Browse Categories

Articles and other information on these subjects:

A Doctor's Vietnam Journal

<< Previous in • Viet Nam War Next in • Viet Nam War >>

A Doctor's Vietnam Journal
  • by Carl E. Bartecchi, M.D.
    • A Merriam Press Vietnam Autobiography
      • Fourth Edition 2020
      • 450 6x9-inch pages
      • 63 photos
      • 2 illustrations
      • 5 maps
  • Paperback - ISBN 978-1-716-43789-2 - $24.88
From the Introduction by Patrick Brady MG, USA, Ret, Medal of Honor, Vietnam: The atrocities, the tactical and technical blunders and America’s humiliating defeat in Vietnam are well publicized. War is always a depressing endeavor but America has never fought a war in which the negatives have been so magnified as in Vietnam. Yet if you went to the southern part of Vietnam today and asked any youthful person, if not Vietnam where in the world they would like to live, the answer would not be Cuba or North Korea or China or any other communist country. The answer would more often than not be America. And some of the reasons for that answer can be found in Doctor Bartecchi’s excellent book.
It is a well established fact that there is a relationship between how well soldiers are cared for and how well they fight. That fact may explain why the American soldier is the best fighter in the world. Thanks to men and women like Dr. Bartecchi our troops in Vietnam were cared for as in no other war. Your chances of survival were greater if you were wounded on a battlefield in Vietnam than if you were in a crash on an American highway. But that care went beyond the GI. Vietnam may be the only war we ever fought, or perhaps that was ever fought, in which the American soldier added to their heroism a humanitarianism unmatched in the annals of warfare. And the humanitarianism took place during the heat of the battle. He fixed as he fought, he cured and educated and built in the middle of the battle. What other Army has ever done that? Humanitarianism was our victory in Vietnam.
The kinds and quality of our humanitarian work in Vietnam is documented in this book. I invite you to join Doctor Bartecchi in his remarkable journey through Vietnam from the time of the French, the Japanese, and the French again, through the war up to the present. You will meet some of the truly great heroes and heroines of any war. And whatever your experience in combat, in medicine, in Vietnam, you will learn.
Leading the humanitarian charge were medical helicopter crews known as Dust Off. Dust Off was born at Soc Trang, home of the colorful Soc Trang Tigers, where Dr. Bartecchi began his career in military medicine. Dr. Bartecchi writes of the legendary Charles “Mad Man” Kelly who gave his life to save the Dust Off resource; and whose dying words, “When I have your wounded” set a standard for battlefield evacuation unmatched in the annals of war. One in three Dust Off crewmen became a casualty in their life saving efforts and their helicopters were lost to hostile fire at a rate over three times that of other helicopter missions. Fighter pilots counted their missions in the hundreds, Dust Off pilots counted their missions in the thousands. With their great new steed of combat, Huey, the Dust Off crew rescued some one million souls; men, women, children, friendly as well as hostile. Vietnam was a helicopter war and Dr. Bartecchi takes us through the history of helicopters in Vietnam. We learn that Dust Off was not the first to evacuate patients by helicopter and, to the dismay of some macho pilots, we learn that the first successful helicopter pilot was … a woman.
At Soc Trang we meet the marvelous Mother Bruno a catholic nun, surely a Saint, who spent much of her life running an orphanage in that city. Dr. Bartecchi would introduce to her and her precious children the life saving marvels of modern medicine. And the medical crew from Soc Trang would design an airborne dispensary to take those same miracles to the destitute villages throughout the Mekong Delta. In those villages we find the heroic Father Hoa, “The Fighting Priest” and his celebrated warriors known as the Sea Swallows.
In Dr. Bartecchi’s operating room at Soc Trang you would on occasion find the Vietnam GI’s favorite pin up woman, Martha Raye, who in addition to being a very funny woman was also a trained nurse. Outside roamed the current mascot, the tragic Drunken Sam, a hopelessly alcoholic pooch. Sam was preceded by Tuffy, a 250 pound vegetarian Bengal Tiger, the mascot which gave the Soc Trang Tigers their name.
The individuality and ingenuity of the American fighting man is well known. Less well known is the genius of the medical soldier. Our fighting men are motivated by survival; our medical people are motivated by compassion. Dust Off developed rescue methods flown by no other pilots. And Dr. Bartecchi introduces us to the amazing ingenuity of surgeons in impossible situations; maggot therapy, for example, and the use of coconut juice for intravenous solutions as well as the mysteries of oriental herbal and animal remnants cures. Dr. Bartecchi takes us back to the historic battle of Dien Bien Phu and the heroic nurses and prostitutes and wine cellars of the French. We learn of the medical hardships of our enemy. We also learn that some of our medical heroes may not be all that they are hyped up to be—Dr. Tom Dooley for example. And that had an American nurse not saved the life of Ho Chi Minh there may have never been a Vietnam war.
Living with the scars of war is difficult, for some unbearable, but all veterans suffer. The Vietnam veteran suffered physically as much, perhaps more than any veteran of the past century, but no veteran has suffered the mental agony of that warrior. The protesters and cowards of that era opened a gash in the psyche of that veteran and then rubbed salt in it. Dr. Bartecchi takes us through the psychological as well as physical horrors of post combat experiences.
Any one who has ever served in Vietnam knows what a loveable people the Vietnamese are. One senses that Dr. Bartecchi fell in love with them, saw their great need and determined to help. He also came to believe that America was wrong about Vietnam and he decided to do something about that error. I do not agree with his assessment but admire very much his dramatic medical contributions to those people. Since the war he has organized monumental medical contributions surely resulting in many lives saved. Those efforts continue to this day and this book will certainly encourage others to do the same.
On a recent visit to Vietnam I toured some of the battlefields of that war, many of which I covered as a Dust Off pilot. As I wandered among the many monuments denigrating and denouncing the American soldier it occurred to me that Vietnam may be the only place we ever fought which does not contain memorials to our warriors. Obviously the fact that we lost explains the missing memorials, but the GI fought as heroically as on any battlefield ever and against as great an evil, communism, as ever, but the cowardice and confusion of our leadership denied us victory in the military sense. But thanks to GIs like Dr. Bartecchi, we did achieve victory in Vietnam, a humanitarian victory. America has never fought a war in which the civilian and allied population has been cared for so magnificently during the actual combat. The residual of that effort is still there, in the psyche of the people and eventually it will lead to a greater friendship with America. 
All the curing and caring and healing, which continue to this day, deserve a memorial. In this superb book Doctor Bartecchi chronicles the grounds for such a memorial.

  • Dedication
  • Foreword
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Part I
    • The Japanese at Soc Trang
    • The French War
    • The French Defeat
    • Tom Dooley and the Passage to Freedom
    • Learning, from Philadelphia to Hawaii
    • Becoming a Flight Surgeon
    • Soc Trang and the Mekong Delta
    • The Dust-Off Legends
  • Part II
    • The Dispensary at Soc Trang
    • Army Medicine at Soc Trang
    • Tragedy at Soc Trang
    • A Complicated Situation
    • Martha Raye at Soc Trang
    • Base Mascots
    • Viet Cong Military Medicine
    • My Viet Minh Rifle
    • Soc Trang—The Village
    • The Orphanage at Soc Trang
    • Public Health Programs on Base
    • Finding Mother Bruno
    • The Soc Trang Clinic
    • Tet Holiday
    • Oriental Medical Practices
    • The Airmobile Clinic
    • Military Medicine for Vietnamese Civilians
    • Post-Vietnam Travels
    • Henry Ford Hospital Years
    • Recollections of Vietnam
  • Part III
    • Vietnamese Refugees in Pueblo
    • The Truths About the Vietnam War
  • Part IV References
    • Return to Vietnam
    • Bach Mai Hospital Project
    • Training Vietnamese Physicians
    • Vietnamese Medical Leaders
    • Foundation Support
    • The Education of Dr. Hong
    • Help for Rural Vietnam
    • Sources of Aid
    • Southeast Asia Medical Practices
    • The Poison Control Center
    • Americans Reaching Out
    • A Sister Hospital for Bach Mai
    • A Vietnamese Odyssey
    Review by Timothy T. Cope, M.D.: After reading a review of your book in The New England Journal of Medicine, I purchased a copy—read the whole thing in two days and loved it. Initially I wanted to read the book because of its title but later found there were some minor parallels in our lives—both of us were born in Pennsylvania, went to med school in Philadelphia, served in the Army, worked overseas. In any event, I enjoyed the book immensely.
    Review by Thomas Gates: Carl Bartecchi's odyssey to the other side of the world began with a draft notice and his assignment as a young Army flight surgeon to the Mekong Delta in 1965 during the Johnson escalation of the Vietnam War. His first book, "Soc Trang," recounts this intense period. He begins this chronicle with the French and Japanese occupations, apart from which there can be no understanding of that long and difficult period or its aftermath. The Mekong in 1965-66 was the Wild West. This was the bailiwick of the warrior priest Father Hoa and his army, the "Sea Swallows," of Major Charles Kelly, CMH winner Capt. Patrick Brady and the legendary "Dust Off" helicopter ambulances. The gunship platoon of the Army 121st Aviation Company took its logo from the Minnesota Vikings, and the base mascot was a Bengal tiger, which had full run of the place and enjoyed riding in helicopters. Flight surgery was a unique specialty which included, along with the medical procedures specific to flight crews, jungle survival, navigation, and landing a helicopter whose rotor had stopped, not a recurring entry in medical journals. To this very young man at the time, the treating of battle wounds was only a stepping-off point to a unique career in healing beginning with the creation of the Airmobile Clinic, which made dramatic forays deep inside Viet Cong territory. When most of us left Vietnam, we put it behind us except in memories and dreams. But while Carl Bartecchi returned to a practice in Colorado, his was an unfinished story. Thirty years later, he returned to Vietnam. What began quietly as a series of lectures at a Vietnamese hospital grew in scale becoming a bridge of medical expertise and infrastructure between Hanoi and Colorado. Of the Four Horsemen, War and Pestilence ride in close order, and what Carl Bartecchi has accomplished is a view of war and medicine coming out of an historic conflict from Dien Bien Phu to the present that is both fascinating and instructive to the physician and the layman.
    Review by Paul Stefaniak: Dr. Bartecchi's book is a fascinating look at the courage and humanitarian efforts of the men and women that served in Vietnam who, in addition to providing excellent medical care to our military, often risked their lives in their free time to provide medical care to the Vietnamese. I was particularly impressed with the activities of the heroic Dust Off medical evacuation crews, Dr. Bartecchi's work with a destitute orphanage, and his creation of an airborne clinic to treat villagers in remote areas of the Mekong Delta. This book offers a interesting view of both military and Southeast Asia medical practices that should be of interest to medical personnel and historians, and chronicles Dr. Bartecchi's ongoing humanitarian efforts to provide medical care, education, and training to the Vietnamese people.
    Review by Ted Engelmann: One thought I might share for possible future use would be spelling Viet Nam as the Vietnamese since the origin of their country. The name of the country has always been two words. The name means people (Viet) of the south (Nam) to differentiate from the Chinese. Years ago, western media found it economic to condense Vietnamese names due to filing stories on telex which charged for the number of words. Unfortunately the style manuals picked up on the economic decision without checking for accuracy. Now we have to educate the style manuals. Even with Carl's awareness of the correct spelling, it's obvious you defer to one of the style manuals instead. In the second paragraph of your promo [above] you mention, "Vietnam may be the only war..." Please be aware, Viet Nam is a country, not a war. It is a misnomer to use the word "Vietnam" to mean the war, or "Columbine" to mean a shooting at school. Unfortunately, most Americans are still trying to get past that negative effect which is perpetuated by using inappropriate terms and perspectives. Carl's story is unique and helpful to the legacy of the American war in Viet Nam, so I hope your book is well received. The work goes on to fill the gaps. Response by Ray Merriam, Owner, Merriam Press: The promo used at the top of this page is actually the Foreword to Carl's book, written by Patrick Brady, a Viet Nam veteran. Personally, I prefer using the correct "Viet Nam" but I do not always make such changes to an author's work. I have never used any of the style manuals and have my own unique "style" which is based more on proper usage and personal preference than so-called "style manuals."
    Mekong Memories: Pueblo Doctor Revisits Vietnam Days in New Book by Amy Matthew, The Pueblo Chieftain, 3 April 2007: Forty years after he first landed there, a Pueblo doctor has chronicled his experiences in Vietnam. Dr. Carl Bartecchi's initial visit to the country was an unexpected one. It came courtesy of the U.S. Army, which drafted Bartecchi in November 1964 while he was an intern at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. Eleven months after that notice arrived he was on the ground in Soc Trang, in the Mekong Delta. Bartecchi has written a book about his experiences: "A Doctor's Vietnam Journal" recently was published by Merriam Press. It's available through the Barnes and Noble Web site or at's priority was, of course, treating sick and wounded U.S. soldiers. Presented a choice between working as a general medical officer with the infantry or being a flight surgeon, Bartecchi chose the latter—less chance of mud. "I don't like mud," he said. Conditions at the Soc Trang base were far from luxurious, but were better than many other places in the country. The pace of the work was unpredictable and actually led to a new opportunity for Bartecchi and his fellow doctors. "There were times of unbelievable activity and times when there was nothing. Almost anywhere there's a doctor, he doesn't want to sit around doing nothing. You want to get out and find new things and people." They started by working with the local orphanage, where the children suffered from worms, skin infections and other maladies ... "diseases of tropics, poverty and nutrition," said Bartecchi. "They didn't get any meat or vegetables, just rice," he said. Bartecchi and the other doctors gave the children vitamins; other soldiers fixed the water supply so there would be clean water; and they obtained soap so the children could bathe regularly and the nuns could wash the bedding. Basic things that Americans don't think twice about were life-changing for the Vietnamese. "You do those things, you prevent most of the problems," Bartecchi said. Word of the children's dramatic health improvement spread to the villagers. "In those provinces we went to, the only medicine was folk medicine," said Bartecchi. "All of a sudden, Western medicine comes and has antibiotics and aspirin. ... People with arthritis were able to walk again. That felt real good." Medical help kept the doctors busy and became the way for them to establish trust with the Vietnamese. "We actually saw a lot more civilians (than soldiers)," said Bartecchi. Bartecchi's book also gave him an opportunity to recognize the Vietnamese doctors with whom he worked, as well as those who worked for the North Vietnamese army. "They had three M.D.s for the entire Viet Cong army (but) the Vietnamese don't write about themselves," he said. "We worked there one year and there must be 100 books (by American soldiers). These Vietnamese doctors worked 10 or 15 years under the most horrible conditions and (wrote) nothing." Bartecchi wrote about the past in hopes of raising money for his present cause. About 10 years ago, Bartecchi returned to Vietnam and established a relationship with doctors at Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi. That visit has evolved into a program that supplies Bach Mai with equipment and textbooks and brings teaching doctors to Colorado so they can study different medical specialties, which they then teach to their colleagues back in Hanoi. Bartecchi decides which doctors come to the U.S. He works with numerous Colorado hospitals and the program primarily is funded by a branch of the Catholic Health Initiatives Colorado Foundation called Global Health Initiatives. CHI is the parent company of St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center. "We have three doctors here now and will have three more this summer. We've trained six already," said Bartecchi. All royalties from "A Doctor's Vietnam Journal" will go to the project. It has provided for many improvements at the hospital, which Bartecchi gets to see when he travels to Hanoi several times each year. "It's been really fascinating," he said. "You come back and have to feel good about what we have here."
    The Good Doctor: Editorial, The Pueblo Chieftain, 11 April 2007: Carl Bartecchi, the wise and respected Pueblo physician, quietly has shown his generosity of spirit by dedicating royalties from his new book, A Doctor's Vietnam Journal, to a medical exchange program between Colorado and Vietnam. The book recounts Dr. Bartecchi's experiences as a military doctor in the war-torn Vietnam of the mid-1960s. A Doctor's Vietnam Journal gave him an opportunity to recognize the Vietnamese doctors with whom he worked and those who worked for the North Vietnamese army. About 10 years ago, Dr. Bartecchi returned to Vietnam and established a relationship with doctors at Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi. The visit has evolved into a program that supplies the hospital with equipment and textbooks and brings teaching doctors to Colorado to study different medical specialties that they then teach to colleagues back in Hanoi. The fact that all book royalties will go to the program makes it clear that the Vietnam medical exchange is a labor of love for the good Dr. Bartecchi. Pueblo can take pride in his work.
    Bach Mai Hospital Project: All of the author's royalties are being donated to the Bach Mai Hospital Project. A DOCTOR’S VIETNAM JOURNAL has to date (as of Winter 2007) raised over $20,000.00 from royalties and gifts from readers. All proceeds from the book go directly to the Bach Mai Hospital Project. The book discusses in detail the Bach Mai Hospital Project and its early beginnings. The book and it’s reviews made readers aware of the Project and the assistance that was being provided for the Vietnamese. Many readers, some of whom were Vietnam War Veterans, found the Project to be a reasonable and sustainable way to help the Vietnamese. For more details about the project, go to:
    Dr. Bartecchi Receives Vietnam Government Medal: Much to his surprise, during the Critical Care Symposium, Dr. Bartecchi was called to the stage where he was presented with the People's Health Medal, by the Ministry of Health. It is Vietnam's highest health honor. It was his impression that this honor was a reflection of the Vietnam Government's satisfaction with the entire Bach Mai Hospital Project and the accomplishments of the Program's volunteers and its many supporters. In his acceptance comments, he acknowledged the tremendous support that he has received from St. Anthony's Hospital, Catholic Health Initiatives/Global Health Initiatives, the Mayo Clinic, the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the large number of physicians and nurses who volunteered their time and expertise to make the program a success.

    Product Reviews

    (0 Ratings, 0 Reviews)