A Vietnam Veteran’s Search for the Corpsman Who Saved His Life, pt.1

A sick Marine Corps veteran contacted the VA Office of Veterans Experience in 2019 to help find the Marine Corpsman buddy who saved his life in Vietnam. It’s the first part of a three-part story, and it contains vivid and moving combat memories.

Bill Mulcrevy had just dug. He and 23 others from Mike Co., 3rd Battalion, 5and Marine Regiment (3/5) – including close friends Jim Johnson and Navy Corpsman Gregory Williams – were the first wave of Operation Hastingsa multi-force task force to push the PAVN 90and The regiment crosses the DMZ and prevents it from taking control of Quang Tri province.

Mulcrevy and Mike Co. built the perimeter that secured LZ Crow in a small valley just south of Song Ngan, a suspected PAVN staging area. Reinforcements – the second wave of Operation Hastings – were arriving.

It was July 16, 1966. Mulcrevy and the first wave were looking up at the sky. And then they watched the sky burn.

The Search for Navy Corpsman Williams

First wave and the burning sky.

A company-sized element of PAVN troops ambushed the LZ. They shot down the four incoming helicopters delivering the second wave of 3/5. Mike Co.’s first platoon leader went on the radio and learned that other elements of the task force would not arrive in time, that 3/5 were not going to send additional reinforcements until the first wave can eliminate the threat.

The first wave was on its own.

Attacked, Mike Co. defended his position while the lieutenant called for fire. Johnson, Mulcrevy and a small team attacked a PAVN machine gun nest. They found a heavy, tripod-mounted .51 caliber machine gun, shot the operator, and—lacking thermite grenades to disable the gun—tipped it over.

The lieutenant directed and watched an F-4 drop two 500-pound bombs, shooting down several 12.7mm machine guns just 50 yards from their position.

On the ground, on the counterattack, Johnson took two bullets to the throat.

***

Mulcrevy is lost in thought. It’s a statue, eyes frozen. In his mind, we are in 1966, back in the valley where Gregory Williams performed an emergency tracheotomy on Jim Johnson.

When Mulcrevy comes to, he apologizes and says, “It’s not easy to remember that stuff.

But he knows he’ll never forget this thing. He won’t forget the bullets overhead, the dirt exploding around them, or the calm, methodical manner in which Doc Williams saved Johnson’s life.

Everything was chaos – everything except Williams.

***

Three weeks after Operation Hastings, as Johnson recovered aboard the USS Repose, Mike Co. patrolled a series of villages near Tam Quang for Operation Colorado when he came under sniper fire. In reaction to the fire, the Marines rushed directly into an NVA ambush.

The Search for Navy Corpsman Williams

Operation Colorado and being ambushed.

In the ensuing chaos, Mulcrevy suffered four bullets to the leg. A bullet hit his grenade pouch, sending shrapnel into his upper thigh.

“I AM AFFECTED, I AM AFFECTED! He shouted.

In a cloud of dust, Williams finds his friend and kneels beside him to treat his wounds. As with his actions during Operation Hastings, he gave no regard or concern for his own personal safety or the bullets passing in front of him.

Supernaturally calm Williams used all his strength to apply a tourniquet to Mulcrevy’s arterial bleeding, then pressure dressings to his other wounds.

“Well, Gregory, what do you think?” Mulcrevy asked him.

“Bill,” he replied, “I think the Olympics are over.”

On the battlefield, under attack, bullets spitting around them, the two friends laugh together for the last time.

***

Every night for decades, Mulcrevy has lived with the internal chaos of these memories. Those same firefights over and over again. The horror of Johnson’s injury over and over again. His own arterial bleeding and Williams loading him on the MEDEVAC over and over again. He used to drink a gallon of coffee at night because he didn’t want to fall asleep.

He didn’t want to go back to Vietnam.

“They didn’t look like nightmares, they looked like an endless movie,” he says.

As age and other health issues caught up with Bill Mulcrevy, now 72 [This story was written in 2020], he spent a whole second life reliving the defining moments of his life as a young adult. And those moments led to a gnawing realization: this never-ending movie has no natural ending.

He wondered: What happened to his friend, Gregory Williams?


Read part 2 here.

Read part 3 here.

Amanda J. Marsh