George Autobee pulls no punches when describing his time in Vietnam
It’s not a poetic or even an in-depth account of the war in Vietnam, but Cpt. George Autobee’s autobiography “Marine Grunt To Medic” of his time spent in Vietnam as a member of the United States Marine Corps still manages to strike a chord.
“I had seen my fellow Marines killed and or wounded and for what?” Autobee writes rhetorically. “We were being butchered and wasted. I did not see an end. We fought for territory only to give it up. We were going on the trails and getting blown up just like the Marines before us, and the ones before them and those before them.”
Autobee’s personal narration of his time spent as a member of Mike Company, 3rd Battalion in the highly decorated (and famously depicted in “A Few Good Men”) 5th Marine Regiment is one of both determination and strife. Had he not followed a piece of misinformation, he wouldn’t have enrolled in the USMC to begin with.
“I worked at Parkview hospital as an orderly and was interested in becoming a medic,” writes the Pueblo native. “The recruiter said I could be one in the Marine Corps, so I enlisted. It was my mistake and I was to pay dearly for my lack of knowledge. I should have done my homework. There are no medics in the Marine Corps, they are in the Army.”
The payment Autobee refers to is one that would put him regularly as point man on patrols and ambushes in the jungles of Vietnam, risking his life on a daily basis. He would watch his fellow marines fall to enemy fire, he would see them impose self-inflicted wounds in an effort to get out of there and, most disturbing, he would look his enemy in the eye and realize the futility of the war.
“The POWs were young and as big as me,” he writes of being transported to a hospital with two North Vietnamese prisoners of war. “They were both wounded and very stoic. A transference took place while I was observing them. I realized that they were not afraid of what they were facing. They knew their fate. It is hard to explain, but I knew that we were going to lose the war.”
As he is only able to recount the war from his very personal point of view, Autobee also utilizes other accounts including Charles R. Smith’s “U.S. Marines in Vietnam. High Mobility and Standdown. 1969,” and Robert Leckie’s “Helmet for My Pillow,” to further illustrate the difficulties he and his fellow Marines endured in Vietnam.
Autobee is honest not only in his portrayal of Vietnam and his fellow soldiers, but also in depicting himself. At no point does he reflect on honor and country, his driving force, in fact are the seven generations of Autobees before him who also served the country’s military in some capacity.
“I knew that I would be wounded or killed, so going back to the field was one of the hardest decisions I had to make,” Autobee writes. “Seven generations of military service in our family was taken very serious. I could not change my fate. It was my destiny to fulfill my service obligation even if it killed me.”
Though he managed to make it out of Vietnam alive, he was wounded twice in combat the second of which earned him his second Purple Heart and ticket out of Vietnam. When offered the opportunity to reject the honor and instead earn the ranking of Corporal, Autobee is forthright in writing why he chose to reject the offer.
“Why should I refuse my second Purple Heart?” he writes rhetorically. “I told [my platoon Sergeant] that this was a expletive war and I did not want anything to do with it any more.”
Autobee writes that he was separated from active duty in 1969 and remained on the reserves until 1973. By the time his tenure with USMC had finished, Autobee had multiple decorations. He reenlisted as a member of the U.S. Army Reserves in 1980 and there - 12 years and a lifetime of atrocities later- he was able to fulfill his dream of becoming a medic.
For the full, personal account read “Marine Grunt to Medic” by George Autobee Cpt. USMC/USAR.