Veterans have stories we need to hear

November 14, 2017

As the nation prepares to mark the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War's Tet Offensive, stories of the soldiers who fought it are coming to light, their heroism breaking through a veil of silence – in some cases worse than silence – that greeted many on their return home.

The Vietnam War divided the nation, yet as the Cape Gazette's story of Dr. Mayer Katz and "The Marine on the Tank" A.B. Grantham shows, the Vietnam War - like other wars - united those who fought it and forged bonds that have lasted a lifetime.

Katz was 30 years old when he arrived in Vietnam, assigned to a mobile Army surgical hospital (MASH). The Tet Offensive was underway, but the surgeons had no time to be aware of it. They were busy treating the wounded, 10 to 50 a day.

Remarkably, of the 375 people Katz operated on, he lost only eight.

Katz had praise for the MASH units. Located within miles of the front, he said, operating theaters were exactly what he might have found at home.

Aside from their location, Katz said what set them apart is patients had to be transported out within three days; there was no space for recovery, no room for mistakes. Doctors who could not keep up the pace did not last. Doctors like Katz, who remained for their full tour, came home having accomplished hundreds of successful surgeries, sometimes surrounded by rocket fire.

Grace under pressure is a skill Katz still brings to work as a surgeon at Beebe Vascular Services.

He is preparing to retire next year after nearly three decades. He speaks fondly of the military medical staff he served with: "They were terrific. They did a pretty damn good job."

Our community is fortunate to have a pretty damn good Vietnam veteran surgeon who continues to serve.

No one wants wars to create battlefield heroes or even top-notch surgeons. But as war endures, let us listen closely to the stories of those who fought and who know better than most the wonder of a lasting peace.