“Corpsman up, guns up:” words to fear on the battlefield

Veterans Voices

BERRYVILLE, Va. (WDVM) — Four words shouted on the battlefield were the words Marine Corporal Tom Dickenson and fellow Marines feared the most during the Vietnam War.

“Corpsman Up, Guns Up” meant a fellow Marine was down on the battlefield and needed help. Those words shouted over the roar of battle sent shivers up Dickenson’s spine.

U.S. Navy corpsman rushed to wounded Marines on the battlefield in South Vietnam.

“Without hesitation,” Dickenson said, “A U.S. Navy corpsman assigned to my platoon dashed forward, and my three-man machinegun team rushed forward to provide covering fire.”

“Corpsman Up… Guns Up” by a Marine combat artist

May 10, 1966 was a day that changed Corporal Dickenson’s life forever. He and other M-60 gun teams were covering Marines in Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 9th Regiment as they ran across a dry rice paddy south of Da Nang.

“One squad went across with the gun team and the next squad went across with my gun team,” said Dickenson. Suddenly, his world turned upside down. Someone behind him stepped on a land mine, sending shards of hot shrapnel slicing through Tom’s legs and lower back. Two members of his gun team were also wounded.

Wounded Marines waiting to be loaded aboard a med-evac helicopter.

“I was lucky to have been carrying cans of machinegun ammunition on my back,” said Dickenson, “And that’s what actually saved my life. I didn’t get anything in my body. It was all in my back.”

Charlie Med at Da Nang.

Dickenson didn’t know it at the time, but surgeons at Charlie Med, the nickname of the 3rd Medical Battalion in Da Nang where he was flown by helicopter, found pieces of shrapnel had cut his sciatic nerve.

Surgeons in the operating room at Charlie Med.

After surgery at Charlie Med, Dickenson was flown stateside in a specially-equipped C-141 Starlifter for treatment.

Air Force flight nurses cared for the wounded as they were flown back home for treatment at military hospitals.

“Over the next year I had three skin grafts and another operation to repair the nerve, but it didn’t work,” said Dickenson.

Despite being one-hundred-percent disabled for the rest of his life, Dickenson was still proud to be a Marine, “One of the Few and the Proud.”

Tom Dickenson’s reflection in a collection of his medals and boot camp picture. that hangs in his study

Tom Dickenson died on December 5th, 2020 a few weeks after I interviewed him for the first monthly edition of “Veterans Voices.”

Tom Dickenson was a third generation G.I. His father guarded Nazi POWs in Colorado during the Second World War. His grandfather fought the Germans in France during World War One.

Tom’s widow Pat says her husband died on December 5th, 2020 of complications from his debilitating war wounds, but said he never complained.

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