Tuesday, February 27, 2024

'Somebody had to do it': Vietnam veteran reflects on 20-year career as medic

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The Vietnam War was the second-longest war in U.S. history that left more than 58,000 dead and 304,000 wounded, leaving the medics with perhaps the most difficult job during the war.

Granbury resident and former medic Jim Lowe assisted several comrades who were injured during the war. The 79-year-old was only 18 when he enlisted in the Army, choosing to wait until after two months of basic training to inform his parents of his decision.

“They said, ‘We've been looking for you. Where in the hell are you?’ I said ‘I'm in the Army, but I'll be home in a couple of days.’ I was a missing person, I guess,” Lowe said, with a chuckle.

He was sent to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio in 1961 to attend medical school. A short while later when Lowe was stationed in Honolulu, Hawaii, he decided he wanted to attend nursing school, but realized the curriculum was too difficult.

“I said, ‘I’m going back to the base and I'm giving up nursing,’ but I was still a medic,” he said. “I went to combat medical school in Fort Bragg, North Carolina and within the next two days, I got orders to go to Vietnam. Our captain said, ‘I got a job for you, Lowe. You’re going to Nam.’ I said, ‘Okay, here I go.’”

Being a medic, Lowe worked out of "choppers,” picking up casualties and soldiers who were injured to bring them back to hospitals or first aid houses.

He tended to many comrades during the war, but said he didn’t take credit for saving their lives.

"You jumped out of the chopper to get somebody and then you'd use the rope sling and lift them up,” he said. “If (they) had gotten an arm blown off or a hand or part of (their) leg, then you got to try to stop the bleeding on it and try to save them until you can get them to a hospital. I can't say that I actually saved their life, but I did try to prolong their life by getting them bandaged good enough that they could make it.”

Lowe served two tours in Vietnam — 1964-1966 and 1968-1972, but it wasn’t until his second tour when he got shot in the stomach.

“When you hear a gun tat-tat-tat-tat-tat and all of a sudden, you feel like you've been hit, you'd know it, you'd feel it, burning and stinging, ‘specially if you get hit in the belly. That's not no good feeling,” he said.

He stayed in the hospital off and on for a couple of years until he felt he was well enough to continue his duties in the military. He was transferred to Fort Bliss in El Paso, but unfortunately was still having issues with his wound.

Lowe was medically discharged from the Army in 1982 as a sergeant, serving a total of 21 years in the military.

Although Lowe had to continuously put his life on the line for his troops and witness many casualties of war, he did have some positive memories of his time in service — most of which involved traveling.

He traveled to Okinawa, the Philippines, Panama and even Iceland, although Lowe described the latter as a “bad, cold place.”

“The most fun I had in the military was in Panama. That was a nice place to be,” he said. “Seen a lot of good country that I would never know about; it was fun. I’d never get to go there out of my own pocket and the military paid for it, so that was good to travel around and see the country. I had a lot of fun engagements.”

Following his discharge from the military, Lowe began his career as a truck driver before retiring in 1989. In 1990, he moved to Granbury, where he has resided ever since.

“I’ve been here in Granbury in the same house, same place, doing whatever I do and that’s mostly nothing,” he said, with a grin.

Lowe currently spends most of his time with his wife of two-and-a-half years, Karan, as they travel around the U.S., visiting Civil War battlefields and the homes of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone.

“I'm not any better than any other service man out there doing his job,” he said. “You got the same people like me over in them battlefields right now doing the same identical thing, so I just pray for them all the time. I hope y'all make it back. I did. It took me a while to get my feet on the ground again, but I did survive and I’m here today.”

Now, at 79, Lowe joked that he is determined to live another 50 years if he can.

“My daddy made 97. I said I’m going to make at least 92. I can get close to it. I don’t know about no 97, but I’m gonna try to make at least 92,” he said, with a chuckle. “I've lived a good life. I've enjoyed it. I served and proud I got through with what I did and made it. I'm satisfied with what I've done. It was a dirty job, but somebody had to do it.”