For this week I was given an article covering the casualties received by the three US Marines units during the Battle for Hue in the Vietnam Conflict and comparing them to Okinawa casualties of Marines both combat and non-combat related injuries and deaths. The results found that in an urban conflict such as Hue, the majority of the combat related casualties received were during two phases of the operation of Hue. The first, in the residential and house-to-house fighting south of the river Marines casualties increased significantly compared to the overall casualties received by Marines during the entire Vietnam Conflict. These results did not surprise me because during my time in the military 90% of my time was spent in an urban combat setting and I understand the difficulties that the terrain and situation with civilian population brings to the US soldier. The more cover and concealment for the enemy offers more obstacles and harder problems to solve for the individual soldier on the battlefield.
When I looked at the rises in the rates of non-combat related injuries and the rise in the rates of illnesses and disease I saw that the abrupt and significant rises coincided, shortly before and during the phases of the operation when the Marines were clearing the residential areas and that of the citadel. And upon reading further found that the citadel was the final stronghold of the NVA when the Marines went in to clear it out. PTSD having not been classified medically or acknowledged entirely by the US military would be, or rather should have been classified under an illness or under the rate of “walking wounded”(WIA but not evacuated). It is not a coincidence that these casualty rates increase close to one another, and should serve as evidence that the stress of combat negatively affects the combat strength and effectiveness of the US military unit involved in war and fighting in any terrain. (the rates of walking wounded and illnesses in Okinawa also coincided with the major rises in casualties received during actual combat operations).
This document and more research like it could serve the US military extremely well in comparing wars and battles of the past to the current post cold war battles we are fighting today in Africa and the Middle East. From a medical standpoint we can see the affect that the various terrains in the different wars we have fought thus far have on US military units and would better prepare us for any wars fought in the future on terrains similar to those fought in the past.
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2. Christmas GR. A company commander reflects on operation Hue City. In: The Marines in Vietnam 1954-1973. U.S. Govenment Printing Office, Washington D.C. 1985.
3. Simmons EH. Marine Corps Operations in Vietnam, 1968. In: The Marines in Vietnam 1954-1973. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington D.C. 1985.
4. Karnow S. Vietnam: A History. Viking Press, New York, N.Y 1983.
5. Blood CG, Gauker, ED. The relationship between battle intensity and disease rates among Marine Corps infantry units. Military Medicine, 158 (5), 340-44, 1993.