth lying motionless, lying beside him, eyes open but unresponsive.

Moments later, Gordon Wimmet, an injured teammate in Lake George, New York, grabbed Keeling's shoulder, half-dragging and half-lifting his broken body from the APC.

Keeling lay on the berm on the side of the road with the other wounded. He remembered a soldier stopped on him, and then announced in a barely audible voice: "This man is dead."

Although he continues to be exposed to the coming fire, Keeling can only think of his wife and baby. If there were no miracles, he would never meet.

He silently prayed to God to bless his family.

Schlecht started the day with a strange feeling in his stomach.

The work of clearing the road always makes him feel uneasy. Installing his APC and aligning with other tracks on Highway 19, the parade reminded him of the shooting range game he played at the Stutsman County Fairgrounds in Jamestown. Slowly moving tracks and their passengers are very similar targets. The problem is that the North Vietnamese army has 60mm mortars, heavy machine guns, rockets, and automatic weapons instead of toy air rifles.

Schlecht was awarded the Purple Heart for his injuries from shrapnel in a mortar attack before Thanksgiving. He is not looking for another medal.

Nevertheless, in the next three months, he will receive a second Purple Heart for his injuries from shrapnel in another mortar attack.

Dan Schlecht received his second Purple Heart for his shrapnel wounds on March 7, 1969. Contribution/Dan Schlecht

With the sound of the cannon, Schlecht's impulse was to hit the ground and dig deeply. But then his doctor training and intuition took over.

Of the 18 people in the first row of the task force, 13 became casualties that day. Schlecht climbed from one injured person to the next, doing his best to serve everyone. Remember the spell ingrained in Ft. Sam Houston, "stabilize and evacuate", he was engrossed in his life-saving mission without noticing the chaos around him.

The first person who caught his attention was the 19-year-old sergeant. Scott Bailey from Salt Lake City. Despite Schlecht's efforts, Bailey died on the battlefield.

When he met Keeling, the wounded soldier had been moved to the back of a pickup truck. Killing endured silently, fading from time to time.

Schlecht assessed Killing's injury. Except for his left leg, which was amputated due to trauma, he had severe shrapnel wounds on his upper right leg, but there did not appear to be any involvement of the femoral artery of the right leg. On the bright side, he is conscious and breathing normally.

After a cursory inspection by Schlecht, Tom asked him: "How is everything below?"

Although Schlecht's answer was yes, his main concern was that Keeling would fall into hemorrhagic shock due to blood loss. The high temperature part of the rocket blast burned the left leg stump and reduced bleeding, but Schlecht needed to prevent further blood loss. He tied a tourniquet tightly to Keeling's left leg stump and injected him with morphine to relieve the pain.

On January 15, 1969, after an exchange of fire along Highway 19, Tom Keelin's injured armored personnel carrier parked in a smoky place. Contribution/1st Battalion, 50th Infantry Association

The moan nearby reminded Schlecht that the others needed his attention. He tells Keeling that he must leave him to take care of the other wounded, but he will come back before his medical evacuation.

When the medical evacuation helicopter arrived, Keeling was conscious and breathing normal and calm. Considering what he had experienced, it was somewhat remarkable. Schlecht did everything he could for him, so he was taken to the 17th Field Hospital in Radcliffe Camp.

That was the last time Schlecht saw Keeling, until nearly five years later.

After leaving the military in June 1969, Schlecht married, completed a college education, and moved to Parker, Arizona in 1973.

He joined a high school teacher in the Parker Unified School District as a science teacher and assistant football coach. Former colleagues described Schlecht, who has now retired 37 years later, as a demanding and challenging teacher.

In 1981, the graduating seniors dedicated their yearbook to him and noted his patience, enthusiasm and willingness to help students "overcome difficulties". The graduating class of 1995 also dedicated their yearbook to him, and pointed out that he had taught some of Parker's teachers in his school days.

Schlecht has high hopes for his students and teaches the lesson he learned in Vietnam: "Keep calm, be patient, and do your job well."

Vietnam War veterans Tom Keelin (left) and Dan Schlecht reunited in Fort Benning in 2017. Feed/Ron Fischer

During their reunion at Fort Benning, Schlecht learned that Killing had enjoyed a 39-year successful career at the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad before retiring in 2007.

Keeling believed that God had a purpose in saving his life. In 1977, he and others founded the Independent Faith Baptist Church in Ashland, Kentucky. In his role as a pastor, his goal is to help others on their lifelong pilgrimage.

Tom and Dan shared photos of their family and recalled Vietnam and their later life.

Tom Killing, far right, standing with his family. Contribution/Tom Keeling

As citizen soldiers, each of them felt the strong common bond of their military service. They did not talk about politics. The soldiers who fought in Vietnam did not participate in the war as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans. As Americans, Dan and Tom celebrate their reunion.

Through their reunion, the military doctor and his injured brother re-established a lifelong contact.

Author Ron Fischer retires from the steel industry and lives near Pittsburgh with his wife Jun.

Fischer wrote this article with the help of Jim Shepard, a historian of the 50th Infantry Unit in Cape Coral, Florida and a Vietnam Infantry veteran, and he allowed access to the regiment’s files and photos, including post-operation reports And daily journals. Over the years, Shepard has been committed to preserving the memory and legacy of Vietnam War veterans. Jack Noble of El Cerrito, California, and other veterans of Company A also told the author about the firefight on January 15, 1969.