My name is Maureen Robinson. I was a Captain in the Army Nurse Corps
stationed at the 27th Surg in Chu Lai (Apr'70-May'71) and 91st Evac
Hospital (May-Sept'71). This website is dedicated to my son Dinh Nit (Mark), who
is a member of the Hre' Tribe and to all Montagnards everywhere who
continue their struggle for the basic human rights that are denied to them. Also
I dedicate this site to all who served in Viet Nam and especially
Lt. Steve Thayer, who helped us through all the twists and turns of this
struggle and to Special Forces who never forgot their loyal allies --God
Bless You All.
It is my hope that by telling our story, someone may recall something
that will help to piece together the first three years of my son's life.
Any stories regarding the Hre', Tra Bong or surrounding areas are welcome.
This was my second tour in VN-- in 66/67, I was attached to the 24th Evac
in Long Binh. I was discharged in early'68 and moved to DC to work at
Walter Reed. I worked in orthopedics and the majority of my patients were
wounded in VN. I never forgot my time there and in late '69 was ready to return.
Initially, I was going to return as a civilian and interviewed with Catholic
Charities and also considered a plastic surgery hospital in Saigon but then the
Army came up with an offer I couldn't refuse--a thirteen month tour for
former army nurses who were VN vets. So by April 1970, I was on my way.
My assignment was the ER but I guess you could say that
a twist of fate had me working on the wards set up for civilian casualties
and ARVN soldiers. That temporary assignment turned into a permanent one by
Our patients ranged from premature babies to geriatrics and we
cared for the casualties of war--traumatic amputations, fractures, shrapnel
wounds, burns and all the after effects of mines and weapons. We were also
challenged by tropical diseases, too many to mention but malaria, blackwater
fever, scrub typhus, dengue fever were a few. Then there were the assorted
medical problems which included severe cases of malnutrition. A lot of our
patients were children and there were times they were beyond our help.
The staff tried very hard to do their best under difficult
conditions. I can't name them all but Cpt. Grace Squires was the
Head Nurse and very dedicated to her patients. Lt. Lucy Linenweber (Nit's
Godmother), Lt. Jayne Slagel and Lt. Barbara Watson were like second mothers to
many of the kids. Our ward master Sgt. Seones and corpsmen Julio Acosta, Ed
Dees, David Kohout, Chuck Morris and Eddie Reed were "the best". There
were three Vietnamese Nurse Aides--Lee, Mai and Tam who were
an integral part of our unit. There were good and bad times--funny and sad and I
will never forget the staff of Wards 5 and 6.
Time passed and we were busy with a few lulls along the way. There had been
an increase in activity and we had the usual alerts. Then at the beginning of
November the nurses BOQ was destroyed by fire. We were moved to two
unoccupied wards used for storage . Most of us lost just about everything.
The EM'S rushed to try and salvage what they could for us but
I can still remember seeing my "smoking" jungle boots thrown over the
side. For the next few days I worked wearing flip flops and a uniform two sizes
too big-- had to improvise with a belt to hold it all together. Guess it
provided some comedy relief for all. The nurses at the 91st Evac donated
clothes to help us out. I was upset that all of the clothes
that I had obtained for the kids were destroyed in the fire .
About a week later, the twist of fate that found me assigned
to my unit was about to take another turn. I remember that evening on 8 November
1970. I walked on the ward and saw a new patient. His record stated that he was
about three years old and picked up by Dust Off in Tra Bong District. His name
was Dinh Nit and he was suffering from severe malnutrition and several
infections. His muscle tone was so poor that every time he went to
the bathroom, his rectum would prolapse. His abdomen was swollen from
parasite infections and protein deficiency and he weighed eighteen
pounds. There was a young boy with him who said he was his brother and fifteen.
He appeared to be no more than twelve . I remember he wore the tiger stripe
fatigues common to PF and Montagnards attached to SF. After a couple of days, he
left and word was that he had to get back. I never saw him again.
During the weeks that
followed, Dinh Nit thrived. He was putting on weight and his infections
were responding to treatment. His prolapse ceased to be a problem. He was
picking up English and Vietnamese and I was becoming more and more
attached to this little guy. I can't say the exact moment that I made
my decision to adopt but I remember the day that I asked him if he wanted to be
my son and go to America. He asked me if there were bunkers in America and when
I said no --he looked very surprised and said--"What you do when VC
come?". This was the world as he knew it--VC - war--he like so many others
could not imagine any other life.
Time was passing too quickly and I was due to Deros in
Apr'71. I put in for an extension and began the one step forward and ten
backwards that would be our story for the next nine months. It is too
involved to cover here but will relate a few incidents along the way. I met a
Lt. Steve Thayer, Civil Service who would be instrumental in helping us through
the tough days that lay ahead. He arranged for our trips to Tra Bong
and provided Sgt. Minh to interpret and helped me through the adoption
process. He would be Nit's Godfather.
My Deros date was nearing and no word was coming
regarding approval. Whenever, Col. Fore, the Chief Nurse would ask me about
it--I just said the paperwork was due anytime. In reality, I didn't have a clue
but Plan A was to keep reporting for duty. There was no Plan B. On
the day that was to be my Deros date, I arrived on the unit and was told that
Col. Fore wanted to see me. That was the longest walk that I ever took. I
was trying to think of a plan that would permit me to stay and keep Nit from
being placed in an orphanage. Col. Fore looked at me and said "Your
extension came through this morning". I knew that we were on borrowed
time. If things didn't look promising--Nit would be discharged to an orphanage.
There was an increase in VC activity around this
time and one night the navy fired into the mountains that were just
across fro the 27th.For some reason, the 27th Surg was situated in front of
Americal Hq and other units. Artillery hill was just across HWY 1
from us and the Aussies had turned it over to the ARVN . I was on
duty that evening and remember when the first round hit. Somehow the 27th
was not informed of the plan so we were all caught by surprise. The
ground shook and everything seemed to be in double. We scrambled to get the
patients that could be moved under the beds and cover the ones who
couldn't be moved with any protection we could find. Dinh Nit and Dinh Duong
spent that night under the nurses station wearing our helmets. The VC
managed a few rounds of their own but no damage was done.
We made several trips to Tra Bong to get permission from the District Chief to
adopt. I rember flying in a chopper and following a dry river bed to
the mountains and Tra Bong. There was a SF base camp and I can remember an
airstrip of sorts where C130's landed. There was a small waterfall coming down
the side of a mountain and in the valley below were rice paddies. The district
headquarters showed signs of a previous attack by the VC. There were large shell
holes in the buildings . There were hamlets up in the mountain side and I
also remember seeing Montagnard homes.
I managed my visits in my off time and never
really asked permission to go to the
mountains--think I sensed what the answer would be so it was a case of noone
asked and I didn't tell. I was told that I would have to bring Dinh Nit
to Tra Bong per order of the District Chief. I was hesitant
for obvious reasons but felt there was no choice.
On this trip, there was a long line of Montagnards
waiting to see if Nit was the son, brother, nephew etc. that each was
seeking. It was sad. One Montagnard arrived with his crossbow over his
shoulder and wearing only a loincloth. He lifted Nit's shirt to look for
signs of a bullet wound. He was trying to find a nephew. He shook his head no
and looked directly at me and nodded as if to say -- take care of this child.
Nit was very quiet during this whole period. He was not afraid but I think
somewhat overwhelmed by the experience.
On one trip, our flight was cancelled due to the
weather and we had to spend the night . I managed to get a
call through to Grace Squires to cover for me. Thankfully, my shift the next
day, didn't start until 1900.They were expecting a "visit"
from charlie and we were told what to do if that happened. Artillery fired all
night and every time a round went off --Nit would roll over and at one point he
fell out of bed .He was the only casualty that night suffering a
black eye. The next morning we were on our way. The chopper crew had to pick up
and deliver ammo so we were dropped on a hilltop "somewhere" and
picked up about a half hour later. There was a camp down a dirt
road and a platoon was coming in from the bush. They looked so tired
and beat--am not sure what they thought passing a young Montagnard boy and
army nurse sitting on a hilltop just down from their base camp.
After many setbacks, received permission to
adopt. The next hurdle was to process the adoption and obtain a visa.
Vietnamese law stated one had to be married and at least thirty. I was
single and twenty-six. The orphanage in An Thon recommended Star of The Sea
Orphanage in Da Nang. They handled adoptions for the US and Europe.
I found an attorney who was affiliated with the orphanage and she agreed
to help us. This was just the beginning.
The 27th was due to close and we all received new assignments. I got the
91st Evac about five miles away. At first, I was told that Nit would have to be
placed in an orphanage until the adoption was finalized. I "pleaded
" my case and at the eleventh hour the Chief Nurse of the 91st
agreed that he could come with me. I don't think many thought that we would be
successful. Again I was told if the adoption did not go through, Nit would
be discharged to an orphanage. In May'71 ,we moved.
Our first night there, there was an alert and we
spent some time in the bunker. Nit slept through it all .patients I was assigned
to Ward 4 and continued to care for civilian and ARVN casualties.
There was also a section for POW. casualties. I would bring Nit to work and he
would play with the kids there. When I worked the night shift
(1900-0700)he slept on the ward and usually one of the nurses would
keep an eye out for him so that I could get a few hours sleep. The staff on
Ward 4 included Cpt. Pat Barber, Lt. Marion Thorton (who also adopted a 7yr. old
boy Phan Tri <Tim> and Wardmaster Sgt. Williams and corpsmen
Jim Wilson, Louis Molina and Jack Litzmann. They were all a
dedicated group and am glad for the opportunity to serve with them. This
was the ward that Lt. Sharon Lane worked on. She was killed in a rocket
attack in 1969.
I had put in for another three month extension . The ten steps backward routine
was still going strong. Then one June morning, while on duty Steve
called me. He asked me how it felt to be a mother. I was a little slow on the
uptake but when it sunk in--I was ecstatic. Finally--thanks to help from so many
individuals and a lot of prayers--Dinh Nit was officially my son. I named
him Mark Stephen and his birth date was recorded as 8 November--the day he
arrived at the 27th. He would keep his Montagnard name when confirmed at
age 9. The visa would prove to be another hurdle and Steve Thayer was getting
ready to Deros.
While still at the 27th, Nit and I had to travel to Saigon about 400 miles
south to apply for a visa at the American Embassy, Remember that one
of the corpsmen stood in for me at the airport on standby so I could
catch a few hours sleep after night duty. As we left the 27th,
Col. Fore and the XO and other 27th staff stood and wished us luck.
I had received a three day pass to cover the trip. The XO ( can't recall
his name but can see his face), gave me a number to call if we had problems
returning. It would prove to be a lifesaver. We stayed at the Third
Field Hospital in Saigon. I filled out the paperwork at the embassy and was
told that a number is assigned and they could not tell me when he would be able
to receive his visa. All numbers came by way of Manila. I contacted a n
attorney in Saigon but the Catholic orphanage that he worked with insisted
that Nit would have to remain there. I wasn't about to leave him 4oo miles
from where I was stationed.
The push was on in Cambodia and all flights north were
pretty much diverted. I placed a call to the number given to me and was
given a list of courier flights that would in reality prove to be our hitchhiking
our way back to Chu Lai. I could not tell you where in VN we traveled that
day. We would board one chopper and then be dropped off in a clearing
'somewhere" and another would arrive and pick us up. That was pretty
much our day and Nit was a real trooper through it all.
Finally, I was notified that his number had arrived
but I would have to travel to Saigon to pick up the visa . Jack
Litzmann, one of the corpsmen was going to Saigon and volunteered to go to the
embassy . Everything was starting to fall in place.
In late September, Nit and I were getting ready to leave. I had mixed feelings
about leaving .So much had happened in the 17 months that I spent there and I
knew that this would be a final farewell. It was hard to say goodbye to all the
friends we made. Nit was almost 4 now and he knew we were going on a long
trip but I also knew that he would be leaving a way of life and beginning a new
one. It was a gigantic step for one so young
We said our goodbyes and arrived in Cam Ranh
Bay--problem was that Nit had to leave from Saigon. So the next morning at
0400 ,we were on another flight to Saigon. We spent a couple of days at Camp
Alpha while I tried to get a flight to the US. One sergeant told me
that there were no seats available for two weeks. After I said that
we would sit on the floor of the plane--whatever it took--he told me not to
worry and got us a spot on a flight the next day, When we were going
through customs the Air Force
sergeant commented-''wow you just made it"--I realized that this was the
last day for Nit's visa to be valid. The Vietnamese guard was the last step
before getting on the plane and he looked at Nit's passport
over and over --then at me-finally he waved us on and what once seemed to
be impossible was coming true.
Today, Mark is a father himself to Kathy ,Stephen and Jason. He met
his wife in Pittsburgh while attending the University Ling is
from Thailand. He currently works for the University of Pittsburgh Medical
He grew up in Chester, Pa. near Philadelphia. He was a
popular kid and my claim to fame was being known as Mark's mom. My parents
were devoted to their new grandson and each had an influence on him during
his childhood. It was love at first sight.
He excelled at sports in school and as one neighbor
stated--"That boy can run like the wind"- Thinking back to
his arrival at the 27th--it was quite a remarkable recovery.
Now, he passes on his story to his children. The
boys hear bedtime stories of their dad in VN and the Montagnards. I
am proud of my son for many things but mostly for the fact that he is a decent
man and devoted to his family. His parents in Viet Nam would have
been proud of their son. He is a good man.
There is one short story I would like
to relate. When Mark was about seven, I passed by his room and he asked me how
to spell Montagnard. I asked him what he was writing and he was composing a
letter to his mother in Viet Nam. This was around the time things were
going from bad to worse there. This is what I remember--the original I saved and
gave to Mark a couple of years ago.
I hope that you are
well. I am fine. I have a new family now and am happy.
am sad that the VC are fighting the Montagnards. I hope that you are OK
will win . We are Montagnards and a proud people.
Son Dinh Nit
It was a very
poignant letter and then he asked me to mail it. I didn't know what to say
but kept it and gave it to him years later. The Hre' spirit lives on in my
son and will be passed on to his children That is the way it should be.
"I am trying to locate the Dust
Off crew who
picked up my son in Tra Bong or ground unit who put him on board this was
on the 8th Nov 1970.
He was about three at the time and a
member of the Hre' Tribe. It was a morning/afternoon mission. Mark (Dinh
was suffering from severe malnutrition and several infections. There was a
young boy with him who said he was his brother and fifteen. He appeared to
be no more than twelve. I remember that he wore tiger stripe fatigues
common with PF and Montagnards attached to SF. After a few days he left.
Word was that he had to get back. I never saw him again"
Maureen Robinson: email@example.com
27th Surg Hospital, Chu
Dinh Nit (Mark) after is admission to the 27th Surg, he
was a sick little guy and like most children in Vietnam was showing
signs of malnutrition. Nov 70
Mark eating his lunch , if you look closely you can see the ankle
bracelet he wore. Nov 70
Having a snack at the nurses station. Nov 70
Mark Vo Thi Nam and myself (Nam was admitted with a
chest wound but recovered well. Dec70
Hre Montagnard soldier who often spoke Hre to Mark
and Jo Jo. April 71
Four month after admission, you can see his progress.
(It is interesting to see that Mark is saluting
the French way and not the American way, this was quite usual for
children in Vietnam as this was often learnt from the oldest who fought
with the French army)
Both of them looking pretty tense in the nurse
station during a night alert. The Navy was firing into mountains
near us where VC activity has been spotted. April 71
Mark and Jo Jo (best buddies) Jo Jo (Dinh Duong)
was the nephew of a local tribal chief and they often spoke and laugh in
Hre. Jo Jo was a patient at the 27th , and it was eventually retuned
to his uncle, it was a sad day for all of us. Mark was a sleep when he
left and he missed him for quite a time. March 71
91st Evac Hospital , Chu Lai
Mark took to the water like a fish and somebody managed
to get a surf board and Mark loved it. June 71
Mark holding a crossbow near a bunker at the 91st
Evac. June 71
Nine months after Dinh Nit admission to the 27th Surg.
Mark like all the little boys like dressing up, he his
wearing ARVN Day Uy Airborne uniform.
Can Ranh Bay, we finally got his passport for the US.
Back in the "World"
Mark fourth birthday, home a little over a month, 8th November 71, PA
Mark after hitting a triple for his school baseball
Mark and his bride Ling (from Thailand, but they met
in the USA)
Mark's and Ling's children
Jason, Kathy and Stephen
Myself and grand children, Jason and Stephen, 1999
27th MASH was in Vietnam from 27th of March 68 to June 71 and located at Chu Lai
in the I CTZ.
It was under the 67th Medical Group and associated to the 23rd Infantry
Division AMERICAL, it supplied resuscitative surgery and medical treatment
to prepare for evacuation critically wounded or ill patients received from
Divisional Medical elements and this case provide medical
support to the United States Army Vietnam (USARV), Free World Military
Assistance Forces (FWMAF) and designated Civilian War Casualties (CWC)
located within the Southern 1 CTZ (1 Corps Tactical Zone).
It was declared operational on 13 April 1968 and was equipped to
handle 135 bed patients. It comprised of 27 officers, 40 ANC (Army Nurse Corps)
and 95 enlisted men. During the hospital's first year of operation in the
Republic of Viet Nam, it achieved an unsurpassed record in medical care. For its
superb record, the 27th Surg was recommended for an award of the
Meritorious Unit Commendation.
91st was in Vietnam from 14th of December 66 to November 71. It
arrived at Vung Ro Bay on 14 Dec 1966 and moved by convoy to Tuy Hoa.
After 85 days of construction, facilities were opened on 15 March 1967 with 100
beds . It provided hospitalization for all military
patients as well as limited outpatient from the immediate vicinity and prepare
patients for further evacuation to other medical facilities.
By 15 June'67 the facility was expanded to 300 beds. On
15 July 1969, the 91st Evac was relocated to Chu Lai taking over
facilities previously occupied by the 312th Evacuation Hospital and fell under
the command of the 67th Medical Group. The 91st Evacuation Hospital was located in Chu Lai in the
southern portion of Military Region1. It was situated on a cliff overlooking the
South China Sea midway between DaNang and Qui Nhon. The
91st Evac operated in direct support of the 23rd Infantry Division--AMERICAL
in both Quang Tin and Quang Ngai Provinces of Southern Military
Region 1. The dispensary/out-patient service also provided medical care for
1500 USARV personnel assigned to Chu Lai post. The hospital received two
Thanks to Jean-Luc for giving me this opportunity. He has encouraged me
to continue this search. I would also like to thank all of the SF members and
Dust Off who have been so great to reply to my emails and share their
stories. My son and I both appreciate this more than we can ever say.