Interview with Dr. Robert F. Jackson
Interviewed by Prerna Raj
Marion High School
Interviewed on May 13, 2003
at the Riverview Surgery Center
PR: I, Prerna Raj, am interviewing Dr. Robert Franklin Jackson in his office at the Riverview Surgery Center in Marion, Indiana on Tuesday, May 13, 2003. Dr. Jackson was born on May 27, 1938 and resides today at 1207 Northwood Court in Marion, Indiana. Dr. Jackson, a family friend, attended Taylor University, IU med school and did his residency at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio. He was a major and served as a physician and medical consultant in the US army in the Vietnam War. Dr. Jackson, were you drafted, or did you enlist in the army?
RJ: In 1966, when I finished medical school, all physicians, if they were not in the military service or had not served in the military service were immediately drafted. However, you could defer your drafting by applying for what they call the berry plan. And the berry plan allowed you to finish your specialty training but then you were automatically into the army or the navy or the air force following your training. And not everybody could get it. It was a lottery thing where you applied and some people got it and some people didn’t. I applied for the berry plan in general surgery. The berry plan had two categories: group one and group two. And if you got into group two, they told you that you probably would not have to go. Fortunately, I got into group two; however the war was still going on four years later, so I had no choice [unclear]. Now during the time of my residency, I was on the inactive reserves, so I had an office in the army. I was captain during my residency, and the minute I went into the army, I became a major.
PR: So how old were you then?
RJ: Well, in the army I probably was thirty-two, thirty-three.
PR: So you were in Dayton, because you had just finished your residency?
RJ: I had a wife and three kids.
PR: When did you find out? Where were you when you found out that they were going to send you over?
RJ: [unclear] All of my friends who were on the berry plan, who were in group one got their orders in December of the year we finished our residency, which was, we finished in 1971. In December of 1970, they got the orders, and they knew where they were going. I didn’t hear anything. And it went on like that, I finished my residency and was to the point that I didn’t think they were going to call me. So I made plans to run a practice in Dayton with another general surgeon who offered me a position in his corporation. I was going to stay in Dayton and practice surgery. I finished my residency on July the 30th, and on July the 30th, my orders came. I was in the emergency room, and my wife called me and said “Oh we’re going to go to San Francisco.” And I said, “Why do you say that?” And she said, “Because it says APO San Francisco.” What that means is Army Post Office or Armed Forces Post Office San Francisco. And that’s the place where they send all of the mail to people overseas. So I said, “I don’t think so.”
PR: Then what were your thoughts initially when you knew you were…?
RJ: I tried to figure out a way not to have to go. I didn’t want to go.
PR: Of course.
RJ: But then I decided [unclear], my country is there. I [unclear] I didn’t worry about it; I knew that was what I was supposed to do. I went to the Brook Army Hospital in Fort Sam Houston. That’s where I did my basic training over there. From the middle of August until the middle of September, and then I left for Vietnam in September.
PR: What was going on in the war at the time?
RJ: When I arrived, they were theoretically reducing the forces, but they were still going out, and they were still fighting, and there was still the DMZ, and there was still a lot of search and destroy-type missions. They had, at that time, about five evacuation hospitals in Vietnam. The most northern of the evacuation hospitals was the 85th evacuation hospital, and that’s where I was stationed. When I went, after Vietnam, and I did my basic training [unclear] in Vietnam, I went into a vet command headquarters, and I asked a surgical consultant where I was stationed, and he said Phu Bai. So I get on the map, there was a map in his office, and I got as far as Da Nang and still hadn’t found it. I looked back down, and he said, “No, keep going.” And it was ten miles from where they were demilitarizing. That was the most northern evacuation hospital.
PR: How much time did you spend in basic training before you went? What was that like?
RJ: I finished my residency in July, and we went to Fort Sam Houston sometime around the middle of August. That’s when we started our basic training, and we were there for five weeks. In the five weeks, we had a certain amount of time to get to where our next duty station was. Which for me was Vietnam. I had about four or five days, I came back to Dayton to Travis Air Force Base, and went to Vietnam.
PR: What did your wife say initially? How did she feel about you going overseas?
RJ: She’s very strong. Of course she didn’t want me to go.
PR: Of course.
RJ: We cried and all of that sort of stuff. Still, she did what she had to do, and so did I. For us, it was not a totally bad experience. All of my years in medical school and residency, I had been extremely, extremely busy. So busy that we really hadn’t taken the time for each other. So we kind of, really went through the dating process by mail while I was in Vietnam. We realized how much we really missed each other.
PR: Do you feel like maybe communicating through mail brought you closer?
RJ: Yes, it really did. It really probably made us much closer as a couple and closer as a family. It was tough, my daughter was ten months old, and I didn’t see her again until she was twenty-two months old.
PR: That is hard.
RJ: She learned to walk and everything, and I wasn’t around. Fortunately, they took movies.
PR: How often did you get and send letters?
RJ: Well, we sent letters. She wrote to me almost every day, and I tried to write very, very frequently, at least three or four times a week. When they changed my hospital, about five months after I was there, from an evacuation hospital to a medical company, surgical company to a surgical team. When they did that, our mail got screwed up. So there was about a period of probably five or six weeks when I got no mail. [unclear] my wife. She was writing, but the mail wasn’t coming. Some of those letters came after I returned to the United States, six months later. We wrote very often. We also communicated by MARS radio.
PR: Which is?
RJ: The Military Armed Radio Service, I think is what it was called. It was a bunch of hand operators, hooked up with telephone lines, so you could get on the phone, and they would bring a line somewhere in the area where you [unclear] anywhere in the United States. They could beam you from Vietnam by hand radio. So you would talk over hand radio, and then they would dial my wife and wherever they were. So you would be talking. And say “Hello, honey, over.” And she would say, “Hi, honey, over.” Just back and forth.
PR: [Laughing] So how often did you get to do that?
RJ: You could do that about once a week, but we couldn’t always get through. They tried to stagger so not everybody got to do it every time. One time, Tom, my youngest son, had meningitis, so they would, every night, they let me get through. One time, they couldn’t even talk to me because the communication was so bad. They were able to talk to Margie, and they were able to talk to me, but they couldn’t hook us up. They called me, radioed to me, and told me that Tom was doing better.
PR: That’s good. So did you have friends that went along with you at the same time?
RJ: Not initially. We got to know each other in our five weeks of basic training, but all of us went different directions. There were maybe four or five of us that went to Vietnam, and then I had an intern. One of my interns, he got drafted right out of his internship and I had been in Vietnam about three weeks, and all of a sudden he showed up, and he had been drafted and sent very close to me.
PR: So he was in your hospital?
RJ: He was at a medical company a few miles from where I was. And he got transferred back to Long Binh about the same time I did. He had [unclear].
PR: What did your duties entail at the evacuation hospital and later at the medical company?
RJ: I did everything. I was a general surgeon, so anything that came in the operating room. Guys, they would be injured, and because of the military evacuation process they had in Vietnam with the helicopters. It’s much better than it is here in the United States, even today. Within ten minutes of the time they were shot, they could be back in the hospital ready for operation. [unclear] And of course, we would take them immediately to surgery because every body was there. So we, at the eight-fifth evacuation hospital, had a lot of casualties. It was like we would have long periods where would have hardly anything, and then a period when there was an offensive [unclear]. We would take care of them, get them stabilized. And for minor injuries, we would send them back to duty, but for major injuries, we would stabilize them and ship them out to Da Nang and from Da Nang on to the States, and sometimes directly from our hospital to the United States.
PR: So what was the medical technology like compared to what you were used to in your residency?
RJ: It was really, they had almost anything you could think of. They had [unclear] capabilities. Blood banking was very well done. We used a lot of fresh blood. If somebody was an A-positive, they would go find five guys who were A-positive and they would have plenty of blood. We had pretty much all of the equipment that we needed. We offered an [unclear] service. It was kind of like MASH, you’ve watched MASH. My duties were… I did that, and in addition to that, at times, I would be the commander of the hospital. I was commander at least twice and chief of surgery another time. So we would have to do all of the other paperwork. Basically, most of the time, we operated.
PR: Did you ever see combat then, or…?
RJ: Well, we were surrounded by combat. The day I landed in Vietnam, or the day I landed in Phu Bai, I sat down in the officer’s [unclear], and all of a sudden I hear these explosions all around me. And the explosions were they were destroying the old ammunition. I didn’t know that, I thought we were being bombed. It was just old ammunition. But right beside our hospital, see militaries aren’t always very smart. They put the hospital in the middle, and on the outside of the hospital, in four different quadrants: in one quadrant was the helicopter base which was something that the Viet Kong would like to have gotten rid of. On the other side was the eighth R and R, which was radio and research, which was broadcasting and listening of everything that came out of Hanoi and we were ready to take [unclear] and all that. The other area was the ammunitions dump. It was another bad thing. And the fourth thing was the airport. So those were the things that were right around the hospital, so if they tried to send rockets in anywhere and missed, they would hit the hospital. So that’s where I was.
PR: How many people were you treating at a time in the hospitals?
RJ: It would vary. Like I said, sometimes we would maybe two or three days and we wouldn’t see [unclear] in the morning. Other times, we might be operating all night and two or three days [unclear]. Most of the times, it was explosions and gun shot wounds, land mines that these guys would step on and they would go out to search and destroy, looking for the enemy. It was what they called the [unclear]. They would come up and step on it, and it would explode, so usually it would take off and arm or a leg and send fragments into the abdomen. The new military in Vietnam, which refers to World War II and then Korea, they would [unclear]. They ended up giving more extremity wounds and maybe fragment wounds than they did actually killing you.
PR: So you did a lot of amputations?
RJ: Amputations. And a lot of opening the abdomen to look for fragments, putting bowel back together, taking off arms and legs.
PR: Did you have a lot help as far as nursing there?
RJ: Yes. We had our… initially, when I went to the eighty-fifth evacuation hospital. We had a pretty large nursing staff, had males and females. As [unclear] got meaner and meaner, they were gonna get kind of dangerous. They moved all of the women out and just kept us men, and I had male nurses then.
PR: What did you do on a day-to-day basis that kind of kept your spirits up?
RJ: Read. I think I read, at one time, when I was stationed in Pleiku, I read, I think it was in one week’s time, something like twenty-seven novels. They did a lot of, at Phu Bai, there was a lot of card playing, a lot of cards that the officers took. Occasionally, they would bring in show troops. Bob Hope came when I was there. I took all of my troops and we saw his program over there. We took [unclear] with their IVs and everything and two-ton trucks and took them up to Camp Iva where he was performing. With all of the hospital patients there. Occasionally, like you see MASH with those movies that they would show. We had those too. Sometimes we would watch movies. There was a lot of boredom. And the other thing was, I told you earlier, we were stationed very close to the eighth R and R.
RJ: The eighth R and R, the people who worked at eighth R and R, most of them had IQs that were off the scale. Because these were the people who did all of the interpreting and code-breaking and all of that. So for those folks, they had set up a lot of extracurricular kind of things for them to do to keep them busy. They had a pretty good photography dark room, so I learned how to do that I while I was in Vietnam. Take picture and develop pictures. But other than that, there was just a lot of boredom.
PR: A lot of waiting?
RJ: A lot of waiting.
PR: What were some of your most memorable experiences?
RJ: I took care of a young man and I, while I was there, he was just hurt really badly wounded and he didn’t remember anything. When he came to the hospital, he [unclear]. So this general came by, and the general says, “Is there anything I can do to help you?” And I said, “I need some blood for this man.” And he said, “Okay.” And so he went to this guy’s company, and he said, “Someone’s been having some trouble.” And he didn’t make an order that they had to give blood, but in less than a half-an-hour he was back with twenty units of blood from the guys in this guy’s troop. So in the process, when the guy got dismissed, I just wrote a letter to him and stuck it in his tough and sent it to him, sent it with him. He found it in Okinawa, in Okinawa about a month or so later when he really regained consciousness, and he wrote back and thanked me. That was pretty memorable. Then at our station in Long Binh, they made me, we used to go to a place called Bien Hoa. Bien Hoa was a province; there was an Australian surgical team that was working on civilians, so they made me a consultant near a hospital. So three days a week, when we weren’t doing anything, and over night then operate on civilians. [Background disturbance] I got to know the Australians. Probably the most memorable thing was, I met a family there and brought them to the United States through my church. One of my friends was teaching English to this family, and he took me there. When we got back to the States, I met their son, and their son was going to college here, in the United States, and he got trapped here when Vietnam fell. So his family then subsequently escaped to Thailand and through my church and family, we brought them here.
PR: So have you kept in touch with them?
RJ: I still, yeah. We see them all the time. The father just passed away. Then I brought a patient back to the United States once, and that was kind of an interesting experience. I had complete charge of the airplane and everything. If I didn’t want them to fly, they wouldn’t fly. If I wanted them to turn around and come back, they would. They kept coming back and checking with me, asking me if the patient would make it.
PR: So when a patient was brought back here, where did they bring him?
RJ: San Francisco to [unclear]
PR: You treated the Vietnamese as well as…?
RJ: We tried to always do that because we were young surgeons right out of residency. We wanted to operate. So when I wasn’t in the military, whenever there wasn’t anything to operate on, we wanted to do elective surgery. So we would do that, and every place I went, they would let us do it for a while and then they made us stop. But the one place could do it was actually at this province hospital in Bien Hoa, which was about ten to fifteen miles from Long Binh, where I was stationed.
PR: You worked alongside with Vietnamese physicians as well, then?
RJ: Not so many Vietnamese physicians as we did with the Australians. I did meet Vietnamese physicians. As a matter of fact, I gave away, when our hospital was finally closed in Long Binh, I closed that hospital. We had a bunch of stuff that we had to get rid of and one of them was our medical library. And I knew a young, Vietnamese medical student who served as an interpreter at our hospital, and I gave him our whole library, thousands of dollars worth of books. I couldn’t bring it home, so I just gave it to him.
PR: You mentioned before that you read a lot; did they have library access for you?
RJ: I took a lot of my own books with me because they shipped everything over for you, so many pounds. I had a lot of my surgical texts. I read at both hospitals, not in Pleiku, no at the sixty-seventh evac, which I was stationed at for just a short period of time. But at the Long Binh, the twenty-fourth evacuation hospital and my initial hospital, the eighty-fifth evacuation hospital, they had libraries.
PR: How much were you allowed to take with you?
RJ: I don’t remember. It was like a duffel bag and other, I think two bags. And when you came home, they let you ship anything home. I had hair conditioner that I bought in Vietnam and some things I used in the [unclear].
PR: What was food like while you were there?
RJ: It was all [unclear] food. They usually had a chef somewhere, not a chef, but a cook. And it was all, wasn’t too bad until we got to, when they geared the hospital down. Then they started feeding us those “D” rations or “C” rations, and they were terrible. [Both laughing] They were bad. As a matter of fact, I had a master [unclear] radar. Like you see radar on TV. They could get you anything. So I said, “Look, I can’t eat this food.” Someway he found, he arranged to find some food for me. I could cook in my own little hooch. [Both laughing]
PR: What was housing like?
RJ: Most of the time, we stayed in what they call hooches. They were like little beach huts. And the one I stayed in Phu Bai, these places had been put up as temporary buildings, put up to last six months, that was in 1964, and I was there in 1971, so they were only supposed to last six months, and they were still there. They were almost like a tent, but they were made out of wood. So that’s where I stayed everywhere I was at.
PR: Did you live with other men? Or did you have your own room?
RJ: I had my own room, both places I was at. And then when I was commander of the hospital in Phu Bai, I had a trailer. They move in this trailer. That’s where I lived.
PR: Did you feel a lot of pressure or stress while you were there? Or was it just a lot like practicing would’ve been here?
RJ: No, you were always kind of under… something might happen to you. [Interruption] There was always an undercurrent, but after a while you just kind of settle down. I ran all of the time. I lost about thirty pounds when I was in Vietnam, intentionally. I went over and weighed about 165, came home weighing 135.
PR: What did your wife think about that?
RJ: She was happy. And I was tan, pretty good shape. We met in Hawaii for R and R. And the time that really worries you the most is the time when you’re about ready to come home. They call it the short-timer’s syndrome. When I got my orders that I was going to get to come home, the medical consultant called me up and said, “I’ve got good news and bad news. What do you want first?” And I said, “Well, I guess the good news.” And he said, “You’re going to get [unclear] and go home a month or so early.” And I said, “Well, that’s great!” He said, “The bad news is, before you go home, you gotta go to Pleiku.” So I was stationed in Pleiku during the [unclear] invasion. There was fighting all the time, gunshot wounds, and all of that kind of stuff. The day I landed in the airport, right after I drove away, the airport got blown up, and I’m getting ready to come home in three weeks. So then you think, “I’m going to get killed before I get to go home.”
PR: What did you do to make it through those last few weeks?
RJ: That’s when I read those twenty-seven books. We had, waiting for a guy it was up there TDY. There was this one guy whose move was there, went on R and R. He never came back from R and R until he had to. It took him a long time to get back. The day he got back, I quickly caught a flight back down to Long Binh, and I cleared in one day, it usually took a week get out, but in one day, because I had been around this time long enough, I was ready to go. I found all the people I needed to sign my orders, packed my stuff, and I was out of there and I went home within twenty-four hours.
PR: That’s nice. So you went back to San Francisco then?
RJ: I flew back to Travis Air Force Base. And then I was stationed for the last year at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
PR: Did your wife, your family came to Fort Knox?
PR: Did you do anything before you left for good luck or to kind of ease your nerves before leaving?
RJ: Prayed a lot. I thought that’s where I was supposed to be.
PR: Were you given time on leave or any breaks while you were there?
RJ: Yeah, we had, as I said, you could still take your leave. If you wanted to pay your way home, they’d let you come home for two weeks or however long you had. We got two weeks leave every year. Then they gave you an R and R, which was rest and recuperation and you can take that after you’ve been in country six months. For that, they would send you; there were three places you could go. You could to Thailand, Hong Kong or Shang Hai or you could go to Hawaii. So Margie flew to Hawaii and I flew to Hawaii. We met there for a week, and we hadn’t seen each other for six months. It was kind of like a new honeymoon. Then when I brought the patient home, I didn’t come back right away. I took a few days and went home to see him. So I had [unclear]
PR: So how long did you spend in Hawaii with her?
RJ: Your R and R was six days, or seven days and six nights. Or six nights, seven nights and six days, I don’t know. And it got kind of messed up. I was supposed to go one time, one day, and I didn’t get out that day, they can only take so many people on [unclear] planes. So I had to wait a day, so she was in Hawaii for a day waiting, didn’t know where I was. Then they told her that I would be coming. We had a great time.
PR: You said you took up photography while you were there. What were you most interested in?
RJ: Oh, I had a thirty-five millimeter camera, black and white film. I took a lot of pictures and developed them in this dark room. Which is something new?
PR: Did you have any photographs of people you met there? Did you save a lot of memories like that?
RJ: Yeah, I’ve got albums and pictures from Vietnam. Pictures of [unclear] when we were trying to sandbag our roofs. Pleiku with the mountain yards. Very similar to the R and R. [unclear] Bow and arrows and crossbows.
PR: Did you get along pretty well with the other physicians and other officers there?
RJ: You had to. You’re so close together.
PR: Did you keep a personal diary or anything while you were there?
RJ: Yes, I did. We were looking for it the other night because we had a house fire seven years ago, and we were trying to some stuff. And I was asking her about it. It’s at home somewhere.
PR: So you saved letters and things like that as well?
RJ: Yes. Got a box full of those, don’t we? [To wife] She didn’t hear me. Margie, I said we got a box full of those, don’t we? letters from each other from Vietnam. [She acknowledges]
PR: What do you remember most about the day your service ended?
RJ: [Laughing] Freedom. Are you talking about the one in Vietnam?
PR: Yeah, from Vietnam.
RJ: It was a weird… Vietnam was a weird war. It was also a weird time when we left. You would think every body would be real joyous and all of that, but it was really quiet on the, they called it, Freedom Birds, which were the planes bringing us back. They took those planes and they made what used to five rows across into six rows across. And made the seats which used to be this far apart [Gestures] into this far apart [Smaller gestures]. Crowd more people in there until it was absolutely packed. Yet coming back home, it was very quiet, kind of cheering when we took off, and nothing much was said until the guy flying the plane, the pilot flying the plane was just outside of Travis and he said, “Well, I just want to welcome you all back to the world.” And everything just kind of erupted. Most of the way home was pretty quiet. Because you were thankful that you didn’t get killed, and very thankful that you came home alive and to see your family, but you know that you’re leaving some people behind, good friends, and you don’t know if they’re going to make it back. You wonder how it’s going to be when you get back home. You’ve been gone for a year.
PR: How long before the war ended did you leave Vietnam?
RJ: Two or three years. The war ended in ’75? I came home in ’72 and spent a year in Fort Knox then came to Marion in ’73.
PR: Was your stationing in Fort Knox, was that required after you came home?
RJ: You were required to spend two years in the military, and of course, I went directly to Vietnam. So my second year and most of us could go wherever we wanted, and I requested Fort Knox, mainly because I wanted to practice in Indiana or Ohio, this part of the country, that’s where I was familiar with. I was planning to go back to Dayton and practice. Dr. Eyres and Dr. Fisher urged me to come to Marion. So that’s how I ended up here. That year at Fort Knox, like I said, the war was kind of tearing down, so they had a lot more surgeons than they needed.
PR: What did you do in the days and weeks after your return?
RJ: After my return? When we got back, we had a month before we had to be at the [unclear] in Fort Knox. So we arranged a moving van, the army paid for all of that. We arranged a moving van to come move our stuff to Fort Knox. We went there and got our quarters, we went and visited my mother, took some time went out to Margie’s folks for about a month. Mainly I got reacquainted with my family. My little girl, I had to woo her over, make sure to let her know that I was her daddy.
PR: How old were your kids when you came back?
RJ: My oldest, Bob, my oldest son, was in sixth grade, would’ve been twelve. Tom was either a second or third grader, and Susie was just a baby, twenty-two months old when I came back.
PR: What did you miss the most, of course, other than your family, while you were there? The American culture? Or…?
RJ: Yeah, basically. You’re not trapped, but your whole environment is a military compound, and you don’t leave the compound. Go to Saigon every now and then, but most of the time… You miss being able to drive down to McDonald’s or any other restaurant. They had some semblances of restaurants.
PR: Was there anything that you had to eat when you came home? That you had missed for so long, after that horrible food?
RJ: Margie’s cooking. You know just steaks and things like that. That’ll [unclear] Just good, American food.
PR: Did you feel kind of detached from the world when you were there? Since you said, it was just a military environment.
RJ: Yeah, you did. It was a time when you did a lot of reflecting. They had PX’s, where we buy stuff through the military exchange. Things were pretty cheap. Especially stuff that didn’t have to be imported. So you’d go there, and look, I bought a stereo. That’s just when stereos were becoming popular. You felt, you didn’t know what was going on back in [unclear]. Nothing made sense. When I came home on leave that time, and they show these pictures of what was going on in Vietnam, it really wasn’t what was going on. The newspapers tend to over sensationalize things sometimes. One time, I was flying back, and they were talking about Saigon being under siege and having all of these attacks and all of this, and when I fly into the Tan Son Nhut Air Base, I see three guys walking across the airport with tennis rackets on their soldiers. They were going to play a game of tennis.
PR: [Laughs] So the media plays it up a lot?
RJ: But you felt… and when you came home, nobody understood what you had been through. They didn’t understand living out in the [unclear] where you had to have electric lighting or clothes to keep you dry because it was so moist. They didn’t understand what a monsoon was. They couldn’t comprehend what you had been doing. They had not been to Vietnam. They couldn’t figure out the kind of surgery you had been doing where you’d seen young twenty-one, twenty-two year old guys just devastated for no reason.
PR: Did you make any close friendships there?
RJ: Met a guy from, my best friend from [unclear] ended up being the head of the Trippler Army Hospital. There was another guy named John Bowman. A lot of the nurses [unclear]
PR: What were some of the best memories that you shared with your closest friend? Maybe not just colleagues but outside of work as well?
RJ: Vietnam? People. I really learned to love Vietnamese people. I didn’t like the Viet Kong very much. [Both laugh] They’re wonderful, very giving, very nice people. Some of the memories of these young guys that got to know you when you’re taking care of them. General Rosin was probably one of the most memorable people I’ve met in my life. He was the guy; he was the head of the army in Southeast Asia. He was a four-star general in our hospital. He was one of the most impressive people that I’ve ever met. He came to our hospital and visited every single young man or young woman in the hospital, spent maybe thirty seconds with them, but for that thirty seconds, they had his undivided attention. And you could kind of see how people in the military, especially people like him rose to the top, because they were impressive people who had qualities that made them leaders. That’s why they were doing what they were. Sitting in Saigon, waiting to get out on R and R with my buddy from Navy. He and I flew home together, or flew to Hawaii together. Going to the churches set up for military people. There was a missionary there by the name of Hank Jones that I got to meet, and… [Side 1 ends]
PR: Did your military experience influence your thinking about war or military, in general? You said that it was something that you couldn’t really explain to people who hadn’t experienced it.
RJ: Yeah, it did. I came home very much more patriotic. I was proud of my country. It bugs me when I hear or see the anti-war protesters today, that really bothers me. Because they don’t know what some of these people have given up so that they can have the freedom that they have. I guess I came home much more aggressive about defending my country, realizing that we have a great nation. It also is probably one of the reasons that I go to the Dominican and Haiti and all of that to do surgery every year. Some of the experiences I had working in Vietnam.
PR: Did you join any veterans’ organizations or stay involved that way?
RJ: I belonged, used to belong to the [unclear]. No, not really.
PR: When you came home, did you try to leave those memories behind or did you make that a part of your life when you returned?
RJ: I would say that I incorporated that into my life because, like I said, it changed me. Vietnam really changed me. [It] gave me a new perspective on my family and how much I needed my family and wanted to be with them. Like I said, Margie and I, we feel like it was probably one of the real strengthening things of our marriage. I never wanted to forget it. I tell people, I wouldn’t do that again for a million dollars, but I also wouldn’t give away my experiences. It was the best and worst of my life. It was a very different time in our lives. Wouldn’t want to do it again, but I wouldn’t change what we did.
PR: Do you like sharing your experiences?
RJ: Yes. It’s been a good experience.
PR: How was it to tell your kids when you came home? They were probably wondering where you had been for so long.
RJ: Well, the boys were old enough. They understood. My youngest son, Tom, of course Margie took me to the airport a couple times, once when I brought the patient back, once when I left, the initial time, and Tom said he wouldn’t go to the airport again. He didn’t want to see me leave. The boys really learned to help their mom. Susie, I had to woo her because she didn’t know me. And you asked me if it was different, and yeah, we were used to worrying about being shot or being invaded, and whenever a screen door would slam real loud, I’d jump the first year I came home. It wears off. You think you’ll never change back to the way you were, but you do.
PR: Was there anything else that you wanted to add? Those are all of my questions.
RJ: The only other thing I would add is that those kind of experiences, I see our young men when I was watching the Iraqi war. There was almost a masochistic entity. Every time we had one of these, I was trying to figure out a way I could help whether it would be, they would let me come back in and volunteer for three or four months. The same thing happened during the time of the…, right after 9/11. Every time we have one of those experiences, my first response is, “How can I go help? Can I go back in? Will they let me back in?” I’m probably too old, and they wouldn’t, but it’s something that, and I tell her (his wife), and she supports me. [unclear] And it’s also kind of masochistic in the fact that, every Vietnamese movie that comes out, I go and see. Just because I want to see if it’s accurate. During the time of the Iraqi freedom, my television was constantly tuned to either Fox News or CNN or ABC News, one of the channels that just kept the military on. I want to see what’s happening. Because you can empathize. You can put yourself in the position of those young men and women who are fighting, and you feel for them because you know what they’re doing. It makes a difference. War changes things.
PR: It’s probably not anything you can really explain, but…
RJ: No, you can’t explain it very well. I mean you can’t explain why I want to do this. But every time it happens, I want to go back in, that desire to go back and be there on the front lines, taking care of the soldiers, the wounded.
PR: That’s probably how you feel in your practice in general though. Just helping people.
RJ: Oh yeah, and that’s probably why I’m a doctor. That’s what I like what I’m doing. I don’t want to shoot anybody, but I want to take care of the guys who have been shot.
PR: Well, thank you very much.
RJ: Oh, you’re welcome, I hope it helps.