Vet Spotlight August 2, 2019

Army Combat Medic Bill Blaisdell

It was an absolute pleasure and privilege to interview this week’s Veterans Spotlight guest. Bill Blaisdell served his country in the Vietnam War in the US Army from 1969 to 1970. He went to a recruiting station as a young 20-year-old in Natick, enlisted and was sent to Fort Lewis in Washington State.

Mr. Blaisdell was then sent to Vietnam and assigned to the 1st Infantry Division as a combat medic at a small base camp in Dau-Tieng. His first sixth months were spent in the field under heavy, continuous combat. “Most medics didn’t make it through the first six months. I was scared and confused. I was sent to a platoon where I was going to be taking over,” he remembered.

Mr. Blaisdell’s first day on the job was not a typical one. “We got into a firefight. My medic/trainer was coaching me. He was right next to me telling me to keep my damn head down when he caught one in the helmet…dead. Just like that. I had to assume the leadership right then and there. Who got treated, who got helicoptered out,” he recalled.

When asked about sleep deprivation for his job Mr. Blaisdell answered: “Sleep was done because of exhaustion. I never really felt safe. I was afraid to go to sleep because I never thought I’d wake up. Anybody that wasn’t afraid was either a psycho or a liar.”

I asked him about two important factors—entertainment and being away for the holidays. He was very blunt and to the point in regard to my first question. “We had absolutely zero entertainment. We’d go out on patrols in the morning and again at night, then back to base camp.” Mr. Blaisdell had one word to describe being away during the holidays: “Brutal. Everyone always looked forward to mail call. It gave you a glimmer of hope and would somehow tie you back to the real world. It was very sad when you were the last guy to receive a letter during mail call and you have three or four guys behind you. Some poor guys never got anything,” he remembered sadly.

His second assignment was at a base camp in Lai-Khe. The unit was nicknamed Dr. Delta. The aid station had four tables in a tent and helicopters on a landing pad outside to evacuate the wounded. Here the seriously injured soldiers were treated and stabilized. Mr. Blaisdell shared something that “still burns in my memory…a very bad memory.

“We had a makeshift morgue in a tent. It’s horrible to say but it filled up quickly. I brought in a body of a soldier I had just treated and lost. Everything was still and I saw his body move. I rushed into my commanding officer and told him that we had a soldier still alive. I was horrified thinking that I had put a live body in the morgue. He examined him and said that, at times, a dead body will move involuntarily. It bothered me terribly after losing a soldier. I always wracked my brain. Is there anything else I could have done to save that boy’s life?”

Mr. Blaisdell cited his commanding officer, Dr. Weatherby, as a great mentor, noting, “He watched me put in a chest tube one day and said, ‘You’re my chest guy’.” (Mr. Blaisdell had previous, extensive experience as an operating room technician, which proved invaluable during his service). “I reached out to him years ago. He said, ‘Who is this?’ I said, ‘Dr. Weatherby, this is Bill Blaisdell, I worked for you as a combat medic in Vietnam.’ He said, ‘You were the biggest pain in the ass but you are one of the best technicians I ever worked with’,” he said with a laugh.

Mr. Blaisdell was awarded the Bronze Star. He was wounded twice but never put in for a Purple Heart.

“I never talked with anyone I served with about Vietnam after I got home,” he said quietly. Summing up his service, he said this; The Army really straightened me out. It changed the path I was going down and provided a great foundation for my success in civilian life.

Mr. Blaisdell holds a degree from Northeastern and was a major success in the telecommunications industry. He is on the board of the Cape & Islands Veterans Outreach Center, a member of the Mashpee Zoning Board of Appeals, and a manager at the New Seabury Country Club.

Mr. Bill Blaisdell, thank you for your service to our great country.

Contact Wayne Soares at waynesoares1@gmail.com

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