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Crook County veteran Tim Grell served as a hospital corpsman in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War

RAMONA MCCALLISTER/SPECIAL TO THE CENTRAL OREGONIAN
 - Local Vietnam War veteran Tim Grell poses for a photo alongside the Vietnam War Memorial at Ochoco Creek Park.

The Vietnam War is often referred to as the first Television War, and much of the public perception of the war was formed by the images on the screen over the duration of the war.

For those who lived the war, the memories are all too real. Beyond the television screen was the real war and the brave soldiers and heroes who fought in Vietnam.

Although he earned a Purple Heart in the war, local Vietnam veteran Tim Grell quickly moves on to talk about the men who didn't come home from Vietnam, and his new found "heroes" from the local Band of Brothers.

Grell comes from a patriotic family. His grandfather, William, was in World War I. He remembers stories from his experiences, and he also had an uncle, Dick, who was a cook on a Navy ship during World War II. His cousin, Rick, served in Vietnam as well.

Grell was drafted right after high school to join the war in Vietnam. Although drafted, Grell entered the United States Navy under the Hospital Recruit Plan in July 1965. Through his service career, he served as a hospital Corpsman Third Class in the Navy.

PHOTO COURTESY OF TIM GRELL
 - Tim Grell works with civilians and children in a Civilian Action Program just outside of Da Nang, treating children and villagers. The photo was taken in July 1967.As a Hospital Recruit (HR), Grell was guaranteed Hospital Corps School — as long as he passed all requirements in Boot Camp. When given the opportunity, he took advantage of the chance, and went through the necessary training from October 1965 to February 1966.

Grell had spent time as a lab assistant at a medical lab between high school and the Navy and had caught the bug to pursue the medical field. He wanted to get into medicine, so he committed himself to the rigorous training required.

"This was the direction that I really wanted to take, so when they offered me a chance, I jumped at it," recalls Grell.

In Hospital Corps School, they had to cover subjects such as biological, physiological and chemical warfare, and advanced first aid patient care.

"If we didn't pass any one of these particular subjects, they would hold you back. Nobody really wanted to do that," he added.

After training, he was assigned to the U.S.S. Haven, a Navy hospital ship — in Long Beach, California. It was being used as a Naval Hospital. He spent six months working in the orthopedic ward.

"I really enjoyed the work," he said.

In September 1966, he received orders to attend the Field Medical School at Camp Delmar, California. It was part of the Marines Corps.

"The Marine Corps didn't have medical personnel, so they sort of borrowed from the Navy. We were using their uniforms with our insignia on them."

"I enjoyed being with the Marines, you did your job and they took care of you," indicated Grell.

PHOTO COURTESY OF TIM GRELL
 - Tim Grell in Da Nang in May 1967 at MAG 16.He found himself learning battlefield strategies, dressing battle wounds, doing advanced first aid care, and learning Marine protocols. He graduated from the school in October 1966. He had 10 days to go home and get his things taken care of before shipping out.

He was to report to the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing in Da Nang, Vietnam. It was here that he became part of the Civic Action Program, where he treated nearby villagers in Da Nang. He also attended to children in the Da Nang orphanage.

He recalls that the villagers would come to their hospital with a pass, and they would treat a myriad of problems. Due to their limited exposure to antibiotics, the villagers would readily clear up infections after receiving treatment.

He added that when visiting the orphanage, they would hold the babies in the cribs — which was therapeutic for both the soldiers and the children. They would write home and receive toys that they later gave to the children in the orphanage and the village.

They also had a dispensary on the base doing sick call. They did blood work, X-rays, patient care, and on-the-job lacerations.

One day, going to mess hall, he saw a medevac helicopter fly in.

"It made a very impressive entrance. I knew instantly that's what I wanted to do," Grell explained. "It just fascinated me so much, seeing this big old ugly bird come in."

Grell said that after inquiring more, he was informed that the helicopter was doing medevac. His supervisor tried to talk him out of it.

"What he said was everyone was either dead or had multiple Purple Hearts. That didn't dissuade me at all. I was young."

He put in a request to fly medevacs. February of the same year, they sent Grell to Marine Air Group 36 (MAG 36) in Chu Lai for his training.

"My medevac training consisted of two missions of 'on the job training' with another medevac corpsman."

He was assigned to Squadron HMM 262 (Helicopter Marine Medium), and the entire squad moved north to Marine Air Group 16 in Da Nang in late April of 1967. They flew every third day for 24 hours to pick up wounded. Their duties included stabilizing patients, reinforcing and checking field wound dressings, checking I's, and whatever it took to transport patients to the Naval Support Activity Hospital (NSA) in Da Nang.

"I enjoyed it; it was exhilarating, and every mission was different."

Grell was wounded in action in August 1967 while doing medevac.

"It messed up my whole day," he recalled.

Following emergency surgery, it took a week to stabilize him to ship him statewide.

"That was the end of my Vietnam Experience," Grell said soberly.

He was hospitalized for approximately one year. The round that he took lodged in his spine. He couldn't feel anything from the waist down.

He began the long road to recovery. The hospital staff where he was treated would find creative ways to keep him active and to get exercise.

"They would volunteer me to push the wheelchairs to X-ray, as long as I could hold onto them with no problem," he said of his recovery at the hospital.

"They put me in charge of water exercises where I would teach the patients how to use the pools for therapy. In turn, I was getting the same kind of treatment."

Grell left the service in 1969. He had a hard time finding direction. Returning back to the United States was difficult. The Vietnam veterans were not received well, and Grell indicated that veterans often hid their service when applying for work.

"I bumped around for a while," he said.

Grell shared that hospital Corpsmen really felt the brunt of Vietnam combat. He remembers the close friends, whom he flew medevacs with; HMI Tom Parker and grunt Corpsman Manuel Avila — who didn't come home. In the Vietnam conflict, 620 hospital corpsmen were killed or mortally wounded, and more than 3,353 were wounded in action.

Grell has found a brotherhood in the local Band of Brothers, which now tops more than 800 members.

"I am honored to be in the Prineville Band of Brothers and the Honor Guard. They are a great bunch of veterans who are now my new heroes."

He also belongs to the Eastside Church and credits the congregation for helping him through some difficult times in his life. He also belongs to the Crook County Rodders.

"I enjoy driving our 1939 Buick in the memorial parades. It's important to surround yourself with positive people, and my wife is number one."

Medals Tim Grell was awarded from Vietnam

Purple Heart Ribbon; Air Medal Ribbon with 1 Gold Star; Navy Marine Corps Combat Action Ribbon; Navy Marine Corps Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon; Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon; Navy Marine Corps Meritorious Unit Commendation Ribbon; Navy Good Conduct Ribbon; National Defense Service Medal Ribbon; Vietnam Service Ribbon with Fleet Marine Combat; Outstanding Volunteer Ribbon; Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation Ribbon; Republic of Vietnam Civil Action Ribbon; Republic of Vietnam Campaign Ribbon.

Other facts

9,087,000 military personnel served on active duty during the official Vietnam era from Aug. 5, 1964, to May 7, 1975.

2,709,918 Americans served in uniform in Vietnam.

240 men were awarded the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War.

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