Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Letter about Doc

One of my friends from the Marine Corps, Mike Newton, contacted me recently about a fellow we both knew in Vietnam. He was a Navy Hospital Corpsman named Richard "Doc" Pinsonnault and a good guy who didn't make it back from Vietnam.

A Hospital Corpsman or just Corpsman is the Army's version of a Medic. He's the guy who ranges around a battlefield finding wounded men and trying to save their lives. All a Corpsman carries for protection is a .45 caliber pistol and very rarely does he use it because he is too involved in treating stricken Marines. It's hard to imagine the courage it takes to go forward in a hostile environment, with bullets flying all over the place and mortars landing near you to save a buddy. "Doc" was that kind of guy and he did it many times.

Mike had been contacted by a fellow name Ray King who was from "Doc's" home town of North Attleboro, Massachusetts and had grown curious about a World War I monument located in front of St. Mary's Catholic Church. Ray noted the thirteen names and asked around to see if anyone knew who they were. No one did. At that moment Ray, a "mill right" in a local factory who says he is "not a writer", started his quest. After a year he finished his research on who the men were and how they died and arranged with The Free Press, the local paper, to publish the stories. In a letter from Ray he said, "I feel it's a terrible sin to have perished in the service of the country and to be forgotten".

As the stories were published there was a favorable response from the townsfolk and Ray continued his journey through World War II, Korea and then finally reached Vietnam and Hospital Corpsman Third Class Richard Pinsonnault. Apparently Doc's parents are gone but through the internet and some dogged searching Ray King found my friend Mike Newton. Mike came off the chopper on Hill 689 the night of June 6, 1968 was wounded, treated by Doc Pinsonnault and med-evaced shortly after. He wasn't with us the night Doc was killed but he knew I was so now it's my job to remember Doc's sacrifices and make sure he is nover forgotten.

Attached is the letter I sent to Ray King. It and other remembrances of Doc will be published in the North Attleboro Free Press on Veteran's Day 2011.

Dear Ray,
I am Will Lomen and I was with Doc Pinsonnault when he died on Hill 689 July 7, 1968. My great friend Mike Newton forwarded your email to me and asked me to write something for you about Doc. That was a couple of months ago and every time I tried to get started on my reply for some reason I had to stop. My brother Terry, who was also a Marine, was killed in Vietnam close to a year later in June of 1969 and his loss is something I deal with every day of my life. He and three of his best friends joined the Marine Corps because I did and they all made it back and in one piece except Terry. I have sworn I will finish this letter to honor the courage, steadfastness to duty and expertise that Doc exhibited in the field and under fire on many occasions.

I wasn't assigned to Charlie Company's 2nd Platoon until sometime in April of 1968 so I didn't know Doc as well as Mike and the other Marines on Hill 881 South. My memories of him were of a guy who was cocky but professional with his duties. To be a corpsman you had to be supremely confident in your abilities and able to handle the inevitable sarcastic banter lobbed at you daily by equally cocky but respectful Marines. We all knew that it took a special kind of man to range about a battlefield packing only a medical kit and a .45 caliber pistol that most likely would never be fired.

The night of July 6, 1968 Charlie Company of the First Battalion, First Marine Regiment was choppered onto Hill 689 in support of Delta Company who, the night before, had been hit by a fusillade of mortars followed by a suicide ground attack. They were in dire straits and undermanned but they couldn't be pushed off that hill. As soon as we landed we were hit by another mortar barrage resulting in two of my friends, Mike Newton and John Keeling being wounded. Mike with wounds to an arm and both legs; John hit in the face with shrapnel that miraculously curved down his forehead and over his nose, missing both eyes. Doc treated them both, and then in the dead of night and under fire our chopper returned, backed up to the hill, lowered the ramp and rescued all of our wounded.

That night we were re-enforced by Alpha Company then the next day Charlie Company was given the mission of retrieving marines from Delta Company who had been killed outside the perimeter the day before. Shortly after we went through the barbed wire to search for our comrades we were again hit by mortars and a lethal sniper whom we could not pinpoint. When our progress stalled we were ordered to pull back and once again Doc came to the front and treated his troops; specifically Waco Stroud and Sergeant Rowe both of whom died, but not because of Doc's actions. I watched him comfort them in their final moments.

After we returned to the top of the hill and were inside our lines again Doc treated more wounded men; specifically our company commander Captain Trautwein and two other Marines, Pat Caldwell and a fellow named Riley. I can't remember the other names. Once again the gutsy Marine pilots brought their CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters back to the hill and, in the face of nagging mortar attacks that were targeting our landing zone, recovered our casualties.

Suddenly as a former fire team leader I was informed that I was now the commander of second platoon and as darkness fell we came under attack again. Before I could ponder my new responsibilities the new company commander, Lieutenant Perry, ordered our platoon to a position on the west side of the hill. With my radio man Lance Corporal John Antonace and platoon corpsman Richard Pinsonnault following in my footsteps, I lead our small group of Marines out onto a small finger of land and dove into a trench. We tried to make out attacking soldiers in the dark on the other side of the barbed wire but couldn't see anything; our platoon laid down a wall of M-16 rounds anyway.

In the confusion of the moment we assumed another platoon from Charlie Company was to our left with Alpha Company to our right but we were wrong. For some reason I looked to my left and saw a group of men standing on a bunker and firing back inside our lines. They were shouting "We friendlies, we friendlies", but it was in a foreign accent. Before we had time to react two explosions detonated directly behind me, something lit up the area and Antonace landed on top of me, driving me into the bottom of the trench. The explosions turned out to be enemy hand grenades and the bright light was an illumination round that was strapped to the side of Antonace's radio. The illumination round was triggered by the exploding hand grenades and it fluttered into the air, landed on the side of the trench and rolled underneath me. Thinking it was some kind of time bomb I dragged myself out from underneath Antonace and dove out of the trench, falling into a bomb crater.

Not sure what was happening, my platoon regrouped and confirmed that somehow enemy troops were to our left and were attacking our position. We fired back, inside our lines, and eventually took out the men on the bunker. We killed most of them with their wounded succumbing to their wounds the next day. Still not sure about the security of our position we rushed back to the trench to find Antonace and Doc. They were gone. Doc had taken the force of the two exploding hand grenades to his front and John was killed when the igniting illumination round hit him in the side of the head as it detonated.

I am sorry to hear that Doc's parents aren't alive to remember him but maybe you have made contact with the cousin and he will carry on the memories. The important thing is that you are doing what you have set out to do. It is a noble effort and you represent a chosen group who has selflessly taken on the task of making sure nobody forgets the ones who have paid the ultimate price for their country. You say you are not a writer but you are wrong. A writer is someone who sets a goal to tell a story and gets it done. There are a lot of people who may have better writing skills and know how to use fancy words and have big dreams about writing a story but never quite get around to it. That's what separates the talkers from the doers, like you. Congratulations on the dream you have chosen and good luck on your quest.

Semper Fi, Will Lomen

1 comment:

  1. Hello,My name is Mike antonace,brother of John Antonace one of the Marines KIA with Charlie Co.1/1 on July 7, 1968. I would like thank Will Lomen and fellow Marines for the information leading to this letter found on the internet by my sister,who called me about it.John was three years older than I,and I admired him so much,his death and how he died always haunted me.Thanks for some closure. Mike Antonace, Leechburg,pa.