Veteran Salute: Surgical Tech talks about realities of Vietnam War

Veteran Salute

GREAT BEND, Kan. (KSNW) – A Great Bend native got to Vietnam 10 days before the TET Offensive.

Rudy Reissig says people rarely talk about what he did during the war, but he says the reality was so many men needed amputations, and he had surgical training.

Reissig went through six deferments before he shipped out.

“I think I could show the scratches, on the sidewalk, as they drug my body down the street,” Reissig said.

Some parts of Reissig’s experience in Vietnam were like many others.

“There’s an old saying, ‘You don’t give a medic a gun,’ because he’s gonna hurt himself,” Vietnam Veteran Rudy Reissig said.

He got one anyway because he had to pull guard duty at times.

He said they also gave him three shells, and some very strict instructions.

“You fire the first two in the air for warning everybody else, and then, you run like hell,” Reissig said.

He said there was a refugee camp behind where they stayed, and he said they would ask for cigarettes.

He said he got a little scared one night, during guard duty, because the place really came to life at night.

“It was a scenario, of well I hope, then I would call in, you know these people are crawling all over the roofs, and they said, yea, they normally do that,” Reissig said.

He said he also had to deal with the facilities, many soldiers were used to.

“Talk about outdoor plumbing,” Reissig said.

He said they didn’t hang out at the beach too much, but they did spend a lot of time at the Enlisted Men’s Club.

“Cigarettes were 20 cents a pack, and beer was a dime a can,” Reissig said.

He said the guys played plenty of Pinochle, and the games offered a nice destresser from their reality.

“I scrubbed primarily for a full bird Colonel, who was an Orthopedic doctor,” Reissig said.

He referred to himself as an arm and leg guy or bone guy.

He said he worked from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. since he says that’s when all the leg wounds would come in.

“I was waiting on a helcopter to bring in a guy, that we knew was a double amputee coming in,” Reissig said.

He said they would often evaluate soldiers, do operations, and whatever else was needed, to get them sent on for care.

“Then we would fly them out to Japan,” Reissig said.

He said that was until the mission changed.

“At mignight, all hell broke lose,” Reissig said.

He as talking about the TET Offensive.

He said at one time the enemy was trying to knock out a radio station.

“With them shooting into the mountain and every once in a while, it would hit something and poof,” Reissig said.

He vividly remembers when they realized they were the target.

“I was the first one of six through a screen door that opened the other way, total frame and all came out of that building,” Reissig said.

He said they soon realized just how close they had come, to being patients in their own hospital.

“We woke up the next morning and saw the bullet holes going across the top of the roof,” Reissig said.

He said at the age of just 22, he was the old man in the group, and they had many important jobs.

“Over there all rules were off because we had no nurses,” Reissig said.

He said the facility’s four operating rooms could barely keep up as so many wounded needed care.

“After TET hit, I went in, and I probably didn’t get out of the barracks for four days,” Reissig said.

He said the doctors relied heavily on the men like him.

He said there was a great level of mutual respect, as they cared for so many patients, in very close quarters.

“Those things were sad, especially since everyone was watching him, even from the operating room, to recovery, they were trying to say, will he make it, will he make it,” Reissig said.

He said they never had any idea what would come in next.

“What he had done, was walk in front of a grenade launcher, and a grenade was stuck, up underneath his rib cage,” Reissig said.

He said there was no pin, so the doctor gave him an order.

“Just stand there, and I will hand you something and you give it to the Marine outside, Reissig said.

He said another exciting time required him to rely on his Obstetrics training from his stateside service.

“She would get up and walk around and her contractions would start, they’d put her on the table and they would stop, and this happened about three times, and finaly the doctor said, ‘I am going to go smoke a cigarette, Rudy, stay here and watch this thing,’ well about 30 seconds later this kid pops out in my lap,” Reissig said

He said regardless of what the job brought, he always kept his sense of humor and found ways to cope with some of the devastating things he saw.

“Psychologically, I was trying to save lives,” Reissig said.

He said during his time there they lost very few patients, but he remembers losing some heroes.

“I can very vividly remember that as a very pointed, emotional situation,” Reissig said.

He said when he only had about 10 days remaining in Vietnam, he got very ill.

He was in the hospital for three days and said he will never eat veal again.

Reissig got married just months before he left for the war, and they’ve since enjoyed 53 years of marriage.

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