An interesting account of the author’s time in the Army while assigned to the 249th General Hospital, located at North Camp Drake on the outskirts of Tokyo, Japan. The 249th General Hospital was designated as a 1000 bed general hospital but seldom saw less than 2000 patients.
The author’s story covers his deployment to Japan in early December, 1965, and includes details of his inclusion with the advance party and conversion of old warehouses into a fully operational medical facility.
The author was assigned to the 249th General Hospital but was not a medic. His role with the unit was as one of two maintenance carpenters. Once the medical facility was up and running, Harland and Dwight Joellenbeck, the other carpenter, were often without enough work.
Soon the two men were given the job of burning huge amounts of medical waste in an oil fired incinerator. Eventually, Japanese Nationals were hired to replace Harland and Dwight for this task. While their replacements were welcomed, this once again left the two men with little carpentry work. This problem was solved by going into Tokyo to see the sights and sample Japanese cuisine. Items of interest in this work include:
- 249th General Hospital deployment to
- 106th General Hospital
- North Camp Drake
- South Camp Drake
- Tokyo, Japan
- Kamakura, Japan
- Mt. Fuji
It should also be noted that the idea for this book came after viewing a 3/4 size Vietnam Memorial Wall at the Grant County Fairgrounds in 2008. That is when so many memories came flooding back of his time in Japan with the 249th General Hospital.
This book deals largely with sightseeing in Japan, life in the army barracks with the men who became life-long buddies and the inspiration that led to the writing of this book. A must read for anyone deployed to Japan during the Vietnam War. Includes many color photos.
This book is the result of several events that happened during the early summer of 2008 when a large group of Vietnam and other military veterans were escorting a traveling version of the Vietnam Wall through our area. Our town of Ritzville was chosen as a lunch stop and resting place. The veterans were riding over 400 motorcycles.
Our local classic car club turned out to support and honor our veterans. Our mayor also officially welcomed the entourage to our small town.
After a stop of several hours, the group continued on west to Moses Lake, Washington, where the wall was set up for public viewing at the local fairgrounds.
Before the veterans headed west, I took the time to speak with a few of them. I felt very proud of our combat vets and also proud that I had served in the army over 40 years prior.
Even before the motorcycle vets left Ritzville, I had already decided that I would visit the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall. So several days later my wife and I drove to the fairgrounds at Moses Lake.
Our official mission was to get a rubbing of my wife’s brother, William Erickson Jr., who had been killed in Vietnam in 1969.
Upon arriving we were greeted by helpful volunteers who directed us to the panel which contained the name of William L. Erickson, Jr., the brother-in-law I never knew. We easily found William’s name and made a rubbing with the paper and pencil provided by the volunteers.
After making the rubbing, we both just stood near the wall in silence for some time. There was nothing we could say; the rows and rows of names said it all for me. Finally, Marilyn said that she wanted me to try and get another piece of paper for a second rubbing. Having secured the necessary paper, we once again walked back to the panel for a second rubbing. As I finished the last few strokes, I was suddenly reduced to uncontrollable sobbing. Me, a man of 260 pounds and six feet five inches tall, am unable to control or explain the sudden flood of emotions.
I wandered slowly away and later found myself entering the tent of some Vietnam vets who were there to help men and women just like me. They were extremely helpful in helping me deal with and understand what was happening. I told the vets that I had always felt guilty for not going to Vietnam. I felt like I had somehow let the combat vets down, but they explained that many other men had felt the same way, even the ones who survived combat in Vietnam. Why had they been spared and their buddies killed? It appeared that the only ones without guilt were the ones who did not return alive. It seemed that everyone else was guilty of something, and there seemed to be no escaping the terrible guilt. On one level I could understand what I was hearing, but on another level, I still could not shake the guilt. At this time one of the vets excused himself and then returned shortly with a professional counselor who was trained to deal with this problem and others. I learned that I had been in the right place at the right time and had done exactly what was expected of me. I had done my part in Japan and helped care for combat soldiers after they had been wounded. This was something I could understand and also accept.
After talking with the trained counselor, Marilyn and I walked quietly back to our car for the ride home. Even the 45-minute ride was exceptionally quiet, with neither of us able to find the right words, and perhaps no words were needed.
In the days that followed, I started thinking about the men I had served with at the 249th General Hospital. I soon remembered a box of old pictures and went in search of them. The pictures brought back many additional memories some good and some not so good.
With the help of the internet, I set about trying to find some of the men I had known so many years before. The old friendships that had been formed over forty years prior were genuine and I wanted to try and renew these friendships. After a few hours, I was successful in finding a few of the guys and enjoyed wonderful conversations with them.
As we talked an idea began to take shape. I would try and produce some kind of a memories booklet. It would not be an official history of the 249th General Hospital but a book of memories, my memories. There can be no doubt that I have forgotten things that should have been included. Things like remembering all of the other personnel who served as doctors, nurses, and other commissioned officers, but my involvement with this aspect of the 249th was very limited. My area of concern was with those who were responsible for supporting a 2000 bed general hospital. In short, it was the men who lived, worked and played beside me.
The big box of pictures mentioned earlier played a huge role in this work as did a box of old letters that I had written to my mother while in the service. These letters had been saved by my mom and stored away for over 40 years. They helped with specific dates, events, and other information.
Again, remember that these are primarily my recollections, and please accept my apologies for missing anything that should not have been missed.
More than anything this little book has been a giant step towards understanding what we were called to do in that unpopular war and how it affected us and to understand and accept the resentment expressed towards those of us who had been stationed in Japan and not in Vietnam. For I full-well remember the cold war-like relationship between the patients and those of the hospital personnel; for there was very little comradery between the two groups of men, just an uneasy truce.
The Vietnam Memorial has done a great deal to unite those fragmented by war, as have the intervening years but don’t be afraid to shed a tear or reach out to an old army buddy. Be proud of our service to our great country.
Having said all this, it is my hope that others who read these pages will find as much enjoyment between these covers as I have found in writing them.
In the intervening years since this book was first published, a number of things have taken place. One wonderful outcome was re-connecting with several of my buddies from the 249th.
I was not able to locate as many men as I had hoped, but the ones I did certainly resulted in a rich blessing. The list of those whom I found include Jeff Eddy, Dwight Joellenbeck, David Brew, and the widow of Fred Washer.
Unfortunately, Fred had passed away several years before. This I learned during a phone conversation with Fred’s widow. I listened as she told me how her husband rarely talked about his time in the service. When I told her about my book she asked if I might send her two copies. One for each of her boys. I assured her that she would receive two copies.
There were two men that I especially wanted to find. Ron Rutherford and Carl Sachs. My efforts were not successful and I had to settle for those whom I did find.
As rewarding as it was to talk with these men on the phone, I was not able to meet with any of them in person. That all changed when I decided to try and find
Ron Rutherford again.
It took several calls but this time I was successful. Not only did I locate him, but I found that he was now living in Auburn, Washington, not far from where I grew up. We have since enjoyed a long conversation and are looking forward to meeting in person for the first time in 49 years. I am certain we will share many fond memories.
The other big change is the loss of my wife Marilyn. We were married for nearly 38 years. Since her death, I have met a wonderful lady on Christian Mingle. We were married just before Christmas 2012. Life goes on and we intend to live it to the fullest!