Former Corpsman Honored For Heroism
(April 13, 2010)
|Triangle, Va. (MCN - 4/9/2010) — In September 1967, the 1st Marine Division headed Operation Swift, a search-and-destroy operation the division undertook in Vietnam's Que Son Valley. |
The valley, a narrow strip of arable rice land bordering the South China Sea, became a battleground where the 5th Marines and at least two regiments of ferocious, well-disciplined North Vietnamese Army regulars converged, resulting in 114 American deaths and approximately 380 North Vietnamese.
Former Navy Hospital Man 2nd Class Dennis “Doc” Noah, a 20-year-old corpsman with Company H, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st MarDiv, found himself at the heart of the fighting the night of Sept. 10, only six days into the operation.
Noah began treating wounded Marines while his platoon was within 10 meters of the enemy position. Badly wounded himself, he crawled from man to man, and used his own body for cover while he administered treatment. He quickly depleted most of his medical supplies and had to improvise tourniquets with the cloth from Marines' uniforms. When an NVA regular tried to infiltrate the platoon's perimeter, Noah shot him in the face at point-blank range with his sidearm, a .45-caliber pistol. Then he moved all the wounded away into relative safety before they were evacuated.
That was 42 years ago. Today Noah is as far removed from the physical stress and horror of combat as the average commercial banker, which is what he was for 39 years after his discharge from the Navy. He now lives comfortably as a professor of international business at Towson University in Maryland.
Even with his considerable combat credentials, Noah was nervous when he arrived at Quantico a day before he received the Silver Star for his actions during an April 7 ceremony at the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
|Former Navy Hospital Man 2nd Class Dennis "Doc" Noah, a corpsman with 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, during the Vietnam War, is awarded the Silver Star by the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James T. Conway, during a ceremony April 7 at the National Museum of the Marine Corps.|
|“I'm humbled by the fact that a four-star general is going to pin a medal on me,” he said as he stood in the lobby of his hotel.|
As far as Noah is concerned, what he did all those years ago was nothing extraordinary.
“I didn't expect to get an award,” he said. “The Marines I was with were doing their jobs, and I was doing mine to keep them alive.”
That wasn't exactly retired Lt. Col. Gene Bowers' point of view. Bowers was Noah's company commander in Vietnam, and saw what he did to save the lives of his men. Two years ago, he nominated Noah for the Silver Star.
“He [Noah] was 20 years old, trained in triage and highly skilled,” recalled Bowers.
Bowers' memory of the day Noah helped save his company remains vivid.
“When he finished treating the men, he was covered in blood – not his,” said Bower. “The whole time he never realized he was wounded. He was the only guy who was moving around the whole time.”
For Noah, the choice to join the military amid the chaos of Vietnam came naturally. His family immigrated to the American colonies in the 17th century, and has fought in most major conflicts throughout the country's timeline.
Noah's ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War, and his father, a World War II veteran, always flew an American flag at their home during Noah's childhood in St. Louis.
“Going to war is kind of a family tradition,” said Noah.
Noah wanted to study medicine, but was admittedly too immature for college. Instead he joined the Navy. At the time, he was worried his chances of going to combat were too low. In a later talk, a recruiter assured him that Vietnam was full of corpsmen, and he was hooked.
He attended training at Naval Training Center Great Lakes, Ill., and was assigned to the Fleet Marine Force at Camp Pendleton, Calif.
When he got orders to Vietnam with the rest of the division, he knew he was where he needed to be. However, as the daily grind in Vietnam wore on and the casualties piled up, Noah began to feel disillusioned.
“Vietnam kind of took the motivation out of me,” he said. “It was a funny war. It's not the Marine Corps' fault that that particular war was fought the way it was, so I don't blame the organization.”
As a young corpsman, Noah was unprepared for the psychological impact of seeing so many Marines die in front of him.
“I got to know these guys,” he said. “A corpsman is more than just a field doctor. We did preventive medicine and kept the Marines well. But when, for example, a guy got a dear john letter from home, he would talk to his corpsman. Or they'd have fears about the fighting and come talk to you.”
In this way, Noah became more than just the caretaker of the Marines' physical well-being. He was an anchor of emotional stability for the men under his care.
“When you lost these guys, it just tore you apart,” he said. “A part of you died, too.”
Noah said he remembers looking down at his hands after he had lost a Marine and asking himself why he couldn't have done more.
“I reached a point where I didn't even want to know their names anymore, especially when a new guy came along,” said Noah. “Because first you learn their names, then the names of their girlfriends or wives back home, and then they're like family. I needed to distance myself emotionally to be able to do my job.”
As for the day that would bring Noah to Quantico four decades later, he still remembers every move the platoon made on its patrol through the small valley in southern Vietnam.
“We ran into several machine gun positions,” he remembered. “These guys were well-disciplined NVA troops – not guerrilla fighters.”
The ceremony on April 7 was a quiet, low-key affair. There was no color guard or band on call. And only about 40 seats had been reserved for Noah's family, friends and colleagues.
Having his award ceremony at Leatherneck Gallery in the museum was Noah's choice. He has traveled there before on the occasion of its opening.
“To me, the history that's in those halls – the information, the memorabilia that's there – it's just double the honor to be in such a tremendous place and in the presence of the commandant,” Noah said. “It's almost hallowed ground to me.”
Article and photo By USMC LCpl. Lucas G. Lowe
Marine Corps Base Quantico
Reprinted from Marine Corps News
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