They Call Me Doc

Every Marine loves his company corpsman — the guy with the bandages, malaria pills, battle dressings and medications.

But the corpsman also often carries a weapon, and many are killed in action.

Bruce Gant joined the Navy in 1965 and trained in medicine for the better part of three years before shipping out to Vietnam.

He was assigned to the 2nd battalion, 5th Marines.

Now retired from the insurance business, he returned for the 50th anniversary of the beginning of his 16 months in country.

“I got off a chopper at Phu Bai and never saw anything like what I saw in an operating room,” he said.

He had arrived two weeks into the Battle of Hue and the Phu Bai airbase — a 30 minute drive south of Hue –was crowded with badly wounded soldiers and with body bags.

“That was a baptismal of fire,” he said. “Then I was going to Hue to help medevac casualties, and on the third day there I became a casualty.”

Mr. Gant, who lives in Titusville, Fla., said he was just 20, making life and death decisions during triage.

He tears up remembering his decisions, usually reactions, without time to think, and the losses he had to accept.

“It’s later when you have time to think that it hits,” he said. “In Hue City there were 147 Marines killed and 17 and 18 were corpsmen.”

On the bus during this tour, Mr. Gant — who wore a ballcap that read “Corpsman, they call me doc,” passed out St. Christopher’s necklaces to everyone and circulated a bottle of motion sickness pills as we snaked around looping mountain roads and switchbacks.

During one stop, George Haught, of Monaca, put his arm around Mr. Gant and said, “This is the most important guy in your unit, your corpsman.”

After his service, Mr. Gant said he considered going to medical school, “but I don’t know…”

Too many reminders of war?

He nodded. “Yeah, maybe I just didn’t want to go there.”