Cape Batangan, South Vietnam
My company went through several days of critiques before the amphibious assault. We were prepared to run into land mines, thick barbed wire. These things could blow you away. They told us there would be concrete bunkers in place. We were prepared for large artillery guns. This was our mental preparation for the beach. We were scared to death. We were preparing to die. We thought it was going to be another Iwo Jima.
We boarded the ship in the afternoon and went out to sea. Around midnight they served us steak and eggs like they do before you die. The fear mechanism was there. You wonder why. No one talked about anything—you could hear a pin drop. All of us were preparing for daybreak. There were about three ships of us. Out of these ships came landing craft. We were carried by amtracs through the water, and all I could hear were machine guns firing from the beach. We heard jets dropping explosives. We did not know what was going on. When we reached the beach that morning we ran like hell. Our goal was to hit the tree line. We did.
All we heard was gunfire. We moved into a village of straw huts. We searched the buildings and cleared the people out and put them in a corner while we searched their huts looking for Viet Cong. A woman with a child in her arms came running out of the hut. Marine gunfire hit her and the child as she ran out. We don’t know how many shots there were, but the woman was dead instantly. I was the only medical corpsman in the area at that time, and I ran up to try to care for the child. The arm was partially severed.
I clamped off a vein and saw that the arteries were intact. The arm was not severed, to my observation. I attempted to pressure-dress it to stop the bleeding. Then I handed the child to another woman standing by. As I attempted to return to the front line, I was instructed by an officer—I don’t know who—to take the child. I didn’t want to do it because I felt my place was with my troops. I wasn’t used to taking that kind of order but I did because I had to. I ran toward the beachhead with the child. I was confronted by a cameraman who purposely got in my way. I altered my path, but he continued to bother me. I had a backpack, the baby, and there was sand all over the place. I wanted to kick the photographer’s brains out. I finally got around him and made it to the beach, where I found the medical people who had just landed. I left the child with them and went back to the troops.
I was fatigued, scared and confused I thought the child would die, because in a true combat situation the troops normally get the best medical care. Then I realized the gunfire wasn’t coming from other people; it was coming from our own people. I realized we were not being fired upon. When I got back to the front line there was no incoming fire. We had sustained no injuries. I felt confused then, and now I can’t even talk about it. This was very early in the war.
Bob Ingram was a 20-year-old Navy corpsman when he landed with the Seventh Marine Amphibious Force at Cape Batangan, 20 miles south of Chulai. LIFE magazine covered the landing, and the resulting 14-page story highlighted the bloody uncertainties—the lack of battle lines, the inability to distinguish friend from foe—that would become the hallmark of what, for America, was a new kind of war. One of the LIFE pictures showed an anonymous soldier cradling an injured Vietnamese baby. PEOPLE ran that photo (see p. 98) last month, and readers identified the soldier as Ingram.
Today Ingram, at 40, is a registered nurse in Jacksonville, Fla. Although he says he was deeply troubled for years by memories of combat, he is proud of his role in Vietnam and of the men he served with. “The most memorable part of the eight and a half months I spent in combat was the camaraderie,” says Ingram. “I would like for anyone who was in my troop to write me so we can set up a reunion. My greatest desire would be to see my friends again.” Friends can write to: 1736 University Boulevard South Jacksonville, Fla. 32216.