A Vietnam Experience
Ron Jeziorski 27 July 2005
God must have put you in the Naval hospital in DaNang (Vietnam) for a reason, Ron, because I was really hurting and desperately needed someone to lift my spirit. Then, wham!! you showed up!
Paul McIntosh, Notre Dame class of 1967
Three days prior to the occasion noted in the above quotation, Paul McIntosh's heart had stopped beating two-three minutes until he was miraculously revived by medics on the helicopter that med evacuated him from the combat zone where he was wounded. The statement is from a letter he sent me thirty-six years after I showed up? at his bedside in the U.S. Naval Hospital, DaNang, Vietnam. The story of Paul's rescue is an amazing one involving an incredible confluence of commitment by a senior Marine Corps officer to his country and other Marines. Following is a brief summary of that story.
A year after graduating from Notre Dame, in August 1968, I arrived in Vietnam where I was assigned as commander of a platoon of 40 infantry Marines in the mountainous region of central Vietnam. Our field position was close to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) which divided North from the South during the Vietnam War. Meaningful for me or any other Notre Dame alumnus Marine, the camp we operated from was named after Captain J.J. Carroll, Notre Dame class of '60, who was killed in action early in the war and who posthumously received the Medal of Honor. Except for stifling heat and humidity, seem-ingly countless mosquitoes, and, of course, the aggravations I shared with my troops as the human targets of North Vietnamese weapons, the region was very beautiful. How-ever, five weeks later, on September 11, the beauty of that land paled in comparison to the inside of the U.S. Naval Hospital located in the town of DaNang to which I was transported after being wounded by mortar shrapnel. It was there that I observed Pauly's gutsy resiliency and learned about one of the most inspiring examples of personal commitment to duty I've ever known.
My first morning in the hospital, the voice I awoke to was that of my attending physician, Naval Lieutenant Jerry Connaughton, asking me if I was the Ron Jeziorski who went to St. Joseph's High School in South Bend, Indiana, and then to Notre Dame! Talk about a shock ... a pleasant shock! It was the strangest sensation I had in my life to that point overseas so many thousands of miles away from home in a beautiful, God-forsaken war zone, somebody I'd never seen before seemed to know me, personally. Dr. Connaughton not only turned out to be an alumnus of my high school six years ahead of me; I also knew his younger sister back home! It's still as amazing a coincidence to me now as it was then! Being so many thousands of miles from home in a war zone hospital, it was very comforting to have this personal connection with home. But as heart-warming as that experience was for me, the irony of the story of Pauly's rescue that I was to learn about in the next few days was much more so.
After we talked a few minutes about various paths and people we commonly knew back home, Dr. Connaughton asked me if I knew another Marine officer who was also an N.D. grad named Paul McIntosh. Paul McIntosh! Hell, yes, I knew him! At first, hearing another name from back home was more good news. But then Dr. Connaughton told me what turned out to be the sobering news: After almost dying a couple days earlier, Pauly was a patient in the next ward in bad condition.
The following day, I walked a short distance to see Pauly in the next ward. When I first saw him, I was struck with sadness. He was barely conscious, but he was able to recog-nize me. Reflecting Dr. Connaughton's brief description the prior day, Pauly's face was ashen white. Both his legs and one of his arms were each in a cast. Various medical tubes were connected to different parts of his body. If his mouth were free to talk, I could tell he had almost no energy to do so. But the tube placed through his mouth and down his throat precluded any possibility of that anyway.
Because of his unstable condition, I was only able to spend a few minutes at Pauly's side before returning to my own ward. As I left, I felt a confluence of sad and grateful feelings: sad that he had been so grievously hurt; grateful that his life had been saved, and for my own luck that I had not been wounded worse than I had been.
Meanwhile, three days later, I heard that Captain Bob Schmidt, the officer who recruited Pauly and me to the undergraduate Marine Corps officer program at Notre Dame three years earlier, had been reassigned to Vietnam as a helicopter pilot with the air wing in DaNang. In addition to being a Marine, Captain Schmidt, despite being a Marquette University alumnus, shared another strong interest with Pauly and me: a great love for Notre Dame!
My telephone call to the air wing confirmed that Captain Schmidt recently arrived back in Nam. I was able to catch him between flying medevac missions. Another familiar voice from home! The next day, he came over to see me. In short time, I asked him if he knew about Pauly McIntosh being severely wounded. With surprise and regret, Captain Schmidt replied that he had not as yet heard. That morning, Dr. Connaughton had told me that Pauly's condition had improved, and he was able to talk now. So shortly after he arrived, Captain Schmidt walked with me to Pauly's ward.
It was gratifying to see that Pauly looked vastly improved; color had dispelled the ashen white from his face. Although he still had four tubes connected to medical equipment, he was also able to talk as the tube formerly inserted down his throat had been removed. He was mighty happy to see us: two comrades from back home. Despite his improved condi-tion only had a few minutes to talk because Pauly remained weak. But, during our brief discussion, Pauly told us what happened the day he was wounded. The short conversation turned out to be one of the most profound I've ever experienced.
Evidently, according to Pauly, he was wounded when his unit was heavily hit by enemy mortar fire midday five days earlier. Pauly had been hit by shrapnel from a mortar round that landed only 10 feet away. His wounds were so extensive that he suffered a collapsed lung, both legs and one arm were broken. Helicopters had been unable to land in the area to medevac Paul and others wounded in his unit due to heavy enemy fire. By evening, his pulse had dropped dramatically. His chances for survival without being medevaced to a hospital were decreasing rapidly.
Two medevac choppers were again called in about midnight. But, again, the position of Pauly's unit began taking intense enemy mortar fire. In addition to the black of midnight, the terrain of their position was extremely dangerous for helicopter landing because of the thick canopy of trees and bushes. Visibility was almost nil. The helicopters were ordered away from the position to which they were called before they could pick up any of our wounded because of the considerable dangers.
As dangerous as conditions for landing were and against orders from the ground, however, one of the choppers came in for the worst of the wounded, one of whom was Pauly. Very shortly after being placed onto the chopper, his heart stopped beating for approximately three minutes. Navy corpsmen (medics) revived his heartbeat in flight. Had it not been for the medevac chopper that flew into the area despite being ordered away from the perilous situation, Pauly would undoubtedly have died.
As Pauly described specifics about the night, location, and approximate time of the rescue effort by the medevac chopper, the most amazing news of all came out: without knowing anything about the wounded personnel picked up the night of the rescue effort, Captain Schmidt realized that the pilot of that chopper was himself! Without knowing it, because of their commitment to duty and to helping fellow Marines, he and his helicopter crew had rescued one of the young officers he had recruited into the Marine Corps. It was an amazing moment for all three of us one of those instantaneous situations that is filled with a confluence of myriad feelings: surprise, disbelief, thankfulness, camaraderie, mutual appreciation; and, for me, admiration for the rescuer and the rescued!
After he expressed his delight that it was he and his crew who helped save Pauly, he humbly stated that they were just doing their job. It's the type of thing you might hear from a true hero! It was definitely the type of statement Captain Bob Schmidt would make. It's typical of Pauly as well. Both men provided me inspirational examples of heart and dedication to duty in the service of their country and Marine comrades.
It seems a bit of a stretch that God coordinated my presence in the U.S. Naval hospital so that I could be there for Pauly when he needed a friend to bolster his spirits as he suggests in the quotation at the beginning of this report. But I can't help believing that somehow there was a higher power involved Paul's rescue by Captain Schmidt and his crew. No matter how one might explain this situation, it's a fabulous story of commitment by two men very dedicated to their country and the people with whom they serve.