and raised in the Mission district of San Francisco, Spanish Father
and German Mother. I look like a German and act like a Spaniard. Quite
a combination of being a cold-blooded realist and a romantic. Very
confusing at times.
the Air Force in 1959 and spent 6 years as a medic, 4 years on the
ground and 2 years in the air flying Air and Sea rescue and Medical
involved in some of the first medical evacuations from Viet-Nam in
1965, and decided that I could be of better use to the Marines with
my experience if I was on the ground with them. I resigned from the
Air Force to join the Navy in July 1965 on the stipulation that I
would be guaranteed FMF combat duty with the Marine infantry. The
shrinks had a field day with that one! Had to go back to Navy Boot
Camp just to find out that I didn't need to be there because I was
prior service, and an NCO. They sent me to Oaknoll Naval Hospital
for almost a year before cutting me orders to FMF School, Camp Pendleton.
Day and my 25th Birthday, I received orders to report to 3/5, First
Marine Division, Viet-Nam. I arrived in country in Sept '66 and was
assigned as a platoon Corpsman to India Co. 3/5 through November '66.
I was promoted to Senior Company Corpsman of Kilo Co. 3/5 in early
December and remained there through Operation UNION I and II. Because
I had spent more time in the field then was customary, I was transferred
back to the Bn. Med Station to serve out my time until rotation back
to the land of the Great PX.
Perez in the village of Lon Phu 1 with Little Yvonne, interpreter
Feb. or March '67 (right below Hill #63 or #69, right outside of
would warn me ahead of time whenever there was a VC assassination
team in the area, or when I'd get called out in the middle of the
night. Nice story, it got printed in the "Corpsmen" history
book published by Turner Publishing on the history of Navy Corpsmen
from the beginning up through DESERT STORM."
Perez on the far right holding the e-tool
3/5 Battalion staging area
first photos of the first med evac's at the start of Operation UNION
(that was when the M-16's didn't work!). The fighting was so heavy
and intense that it was 4 days before any wounded could be brought
out. Gen. Westmoreland took one look, and gave up his helicopter to
be used for evac's.
of first casualties
(click to enlarge)
October of '67, I found myself being a civilian, returned to California
to be reunited with my wife at the time, and a new baby boy that was
born after I arrived Incountry. I couldn't think of anything to do
seriously, so I bought a new Porsche 911, worked as a private detective
in LA for a while, then opened up a talent agency in Hollywood, got
tired of that and joined in the restaurant business that my wife's
family operated. That lasted 2 years, then I moved to Orange County,
California, became Real Estate salesman full time, a Deputy Sheriff
full time, and went to Santa Ana College 3/4 time.
lasted a couple of years, then after managing and teaching Real Estate,
I evolved into the Mortgage Banking field where I remained until 1980,
got tired of the "Rat race " and moved to Alaska. My new
wife, Linda's idea, as she had family there. (Turned out to be the
best thing that ever happened to me.)
I found myself being the only Mortgage Banker in Southeast Alaska,
(Juneau ) and had quite a bit of fun for about 5 years. Fishing was
great, and even did some Real Estate developing. Got tired of that,
and joined the Alaska Department of Corrections at their Maximum Security
Prison in Juneau till I retired in 1995.
a sideline and a reason to have a big boat, I got my Captain's License
to run a Charter fishing boat in the Alaskan waters for ten years.
When I got rid of the boat, my wife's only comment was, "Well
there's a $20,000 a year raise for you!" A testament to a boat
is a hole in the water to which one pours money into!
I now find myself back working for a living, after a few fun, but
unprofitable ventures, as a Mental Health Counselor for the Chronic
Mentally Ill, teaching them social skills and having to deal with
real life problems. Still being the Corpsman.
and Linda Perez
finds me as a Father of 6, Grandfather of 8 with more on the way,
and host to our 3/5 guys that want to fish Alaska. Col. Tilley (Ret'd)
is always available as my deckhand during the summer, returning with
several hundred pounds of Halibut fillets and a record catch of a
#360 lb. Halibut taken in Glacier Bay during one of our trips! One
of the benefits of being a Charter Fishing Captain for ten years is
that you always know where the fish are.
accumulated over 40 lbs. of research material that covers our time
with 3/5 in '66 & '67 to which I will dish out to Debbe, so she
can bargain with India and Kilo websites as she sees fit, and maybe
get a few free lunches out of it.
Oh!..Thought I'd better mention that I just got a copy of Gary Hook's
book, "One day in Viet-Nam." It covers the life story of
one of his family that was a Bird Dog pilot who was lost during Operation
DESOTO, Quag-Nghai province January '66. Kilo 3/5 is a part of that
story, and is a good read.
Written to Father Vincent Capodanno's Brother, James. Father
Capodanno was Killed In Action 4 September 1967 while serving
with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines during Operation SWIFT.
From: Vic "Doc" Perez
To: James Capodanno
Dear Mr. Capodanno,
don't know me, but I wanted to write and personally thank
you for the St. Christopher medal Gerry Pendas and Ed Fitzgerald
requested on my behalf.
was a Navy Corpsman with the 3rd Bn. 5th Mar. 1st Mar. Division,
and served with your brother after I finished my tour with
"K" Company 3/5. I believe that we both arrived
at the Battalion around the same time. I had survived my time
looking after my Marines in combat, and was to serve the rest
of my tour at the Battalion Aid Station before rotating
back to the States. It was there that I met, and got to know
Father Capodanno, and over time, considered him a friend.
thought of his family often over the years, and hoped that
they understood the love he had for 'his Marines.' As a Combat
Corpsman, this was something your Brother and I shared. Many
a time we divided up the body and the soul of an errant Marine,
and put forth our best efforts to get him back on track.
don't know if the Good Father ever shared the story with you
about the Marine that had had too much beer, and was feeling
real put out because the 1st Sgt. would not okay his request
for leave to return to the US to settle a disagreement with
his girlfriend. It was one of those rare times that some of
the beer had made it out as far as our hill, and we were all
taking advantage of it while it lasted. The Marine in question
had gotten a little obnoxious and I tossed him out of the
Beer Tent, and told him to go sober up.
Marine returned about an hour later, demanding to talk to
me, outside away from the tent, and the other Marines. Not
knowing his intentions and all Marines during that time walked
around fully loaded and armed to the teeth I first stripped
the bolt from his weapon, disarming it before any discussions
occurred. With the bolt safely in my pocket, a very tearful
and confused Marine confessed to me that for the last hour
he had been lying in wait up where the 1st Sgt. had his tent,
waiting for him to show up so he could kill him. There are
times when a Marine tends to confuse a Corpsman with a Chaplain,
and this was definitely one of those times. After I felt that
I had correctly accessed the situation prompted by the fact
that there was still beer that needed drinking I and my Marine
in tow, went in search for the Padre.
knew by past experience that Father Capodanno would normally
be in his tent at that hour, either writing letters, or reading.
True to his character, the Padre treated this intrusion as
an opportunity to assist one of his Marines, any clime, any
time. I used the side of the Padre's tent to support the Marine,
braced by his rifle, and went on to explain what the problem
was. When I got to the part about the 1st Sgt. and the Marine's
intentions, I knew I had the good Father's utmost attention.
We both came to a quick agreement that it was not soul saving,
prayer, or preaching that was needed, but an understanding
ear, followed up with a stern "Father to Son" type
Padre assured me that he was up to the challenge, and I was
now free to return to reducing the supply of beer available
tour rag tag organization. Just as it appeared that Father
Capodanno had worked out how to get our Marine unjammed and
off the side of his tent, I pulled the bolt of his rifle from
my pocket, and said, "Oh, by the way...it seemed like
a good idea at the time that I should disarm him, considering
circumstances...Feel free to give it back to him when you're
through!" I honestly believe that was the only time I
had ever witnessed a stutter from the good Father.
was just one of the many such stories that I've told over
and over throughout the years. I've felt honored that I was
fortunate to have met and known your brother, and have been
faithfully doing what I can to keep his memory alive.
had only about seven days left on my tour in Vietnam, and
was ordered back in combat due to the losses of our field
Medical Corpsmen, and the severity of "Operation Swift."
If my memory serves me right, it was four days before the
dead and wounded could be evac'd from the field due to the
intense fighting. It was within those first few days that
we received, and were stunned by the news of Father Capodanno's
death. There were no details available at that time, as to
the circumstances and events that led up to his death.
request was made to the Battalion Aid Station to send someone
that knew Chaplain Capodanno and bring his dental records
so that a positive identification could be made. I was
assigned that task, not because I was the one most qualified
to perform this duty, but it was my Chief's way of making
sure I got home safely. My replacement was to accompany me,
assist me in whatever way he could, then wish me goodbye and
good luck. He was to return with the information, and I was
to continue on and wait for my plane home.
regretfully say that I was unable to carry out my task. Not
only was I unable to identify your brother, due to the number
of the casualties, and the confusion that is common to the
situation, I was unable to locate him.
has only been in the last four years that I was able to learn
the whole story through my research, and attempts to locate
some of the surviving corpsmen and Marines from my old unit.
There's about thirty of us that stay in touch very regularly,
and do what we can to keep those memories alive, part of which
is how your brother touched our lives. We are all richer in
life for knowing him.
thank you for your consideration. The St. Christopher's Medal
has more than a religious significance to me, and is a constant
reminder of a friend and comrade that I respected and miss
dearly. I hope this letter finds you well...Thanks again,
and Semper Fi, Mr. Capodanno.
Vic "Doc" Perez
by "Doc" Vic Perez
Revenge: The Burning of the Officer's Shitter By Vic "Doc"
Actually that little story
happened time and time again. Doc was "Doc" to every Marine
he came in contact with. The first time that I remember it happening
was when I was a platoon Corpsman with I 3/5, just before being assigned
to Kilo Company as your Sr. Corpsman.
Our platoon took a hit
on it's Amtrak by a command detonated 200 lb bomb booby trap. The
handful of us that were still left on the hill ran thru the mined
area to get to our Marines and render aid. The fireball went up about
20 stories high and was hot enough to melt some weapons into the steel
superstructure of what was left of the Amtrac. No one was killed outright,
but all were burned and torn up. Even as bad of shape that they were
in,they immediately set up a perimeter. Most of the M-14's barrels
were melted and bent, but they were determined to do as they had been
trained to do.
After looking after the
most life threatening wounds I started working on this one black Marine
that I suspected had a possibly broken back,and was bound and determined
to get up and join the other Marines in protecting the perimeter.
This particular Marine and I had had several cross words in the past,as
he let his distain for "white folks" be known at every opportunity.My
philosophy has always been that there isn't any white,black,brown
or red in the Marine Corps,My Marines were just different shades of
To make a long
story short,he started to ignore my orders to lie still and wait to
be evac'd, my biggest fear was that any movement would possibly paralyze
him for life. So I used my best medical technique and grabbed him
by the ears and threatened to kill him myself if he screwed up my
work. That seemed to get his attention and his cooperation. Later
on as I was loading him into the chopper he grabbed my arm and was
yelling at me that I saved his life,and would never forget me! He
was going to write to me and stay in touch"...as the chopper
started to lift off, just as he was letting go of my arm, I yelled
at him, "What's my name?..." He looked at me kind of funny
and replied..."Doc!"...That was it!. My response was "I
just wanted to know if you had the name right so the mail would get
to the right place!"
All those months, all those
Operations, right up until now, it's still "Doc" and some
how the mail still finds me. Those nicknames tend to stick to you
forever...ask "meatball" or "Squaw" and the dozens
of others that we're still trying to sort out their full names after
all these years.
Before I forget
it.....Turner Publishing put out a History book on Navy Corpsmen,
from the very beginning up through the Persian Gulf War....Yours truly
is in there 2 or 3 different times, pictures and all, including a
long story about Yvonne "Little tit" (as the Marines named
her) and the village of Lon phu #1 that I was the village Dr. for
in between combat Operations. Got a lot of good plugs in there for
More stories later,
most better than the first one...Got to be careful not to hurt anyones
feelings tho...specially the Officers!..remind me to tell you the
one about when we chopped up and torched the Officer's "Shitter."
Great moral booster!!!
Semper Fi, "Doc"
Revenge: The Burning of the Officer's Shitter By Vic "Doc"
During the late
spring, early summer of '67, I believe it was on Hill 69 when we had
a bad breakout of dysentery throughout the company. My job as the
Corpsman was to chase down the source and eliminate it. Part of the
problem was those damn white plastic c-rat spoons that everyone thought
was so "Salty to wear on the helmet bands. The ever-present flies
would land on them after wading around in our shitters, and wipe their
little feet off. That part of the problem I could solve, but I know
I had to go one step further and see if I could keep them out of the
4-holers we affectionately called our shitters.
After a brief
inspection, it was obvious that all the enlisted 4-holers were badly
in need of repair. All the wire screening to keep the flies out was
torn up and needed to be replaced. No problem! I wold go to the old
man. Lt. Tilley at the time, and ask for some assistance in getting
new wire to solve our problem.
Unfortunately, this was one of those times when we were in stand down,
and by a small miracle, there was beer to be had. Lt. Tilley, Gunny
Dias and a few other officers already had a snootfull and weren't
interested in hearing my problem. I stress that this was a serious
problem and had to be taken care of. The old man asked me if I'd inspected
the "Officer's shitter." I admitted that I had not, only
the enlisted ones.
says he, "Sounds like an enlisted man's problem to me!"
They all thought
that that was pretty funny, and I could still hear them laughing as
I walked away. When I got back to my area, I walked into the first
tent that I came to and yelled, "I need two volunteers for shitter
duty!" Well, Marines being Marines, you can imagine the groans
and comments. "Damn, Doc, we just burned your shitters yesterday!
Pick on someone else!"
count!" said I, "This is a different detail, and I think
it's one that you'll enjoy! You and you, Let's go!"
Off we went to
Officer country to locate the "Royal Throne". I gave the
structure a quick once over. The damn thing looked brand new, everything
as it should be. But wait!! Maybe if I looked REAL CLOSE, I could
find what I was looking for. Sure enough, my skilled eye and extensive
medical training came to my rescue.
Marine, I need an unbiased opinion!" I pulled one of my volunteers
up to the portion of the screen that had caught my attention. "Does
that or does that not look like a hole in the wire that a fly could
get through?" (Of course, you have to realize that young enlisted
Marines are not in the habit of making critical remarks regarding
the "Royal Throne", so a little coaching was in order.)
"Uh, I don't
think so Doc."
"How about a small fly?"
"It would have to be an awfully small fly, Doc."
"How about a really, really small, skinny fly?"
"Yeah…. I guess so. If you say so."
"AHA!" says I, "Then I officially condemn this building
as a health hazard. Go get a couple of axes and some fuel. We're going
to tear this hazard down and burn it!"
All good Marines
know that Doc would never lie to them, so off they scrambled and in
no time we had a great bonfire going.
It didn't take
long; before the fire got the attention of all our Officers and gentlemen,
and leading the pack was the "Old man" and the rest of the
group demanding to know what the hell was I doing? They didn't think
it was funny and weren't laughing anymore.
"I took your
advice sir, and inspected the Officer's head! As far as I could tell,
it wasn't in any better condition that the enlisted ones, so I condemned
it. It's the first to burn! Looks like an Officer problem now, sir!"
Needless to say,
we got our new mesh wire and other building materials listed as a
"high priority item", and enlisted moral was at an all time
Moral of the story:
"Don't piss off the Doc!" Not only does he run out in front
of bullets for you, but he really knows how to hurt a guy!
Semper Fi, "Doc"
To our Kilo Corpsmen, without whom many of us wouldn't be here (Kilo
UNION and UNION II
Vincent Capodanno Memorial
Corpsman graphic and background by Redeye)