River Section 531
1 July 1968

 

RIVER SECTION 531
FAMILY - GRAM

1July 1968
 
    As I promised in my first letter of two months ago, I am again writing to the families of the men of River Section 531 in hopes of sharing our experiences with you. I would like to point out that "531" was again recognized for its achievements by having one of its "old" members awarded the Medal of Honor. Perhaps you saw on television or read in the newspapers where Boatswain's Mate First Class James Elliott Williams was presented the medal by President Johnson at the white house. BM1 Williams served with us in 1967.

    As many of you must hear from your husbands and sons, we have been working hard and long hours keeping our PBR's in operating status. I truley wish that you could see the work that these men are doing and if you could  I know you would feel as proud of them and their achievements as I do. Having command of these men has certainly been a rewarding experience for me and this year in Viet Nam will be one I will never forget - for many reasons.

    And now let me tell you about one of the more pleasant tasks we perform - that of conducting a MEDCAP - Medical Civic Action Program  - wherein we assemble and escort a team of specialized personnel to a predetermined village or hamlet to treat the various common diseases that occur in this part of the orient.

    The organization of such an undertaking is complex and often difficult: Make arrangements with the resident U.S Navy Medical representatives and his corpsmen and interpreters; Procure the substantial quantities of different medicines required; Contact the Army sub-sector, set up a place and date, and make further coordinating arrangements with their medical people, U. S. and Vietnamese. Finally coordinate the entire MEDCAP with the U.S. Psychological Warfare Mission and the Vietnamese Armed Propaganda Teams in order to best exploit the psychological aspects of this unique mission. It takes several days to contact all these various people, often calling for several changes in already established schedules. Everyone involved is a volunteer, giving freely of his time to sortie into the country side via PBR to visit and assist a village and its people, most of whom have never even seen a bonafide doctor, let alone be treated by one.

    Villages are remote. Distances are relatively large. Consequently, these people, when sick, rely on a strange mixture of superstition and local lore known as "Chinese Medicine"....a poor substitute for qualified medical care. In many cases the people are aware for the dubious value of Chinese Medicine, but are so attached to custom that they are reluctant to come to qualified medical aid stations which are not uncommon. The MEDCAP team, thus, takes the initiative and brings the mountain to Mohammed so to speak, with a professional/carnival atmosphere that most find irresistible. They come to see and to hear these strange big men with their multi-colored bottles and shining instruments. Some have heard already that these men do, indeed, cure diseases that have plagued these pheasants for untold years. Put out in advance, the word spreads like wildfire and on the allotted day people will come from miles around - most to be treated, some just to watch listen and learn.

    Having left before the dawning, the four PBR's and their skilled passengers - often as many as twenty - arrive in the village....and the kids are already waiting laughing and waving and shouting the only words of English most of them know....."O.K., O.K., O.K.!! The village chief greets us as we are introduced. Immediately the team settles down to work as the people assemble, and wait and watch.

    Such a collection of patients you could never imagine: children with burns and infected cuts, intestinal parasites, scabies, skin diseases caused by arthritis, cataracts, tumors; pregnant mothers, new-born babies.....all poor, all in dire need of medical treatment, all a little afraid, but all trusting in the rumor they have heard of the apparent miracles these strange and generous people have worked elsewhere.

    In the meanwhile the propaganda team has set up their sideshows - informing the people of our purpose in coming, telling them of their government in Saigon, exposing the evils and the lies of the Viet Cong....at the same time gathering valuable intelligence themselves. Speaker broadcasts, songs and dances. Photographers at work - sometimes professionals, mostly amateurs amazing kids with polaroid pictures, often handing them out to chattering and eager subjects.

    So continues the MEDCAP through the day, growing larger and more boisterous with the passing hours. The local school kids have come over to watch a movie about Minnesota (and in Vietnamese, no less) and sing their curious and melodious chants while someone adjusts the generator and sets up the projector. The doctor and his assistants are still hard at work - all patients get a tetanus shot as they leave and as the rumor spreads, the children are apprehensive of the needle before they arrive; but tough and resilient they walk up to the doctor, turn around and take their turn. The scene is often sad, often irritating, sometimes humorous and always immensely satisfying as everyone contributes.....down to the tough PBR Gunner's Mate who has had a fast five minute course in giving shots and is shaking like a leaf as he goes about this unaccustomed task. A quick break for a delicious meal - Vietnamese style, chopsticks and all - as a crowd gathers to watch the americans fumble with their food. Then back to work again as the sun races across the sky.

    In the mean time other Americans are hard at work too - the USAID men working for the Civilian Organization of Revolutionary Development (CORDS) - assisting the schoolteachers, giving them advice, distributing CARE school supplies, blackboards and professional guidance. Agriculture men, distributing tools and talking with the landowners on how to improve their rice crops through the use of fertilizer, new strains of rice to double their crop per acre, water control plans - disseminating and gathering valuable on the spot information for larger provincial scale agricultural development.

    As the last school kits, the last vitamins, the last clothing, the last bars of soap - all donated by the people of the United States collectively and as concerned parents and individuals - as the last words of advice are spoken, the last words of thanks, handshakes, bows, and smiles of friendship are exchanged the MEDCAP team, exhausted to the man, piles back on the little green boats to take the long voyage back to My Tho. Today we have all done a little out of the ordinary to win this difficult war for the people's minds. we must do this again.....and again.....and again.

(Signed) K. G. Klinck
K. G. Klinck

                                                                                        LT         USN

P.S.  I sincerely appreciate the letters I received from many of you expressing your interest in my first letter and I am hopeful this second "Family-Gram" will be meaningful.