US ARMY Special Forces Medics and their Equipment

Thanks to Aaron Gritzmaker, Medic A-100, A-104 & A-107


Role of USSF Medics:
The SF "Doc" was trained to function as the local Medic capable of patching up and evacuating the wounded, as a surgeon, a dentist, a laboratory technician, a veterinarian and a camp sanitation supervisor. All those tasks were mainly conducted in a field environment and outside medical support.  
Most USSF Medics served with A Team normally located in isolated areas and were in charge of the local Civic Actions as well as Medical care to the nearby villages and the A-Camp forces.
The SF Medic also assume the role of a highly trained Airborne combat soldier, able to use the radio, fire all the weapons, call in an air strike or medevac and lead a patrol or an attack.
In a few words, they had to be able to do it all!

For this, the SF Medic was not only trained as a Medic, but also cross-trained in at least two other skills. 

USSF Medical Specialist Training:
Before he was allowed to attend his Special Forces Medical training, he would have to go through Basic Training, Jump School and pass the SF training test!
Once assigned to the SF training detachment, his SF Medical training would consist of 32 to 36 weeks. This comprised of an initial classroom training
course, an advanced one at Fort Sam, the OJT (On Job Training at Military Hospital like the "Ireland" Hospital at Fort Knox), then back to Bragg for more classroom work.  The final phase of medical training was the "Dog Lab" and the "Oral Board", which the students feared more than going to Nam.  The three classroom phases covered a lot of the same ground only in greater and greater detail.  After that they went through an E&E (Escape and Evasion course) for 10 days to two weeks with the graduates of all the other SF training courses. They then graduated and were assignment to a Group.

Special Forces Medical training was taught by senior SF Medics and regular Medical Staff (doctors, nurses, Medics, lab techs, etc). They learnt how to do surgical procedures (minor surgery, reset compound fractures, and treat gunshot wounds), fill teeth, prescribe drugs, diagnose diseases, analyse blood and do other laboratory procedures and even treat tropical diseases and animals. They spent ten weeks on-the-job training in an army hospital, rotating through each section to gain hands-on experience. Officially two weeks of this was in the Emergency Room and would prove the most important phase of their training in the months to come. Especially important here was the amount of suturing and minor surgery they had to do. Unofficially, the SF students spent most of their times and weekends in ER due to their enthusiasms, (sometime to the displeasure of ER supervisor, as the regulars medics were not getting the experience)! The hospital training was followed by another stint at Fort Bragg known as "dog lab". In this, each medic was issued a dog to serve as a patient. Though they used anaesthetic for pain, they were not generally allowed to use any medication. Instead, they had to use debriding and natural wound healing. (In some cases the use of antibiotics were permitted to learn their management)

Then, when deployed, the SF Medic had to be ready to function as an instructor to teach his recruited CIDG medics (from the local population), the skills necessary to assist him.

Beyond the medical training and the required Airborne School, they received training in jungle warfare, demolition, weapons, psychological warfare and even a foreign language.

"I would like to thanks SGT Harlow Short Medic (A-5O2/CIDG hospital at Bien Hoa 1969/70) ,   for helping in my research on the training of SF Medics.

Aug 1969, Medic graduation course

The training course was 32 weeks divided into sections:

I) Special Forces Basic Aidman's Course- conducted at Ft.Bragg,NC
8 weeks

Program for the Special Forces Basic Aidman Course (MOS 91A):

                                    Subject Hours
General Subjects                          14
Anatomy and physiology                    27
Common medical diseases                   22
Pharmacology                              20
Medical techniques                        30
Management of emergency
conditions        47
Nursing techniques                        54
Preventive medicine                       25
Transportation/care of sick &
wounded     22
Reviews                                   12
Examinations                              22
TOTAL                                    295 hours

II) 300 F-1 Course (MOS 91B)- conducted at Ft.Sam Houston, TX
10 weeks Program for Special Forces Aidman's Course (MOS 91B):

                                                                     Subject Hours
Dental first aid                                                          10

Dept. of Medicine & Surgery:
Orientation subjects                                                   3
Basic Science subjects                                             26
Pharmacology                                                           36
Medical Conditions                                                  64
Surgical Conditions                                                  25
Medical & Surgical Nursing Care                          74
Examination, Discussion, Review                           27
Military Science:
Aeromedical evacuation                                            2
Basic Combat Psychiatry                                          9
Preventive Medicine:
Military preventive medicine                                  55
Pathology & Laboratory Science:
Clinical Laboratory                                                  29
Veterinary Science:
Aspects of Veterinary Preventive                           12
Medicine and animal care
TOTAL                                                                    360

III) OJT (On-the-job training)- conducted at varius army hospitals., TX
7 weeks

Program for OJT:
                                      Subject Hours
Emergency Room                            40
Dispensary of Outpatient Service          24
General Medicine Service                  56
General Surgery Service                   56
Orthopedic Service                        24
Dental Service                            24
Laboratory                                 8
Dermatology                               24
Pediatrics                                24
TOTAL                                    280

IV) AMTS (Advanced Medical Training School)- conducted at Ft. Bragg,
NC Total of 7 weeks in 2 sections:
a) Advanced Medical Lectures -3 weeks
b) Advanced Surgical Laboratory-4 weeks (this was otherwise known as: Dog Lab)

Program for Advanced Medical Training School:
                                    Subject Hours
Orientation                               2
Patient diagnosis                         8
Human diseases                           56
Emergency Medical treatment              20
Pediatrics                                5
Psychiatry                                1
Drugs                                     7
Anesthesia                                5
Operating Room Procedures                 2
Patient Care                              2
Surgical Procedures                      94
Pharmacy                                 12
Laboratory Procedures                    20
Reviews                                   6
Examinations                             16
TOTAL                                   260

V) Oral Boards-
Final examination by cadre members




Days in the life of A-113 Sr Medic, Loyd Little  Gia Vuc (Sept 8-2Nov 1965) 

Week of Sep. 12, 1965:  
Two patrols ambushed this week.  Four Hre wounded by bullets; four Hre wounded by punji stakes; and then our XO Lt. Brown was wounded by splinters/metal shavings when a bullet shattered the stock on his carbine, sending dozens of splinters/some metal pieces into his buttocks.  All the wounded were treated in camp; however, one punji stake appeared to have done serious damage to nerves in one Hre's arm, and I sent him to Danang.

19 September 1965:  
Typical day in the camp dispensary:  One Hre got a punji stake in the shin on a patrol.  Stake hit the shin bone, glanced sideways and into the calf muscle.  9 stitches.  Another Hre striker caught a bullet about 2 inches above the elbow.  The bullet hit the elbow joint, slid sideways and came out about 2 inches below the elbow.  Cleaned.  About a half-dozen sub-cutaneous stitches, a dozen stitches on top.  5-6 malaria attacks.  3 acute asthma.  5-6 dysentery.  Usual assortment of stomach aches, sore backs, painful teeth, colds. 
Sept. 25, 27: 
One Hre trooper got mad at himself about something and shot himself in leg.  More damage than I could handle.  Med-evacced out. Two days later, we showed a movie to the Hre.  It was a western, but I don't think a John Wayne western.  Several hours later, gunshots broke out in the Hre area.  We thought it was an attack, but found out that two brothers (drunk) got into an argument about the fast-draw techniques they had seen in the movie.  They decided to try it with rifles.  They started back to back, walked so many feet, turned around and open fire on each other.  One brother's bullet caught the other in the elbow, which spun him around.  A second went through his lower back, lopping off part of his liver as it exited.  I operated and did the best I could.  It was 18 hours before a Vietnamese chopper came for him.  I kept him alive until the chopper took off, but he died on the way to Danang.

Oct.8 1965:  Junior medic wounded
It was a recon/medical patrol lead by Sgt. Dominick Tantalo of Waterloo NY.  Sgt. Norman Bircher of Topeka, Kan. (my junior medic) and Sgt. James Harrison of Baltimore were the other USSFers on the patrol along with about 15 Hre strikers.  Also along was Gene Basset, a cartoonist who worked for the Scripps-Howard chain and who was visiting Gia Vuc. Reconstructed story:  The patrol was at its deepest point and about to turn around.  They were on a rocky half-dry creekbed.  Both sides were sheer cliffs covered with dense jungle vines and scrub.  Suddenly a BAR opened up behind them.  Gene turned and saw a line of bullets kicking a straight line down the column toward him.  He dove behind a rock.  A Hre striker in front of him turned for cover when suddenly his forehead exploded as a tracer bullet still glowing red tumbled out with about half his brains.  The Hre dropped. The next round hit Bircher.  It went through his left thigh and through his right leg, missing the bone but doing considerable damage.  We decided the bullet had been cross hatched to make it spread out.  It took a huge portion out of Bircher's right thigh as it exited.  The BAR was so close that Harrison said they could hear the VC talking.  Finally, our boys got return fire going and the VC quit.  Bircher couldn't be moved.  They called camp and for a med evac.  Hicks, Minnicks and myself took off on a forced march and arrived a few minutes before the choppers.  Under covering fire, I checked Bircher.  He already had a shot of morphine in him (Harry had pinned the needle to his pants leg as we were instructed) but was asking for a second one.  I gave it to him and pinned my needle beside the other one.  Bircher said that when he went down, he didn't move on purpose, pretending to be dead.  That probably saved his life.  The morphine was doing its job because at one point Bircher shouted to Minnicks, "Hey Skip, no offense or anything, but fuck that extension." 
The choppers arrived and in as heroic as anything I'd ever seen dropped straight down this narrow ravine (they had less than 40 feet of extra clearance on each side of the blades) to pick up the dead and wounded.  They got sniper fire coming and going but made it out OK.
By the way, about half of the Hre strikers in the patrol had fled sometime during the firefight.
We got hit twice more on the way back to camp.  The first time, we were crossing a rice paddy when the familiar ratp-ratp-ratp of a BAR opened up from across the paddy about 300 feet away.  We dove behind a two-foot dike at the edge of the rice paddy.  I was lying there trying to hit the BAR (I could see the flashes) when Gene the cartoonist suddenly shouted.  I thought he was hit. It turned out that hot rounds from my carbine were scorching his bare back.  Finally, the VC broke off.  Gene picked up his sketchpad and found a bullet had creased the back of it.
About 30 minutes later, Hicks decided to cross a wide creek (maybe the Song Re) first with a striker behind him.  As soon as they were on the other side, we heard gunfire.  Minnicks shouted across, "Hey captain, are you getting fired on?"  Classic understatement.  Hicks shouted back, "Hell yes, we're getting fired on."
Skip, barechested and big, leapt into the creek, shouting, "Let's go, men."  Gene the cartoonist hit a deep hole in the creek and flipped head over heels in it. We joined Hicks and the VC broke off.  Returned finally to camp.

(Note: Gene Basset later wrote about this incident and I have a copy of the article that was in the Washington Daily News. As soon as I get a scanner, I will scan it in and send it to you.)

24 October 1965:  
Delivered a lovely, bouncing baby boy to a Hre woman this morning in the dispensary.  The Hre have the equivalent of midwives who normally help out at births.  Actually, most Hre women will work right up to the birth of the baby.
Although I never saw it, team members say they've seen babies born in the rice fields.  Woman squats down and catches the baby in her hands.  Anyway, this particular woman had been in labor about eight or nine hours before she and her husband (and a handful of other relatives) came to the dispensary.  She was in considerable pain, and the midwife had finally suggested she come to us.  She was a lovely 18 years old and worried and in a lot of pain.   Our training included births; however, we were also taught to use pain-killers only as a last resort.
I talked to her, examined her as best I could (the husband stood there the whole time which meant no internal examination for that would have seriously offended the Hre), and talked to her.  Gave her water, etc.  She was running a slight fever but everything was normal as near as I could tell.  After 3-4 more hours, I returned to the team house to eat.  And got involved in a pinochle game.

I had my senior Hre medic watching her.  He rushed in several times to get me, but they were false alarms.  Another 3-4 hours passed and my Hre came running in again.  I had a great pinochle hand and said I'd be there in a minute.  By the time I got there (about three minutes later), there was a six-pound baby boy crying between her legs.  Everyone was OK.  I cut the cord and then found one reason for the lengthy birth.  She was too small.  I had to put in a half-dozen or more stitches.  The relatives all crowded in and congratulated at great length the father who was now cradling the baby.  It was their custom that the father was the one to be slapped on the back and cheered.  I held the mother's hand and told her she did a wonderful job and that her baby was beautiful.
 Story  and photos thanks to A-113 Sr Medic, Loyd Little  Gia Vuc (Sept 8-2 Nov 1965) 



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Unidentified Gia Vuc SFer watches as members of a Hre recon party cross the Song Re river near Gia Vuc, 1965.
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Special Forces Medic Sgt. Loyd Little (foreground in
camouflage) holds sick call in a Hre hamlet during a medical patrol from the SF Camp of Gia Vuc in the summer of 1965.  The soldier on the back left is one of the Hre strike force guards.  Many of the Hre women did not wear shirts or blouses, much to the delight of the young American Special Forces soldiers.
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Two Hre strike forces soldiers stand by during a medical patrol visit to a hamlet from the Special Forces Gia Vuc camp in 1965.  Behind the soldiers on the porch of a hut is a young mother with her five children, all of whom look to be less than five years old.
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A Vietnamese Special Forces medic (counterpart to SFer
Loyd Little) wraps a bandage on the ankle of a Hre man during amedical patrol to one of the villages around the Gia Vuc Camp in 1965.  This particular LLDB medic was described as "especially well trained" and came to the Gia Vuc SF camp in the fall of 1965 with a glowing report from his previous SF team
Member of a  Gia Vuc Hre camp strike force relax as they approach Camp Gia Vuc after spending the day on a medical patrol to hamlets scattered in the nearby hills.  This road was part of an old French highway that once connected major cities in the highlands.  Only bits and pieces of it survived into the early 1960s when this picture was taken.  I believe that the other side of the highway sign (on the right) read "19," which would have been the old French Highway # 19.
Picture taken in 1965.

BAC-SI at Gia Vuc, SFC, W. D. Libby, Senior Medic  A-725 1963/64

Apart from going on operations as any other Team members, SFC W. D. Libby had his hands full in providing medical treatment for the Strike Force and families and 1500 or more Camp dependants. On days when not on Ops, first thing in the morning he used to run the camp 3/4 ton truck down the runway looking for any sign of mines which may have been placed during the night and then went on to open the dispensary.

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Here he used to greet his 10 village health workers (nurses) dressed in blue uniforms with a red cross on the sleeve (all provided by the A-Team) who he was training in basic first Aid and sanitation. All together, they used to load the truck and then went out of the camp to conduct their MEDCAP.

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Each day they went to the two villages North and South of the Air landing strip and to the large fortified Strike Force village about 200 metres outside the main camp perimeter. They used to give treatment to the sick, extract teeth etc.

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When Dale was on Ops his Junior Medic assumed the same tasks. While on MEDCAP their security was undertaken by the village Strike Force and by the fact that they were in sight of the camp guards and the hill outposts. They made a point of never being at the same place at the same time.

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When both of them were not on Ops his Junior Medic would be providing the camp Strike Force sick call at the camp dispensary while Dale went on to do his MEDCAPs. The dispensary was the only block building inside the camp. It comprised of three rooms, one was an eight bed ward, one was the treatment room and the last one was the medical storage room.
Photos and story thanks to SFC, W. D. Libby, Senior Medic  A-725 1963-64 .


MEDCAP to Leng Tie village
on the road to Bato east of Gia Vuc. This was unusual for us to have five Americans on a MEDCAP, but we needed some "staybehind" with the vehicles, as the village was a short distance from the road.  The village chief had given us some intelligence information earlier and we were showing our appreciation.

1LT Bud Brown, the team XO walking back to the truck where I am siting.
 Note the 30cal mounted on a gun pedestral on the passenger side. In the other photo you will see a BAR gun on the hood.
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James Harrison was the driver and Norm Bircher was riding shotgun on
the second truck
 The third guy was not a member of the A Team. I believe he may have been a civil affairs officer that was attached to us.
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The VC had put a road block on the road from Gia Vuc to Bato. We thought
that they might have put a few grenades under the trunks. So, Harry Combs, senior demo sergeant who replaced John Baca, used C4 and det cord around some of the trunks to blow a pass through them. We could tell by the secondary explosions that the VC had  positioned grenades under some of the trunks.
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Harry decided that he didn't think there were anymore booby traps so he drove the truck through the rest of the road block. The rest of us moved away in case!  He was right!
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Village children dressed in 
"Vietnamesse flag" t-shirts
for the occasion.
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Norm Bircher with his open M5 medic bag, ready to give medical aid to the villagers

Information and photograph thanks to CSM (Retired) David Klehn SSG A-113(April 65 - November 65) Sr Commo Sgt

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Photo of a Gia Vuc CIDG beeing treated in the camp dispensary after having stepped on a booby trap.
 Photograph thanks to CSM (Retired) David Klehn SSG A-113



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A group of Montagnard villagers are shown in front of the village dispensary, along with junior RTO Charles Woodson (right), and an unidentified Australian from the Mike Force in Danang, who was visiting on a recon for future actions in the Gia Vuc vicinity. 

MEDCAP at Gia Vuc Village 1967
Photos courtesy of Cpt V Carter A-103

Photos showing a local village medcap at Gia Vuc (1) or (2), I forget which.  There were three Gia Vuc villages in proximity to the A-Camp, as I remember.  We had a school, a dispensary, a country store, and some other miscellaneous tin-metal buildings in the villages from which we would hold weekly activities. 

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Medic Benjamin Long listens to interpreter Dinh Nghia describe the girl's symptoms, before treatment.


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Our jeep (mutt), which we used for civic action activities in one of the local Montagnard villages where we had a "country store" where we dispensed cooking oil, soap, etc. 

Day-time Medcap patrol:

This is a rather large day-time medcap patrol.  The fact that few if any CIDG are wearing rucksacks indicates a single day, there-and-back operation. The size of the patrol indicates a patrol of either some length or to an area of questionable security. 
The Americans pictured  in this photo are not A-103 team members, but are a team of special medical researchers from Nha Trang who came to Gia Vuc for pursuing medical research on Montagnards and from blood samples, trying to determine how they might be related to other Asian groups migrating into the area hundreds of years before.  Don't ask me why they were here doing this kind of stuff.  You can tell, however, that they weren't regular team members or folks used to going to the field by:   
1) mixed tiger fatigues and regular jungle fatigues;
2) wearing sunglasses and fatigues with yellow NCO stripes!  Excellent ways to stand out at a long distance and to make a target of one's self. 
Team members either wore all tiger uniforms or black pajamas (particularly at night when dry and warm change of clothes were called for) so that at a distance and at night it would be very difficult or impossible to tell who was CIDG and who was SF.  These guys gave it all away! Fortunately, they returned to continue their research elsewhere.

Photo and information thanks to Cpt Virgil Carter, A-103 XO, January 1967 to July 1967.


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Sgt R.M. Hilgartner senior Medic  A1- A-414 at "Phey Srunh"
 in the  Tuyen Duc province , 


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E-mail send by Robert M. Hilgartner jr

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"I thought you might like to see these pictures.  these pictures are my Dad, Robert Milton Hilgartner, A SF Medic taken in South Vietnam sometime in late 1963 or 1964. He was doing TDY trips in and out of Vietnam from 1962 to 1965.
I wish I could relate some of the stories he told me about his days there, but they are few and mostly broken stories.  He passed away in March 2000 from Cancer that first took his throat and voice box and then later attacked his lungs, liver and brain."
My Father's illness was directly attributed to Agent Orange Poisoning / Contamination, after a 5 year battle, we were able to claim a disability and support from the Veterans Administration.  

Robert M. Hilgartner jr

Because of the specialrole of the SF medic on operations (ie leader or assistant leader of patrols etc) most of the conventional medical gear was not carried.  Flexibility and adaptation has always been the primary concern for them, so the contents of their "ruck" and choice of medical gear on "Ops" always reflected their mentality. 
SF Medics, were not generally issued kits like regular line Medics as they controlled and operated out of fully stocked dispensaries, which included anti-biotics, narcotics, etc. So any kits that they used were what they made up! 
Unlike a regular Medic who had all sorts of supervision, SF Medics were THE medical authority at the A-team level and at most other places they worked.
The items shown below are some typical US Army Medical equipment but were not always the preferred choice of the SF Medic due to the nature of their missions.


M3 medical bag

Case Medical Instrument and Supply Set, Non-Rigid, Number 3, know often as "Aid Bag" or "M3 bag"
This is an post 1968 version made of rubberized cotton (the earlier type was made of heavy canvas cotton).
The contents will vary according to the mission but you will often find typical items like instrument set and field medical cards, dressings/bandages, Vaseline gauze, aspirin, anti-malaria tablets, antihistamine, salt tablets, ointments, blood-volume expenders etc.



Minor Surgery Surgical, Instrument Set

On the top left of the kit are Surgeon Needles, Suture Silk and Surgical Blades, in the pouch itself you can find scissors, tweezers, and various "clamps".1 x case, Minor Surgery Surgical, Instrument Set, Empty
1 x Forceps, Dressing, Straight
2 x Forceps, Hemostatic, Straight
1 x Holder, Suture Needle
2 x Pkg, Blade Surgical Knife Detachable No10, 6s
2 x Pkg, Blade Surgical Knife Detachable No11, 6s
1 x Handle, Surgical Knife, Detachable
1 x Pkg, Needle, Suture, Surgeon, Regular, 3/8 Circle, Cutting Edge, Size 12, 6s
1 x Pkg, Needle, Suture, Surgeon, Regular, 3/8 Circle, Cutting Edge, Size 16, 6s
1 x Probe,General Operating, 5 in
1 x Scissors, General Surgical, Straight 51/2 in
2 x Pkg, Suture Set, Non absorbable, Surgical Silk,
Braided, 3 sizes
1 x Pkg, Suture Set, Non absorbable, Surgical Silk,
Braided, Size 0, 18 inch, 3s


M5 medical bag

Sorry, but nothing known on the M5 bag. This example is dated 1987 and was filled with  60/70's Medical stuff for my Medical exhibitions!
I believe the 60's bag was identical.
This could be worn as a normal "rucksack" or attached to any ruck sack




Photograph of  Lew Merletti, A-502 Medic in 1969-1970. 

This photo was taken at "Da Hang",  a small outpost located high in the mountain ranges above Nha Trang. Da Hang was often  referred as the MSS (Mission Support Site).  The photo shows Lew carrying an M3 Medic bag.  When this photo was taken, Lew has been sent to Da Hang  for about a week long stay. He knew that no S.F. medics had been up there for awhile, and a M3 Medic bag  was prepared and taken to provide sick call each day and in case of some of the Strikers up there needed medical care.  During combat operations, only the small surgical instrument kit would be taken with two or three large bandages and a tourniquet as well as regular combat load to include ammunition, grenades, strobe light, flares etc.

Lew Merletti, A-502 Medic 69/70

Link to Ha Thanh dispensary photo album
 Ha Thanh like all CIDG camps had its own dispensary. 
This was a powerful tool  in the USSF Hearts and Minds campaign in Vietnam as the dispensaries provided modern medical treatment to camp CIDG's and to the local population. 
It is rare to see photo from the inside of such dispensaries, 
but thanks to Senior Medic Michael Fairlie, A-104  we can  can give you an insight into Ha Thanh dispensary.




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