SP5 Hagemeister (then SP4) received the Medal Of Honor for actions performed 20 March 1967. Read his Medal of Honor citation for distinguished actions while serving as a medical aidman while conducting combat operations in Vietnam.
In this interview, now Major Hagemeister, gives a gripping account of the events, as they unfolded, on 20 March 1967.
This interview was conducted 20 March 1987.
Interviewer: Major Hagemeister, could you explain to us how you got into the army?
Major Hagemeister: I was drafted in 1966. I had been attending the University of Nebraska and was going to sit out a semester, earn some more money, go back to college, and I was drafted. Came into the Army in May of 66. Took my basic at Fort Polk Louisiana, and then came to Fort Sam Houston for advanced Individual training as a medic.
Interviewer: Where were you assigned after that?
Major Hagemeister: I was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division as individual replacement. When I got to Vietnam I was further assigned to the 1st Battalion 5th Cav and then assigned to the A company of the 1st Battalion, 5th Cav.
Interviewer: How often did you go the field when you were assigned to the unit out there as a medic?
Major Hagemeister: The 1st battalion 5th Cav was the second field force, ready reaction force. The 96 days that I was in the field we spent the Majority of that time out. We would come back to either the division base camp or the division forward rear stand-down for at the very most a day. And then return right back to the field for combat operations.
Interviewer: Could you explain to us sequentially the events of March 20, 1967?
Major Hagemeister: On March 20, a little background. One of the battalions of the 1st Cav working in the area of Dong Song, large coastal plain area, had, one of the companies had walked into an ambush and lost the majority of its chain of command. As the doctrine was in those days we piled on. We brought additional units in to contain the enemy force and everything else. A Company, the company I was with, was assigned to go in, link up with the company that had lost its chain of command and secure a perimeter that supposedly had an NVA battalion surrounded.
About 6:30 In the evening we, or the company, started the combat assault, came into a large open sandy area and deployed two platoons on line, the third platoon on the right, the second platoon that I, I’m sorry, the first platoon that I was with was on the left, spread out on line, and then the other platoon was on the left flank of the company providing left flank and rear security. And then the headquarters and the weapons platoon was in the middle of the platoon. We were advancing basically in an east-northeast direction, came into a tree line with a village, a cemetery and then another tree line. As we advanced through the cemetery one of the lead men of the platoon yelled that it was an ambush, he had spotted some people that were in dug-in positions. And that triggered the ambush. It was found out the next morning, when we went back and analyzed the position and everything. It was basically an NVA battalion, a regular North Vietnamese Army battalion that had dug in concrete positions, trenches, heavy weapons positions, .51 caliber machine guns, .57 recoilless rifles. They had .81 millimeter mortars dug in and basically it was our 27 man platoon against at least 150 that they could say were in the company.
The initial barrage we had, my platoon leader was shot in the head. He later died. One of the machine gunners was wounded and he died within minutes, before I got to him he was dead. We had six or seven other wounds. The platoon sergeant was wounded, his RTO was wounded. Two of the men in the forward position, the ones that saw the ambush first were wounded, and then the rest of the platoon was pinned down. When I heard that the platoon leader was shot, I moved from where I was basically, about 10-15 yards behind him, up through the tree line and out into the middle. He was lying behind one of the Vietnamese graves, raised mound. He was trying to get back up. So I was holding him down and putting the dressing on his head. He was shot basically down the side of the head. And his RTO, who was one grave behind, was, you know, firing his weapon and I was taken under fire at that time at very close range by a sniper, or what appeared to be a sniper, since he was not, he was not in the bunker positions, he was up in a tree almost. I took my platoon leader’s weapon and shot that man and then at that point in time you could see that the enemy was starting to move from in front of us around the flank of the position. We engaged the enemy that was moving around the flank and the report is that I shot three or four of that group.
At that point in time I went back with the platoon leader’s RTO and got on his radio and basically told the company commander, you know, what the situation, how many wounded I had and that we needed help getting wounded out. The company commander said, you know, we’ll get some help as soon as we can. I moved over. On the left flank of the platoon there was a machine gun team out there and then a rifle squad that were holding our flank. My weapons squad leader was wounded; he had had a mortar round go off very close to his head. He was a concussion patient, you know, just, he was not functioning well. I put him with another man to make sure he didn’t get into any trouble. I told him to keep him there, there was, you know, just medevac him as soon as we could. And then we had some people who had taken some shrapnel rounds, hit the trees above them and gone down, large, real messy wounds on the backs, back of the legs and things like this. Basically I was, you know, we were going around, we had new men in the platoon.
As you went through the Vietnam epa of the cyclic rotation we had five brand new men in the platoon. So, you know, one of these young men was with the machine gun squad. The machine gunner was wounded and he was still using his M-16 while the M-60 was lying on the ground. And, you know, he was not thinking the superior firepower of the M-60, why don’t you use the M-60. He took over the M-60 and did a very outstanding job with the weapon. I left the left flank and I went basically across the middle of the ambush, back to the platoon leader to make sure that he was still, you know, fine, his RTO stayed with him. I went all the way across the ambush. Instead of going back, around the back and sneaking through, I went through the middle part of the ambush. Made sure that everyone that was in the positions across the ambush were, you know, were okay and there was no more wounded. I went over to my platoon sergeant, found out what his status was; put a dressing on his wound, his RTO’s wound. And then went with one of the other men on that flank.
We went out forward to the machine gunner that was shot. He was wounded right off the bat. He was dead. There was no pulse, no nothing. The amount of blood that he had lost, I was sure that he was dead. We couldn’t get the body out because of the fire. We took the machine gun back with us, and the ammunition, and put that with the other people with machine gun so they could use It. Went back, contacted the company, asked if they were going to be able to send the help. They said that they didn’t have anyone to send, that everyone was basically pinned down and that If we were going to get help we needed to get help from the second platoon, which was the left flank element. So I went back to the second platoon. They were on the edge of the, basically they were on the edge of the fire fight at that time. And went back, they had lost their platoon leader a couple of weeks before and he had not been replaced. The platoon sergeant was, you know, directing his people and I told him I needed help getting wounded out and he said basically okay, and I asked for volunteers to go back up into the middle of the ambush to get the wounded out.
Two of the men in that platoon went with me to help get my wounded out because I didn’t have enough people that we could fight our way back out and carry the wounded also. Took them back up and we put them in position basically to get my platoon leader out. Went around to make sure that everyone knew who they were supposed to help evacuate, so that when we got the word to pull back, which 11:30 or 12:00 o’clock at night, after about, you know, five and a half or six hours in the fire fight, the company commander, and we had got to the point where we could disengage and pull back to a company perimeter.
I went back to the, all the way across the ambush zone again, made sure that all the wounded were out. We were not able to get the one body out. Went over with my, with the platoon sergeant, and the platoon sergeant and I carried his RTO out with us who had been wounded in the back, gunshot wound. We carried him back to the company perimeter. Got back to the company perimeter, made sure that we had all the wounded out and then we started medevacing. Medevaced the wounded, got the perimeter established, found out who the senior guy was in the platoon and made sure that he knew he was the guy that was in charge. We wrapped our wounded. A couple of the people that had been back at the division forward base came back out, joined the platoon. We were back up to 19 men the next morning and with one of the senior NCO’s we went out on a combat operation the next morning.
Interviewer: How do you, Major Hagemeister, how did you know what was the right thing to do in that situation, you know, thinking at it from medics, thinking at it from the point of view of medics that are training now, understanding that they may someday be in a situation similar to that, how do you think you knew what was the right thing to do?
Major Hagemeister: I think that the training that I received was, I used to think that it wasn’t quite enough. We were training for a combat situation and a hospital situation at the same time, with the possibility of going to either unit and I wasn’t sure that I had received enough training in how to handle the wounds. When I got there fortunately the battalion that I was with, the battalion surgeon had it established where the senior medic in the company had a continuing training program of, you know, what you had to do. The initial, almost an OJT type training for the, continuing training for the medics. You know, what do you do with what type of wounds and how you handle and the fact that we were medevacing so fast in Vietnam is that our senior medic basically said if you can stay away from using the morphine and depress the patient even further, the doctors at the hospital have a better choice of what they want to do with the patient in management, care management when they get there. We were using the thing of basically, is get to them, bandage them and then get into the medevac priority as fast as we can. We very seldom kept patients with us in the field for, you know, either for injury or illness, we medevaced them to where they got to see a doctor or back then it was a clinical specialist. So we did more evac on a timely basis.
Interviewer: Do you have any advice for the medics training today?
Major Hagemeister: The advice I would give is the one, you know, the one Fort Knox is doing right now in the armor field. Is using the combat lifesaver, is to have the continuing education down at the individual soldier, the crew or the squad level so that, you know, since a medic can’t be in all the places at one time, where the soldiers can give the buddy aid or the self aid, and train these things because, you know, with the scarcity of the medics, they’ve got to be able to take care of themselves. We don’t have the luxury of the medical evacuation on a mid intensity battle field, we don’t have that. And standardization is where everybody carries their aid pack in the same place so you aren’t fumbling when you need it. The big thing the medic has got to do is continue the education of the soldier.
Interviewer: Thank you.