George E. Grandemange
U.S. Army Medic, 93rd Evacuation Hospital
Vietnam War (1967-1968)
Meritorious Unit Citation
Born in San Francisco, California on April 6, 1944, George E. Grandemange was welcomed into a family with past veterans. Grandemange’s uncle served in World War II, and his great uncle served in both World War I and World War II. Because of this, he and his family had always anticipated a two-year service commitment in the military sometime in the future. Before he was personally involved in the Vietnam War, Grandemange realized he had a duty to serve in the defense of his country, as stressed by the current president of the United States.
Before being drafted, Grandemange worked at many jobs throughout his adolescence, high school and college years. He started as a paperboy and continued on as a school janitor during his high school years. He worked as a delivery person for a dry cleaning company, sold photocopiers, serviced air conditioners and was a salesperson for Sears & Roebucks.
However, his normal lifestyle was put on hold during his senior year of college in 1967. Taking both day and night classes, Grandemange’s student deferment of four years was exhausted. Sure enough, he was then drafted into the Army by the federal government. When asked why he enlisted in the army, Grandemange replied: “Well, I didn’t enlist in the army. It was Uncle Sam who handed me and invitation to serve in the military.”
Leaving home a single man in March of 1967, he began basic training or “boot camp” in Fort Polk, Louisiana, from March to May 1967. Next he was sent to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. He first received 3 weeks of leadership training to help lead other recruits and then received 10 weeks of medical training to become a medical corpsman.
Upon completing his training, he received a two-week leave which he spent with his family and friends. Prepared and well rested, he was sent from Travis Air Force Base to Vietnam where he was assigned to serve at the 93rd Evacuation Hospital.
Upon his arrival, Grandemange felt very apprehensive and frightened, not knowing what to expect. He received his assignment to the evacuation hospital and after a few weeks, he began to feel safe and secure in the environment. He was stationed at one of the largest military bases in the world, but his living situations were not comparable to his own home. The medics in Vietnam at the hospital lived in “hooches”, which were aluminum huts built to house sixteen to eighteen individuals. As for the food, it was self-explanatory. “We don’t want to talk about the food,” stated Grandemange. “The food was Army food.” There were, however, several forms of entertainment for the medics at the site, including nightly movies and Enlisted Men’s Clubs. He also had access to tape recorders and the mail service to keep in touch with his family frequently.
Even though most of those serving with Grandemange in Vietnam were not excited about being there, the morale was pretty high as most people aimed to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities. In fact, Grandemange had a high degree of respect for enlistees due to their efficiency. He also highly respected most of nurses with whom he worked with only a few exceptions.
During his service in Vietnam, Grandemange was promoted from Private First Class to Specialist 4 and then Specialist 5, his highest rank. He also received a Meritorious Citation for his duty and service on the ICU and recovery ward. Grandemange attributes his drive for excellence during his service to his desire to return home safe, be with his family, and achieve his life-long goals. “I could see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he recalled.
After extending his service tour to thirteen and a half months, he returned home with his intention of finishing college. Grandemange was honorably discharged in October of 1968 with no injuries. Upon his safe arrival at home around midnight, he took off his military uniform and hasn’t worn it since. His friends and family warmly welcomed him back, respecting his service.
Personally, Grandemange felt no negative attitudes towards him by civilians when he returned from Vietnam. Of course, he wasn’t walking around in his uniform. However, he was disappointed by the overall reaction of some Americans towards soldiers returning from the war. “People jeered or called them names or even spat upon them,” claimed Grandemange. “They didn’t understand that many people who served in Vietnam were not killers. Basically, they were just doing their job.”
Now back at home, his first move in civilian life was to re-register at college to complete his last semester of senior year. While working back at Sears & Roebucks, he continued his studies and earned a bachelor’s degree and teaching credential. He also met and married the love of his life. He went on to teach seventh and eighth grades at St. Rita’s Elementary School and eventually became the principal. He also taught at Marin Catholic High School for eighteen years and became vice-principal and co-principal. He is currently retired, but continues to substitute teach at Marin Catholic.
Even though he was busy with his post-war career, Grandemange has managed to keep in touch with some of his fellow service personnel. He attended his unit’s reunion back in the early 1990’s at Fort Sam Houston, where he reconnected with some of the nurses he worked with and enjoyed the experience of returning to the place of his medical training. Today he still corresponds with some friends he made during the war through occasional dinners and e-mails.
Now a successful and happy father of two daughter and a grandfather of four, he looks back at the was as an experience of spiritual and mental growth. Two major themes of his war experience were working with patients and developing a comradeship with his fellow personnel. Although he spent most of his time dealing with patients, he learned not to become too emotionally attached to any of them. “If people did die, we would regret it, but we didn’t dwell upon it,” he declared. Grandemange recalls two outstanding patients. One was a double amputee who received a staggering 100 blood transfusions, but died from a “phantom bleed”. The other was on guard duty who survived two collapsed lungs. Because of these two significant individuals, he was able to appreciate the strength of the human body and the trauma it could withstand. He also became inspired by those who had a will to live, believing that “those who had a will to live frequently would survive and recover, while those who gave up would frequently die.”
There were also many challenges that he had to overcome that strengthened him. The toughest part of his service was the separation from his family and friends. Also, working in the intensive care unit exposed him to the most gruesome wounds inflicted upon men. These challenges taught valuable life lessons that he thinks people today should know.
For the general public, he would like to remind them that those who do serve or fight in a war are both doing a job and fulfilling an obligation or responsibility. Grandemange also makes it a point to say that there is a difference between those who fight and those who serve in a war. “Fighters, in my opinion, are those on the front line being shot at and are shooting back. I never had that experience; I served.” Grandemange also wants people to be grateful for the service that others have performed and the sacrifices they have made.
As for those who do plan on serving in a war, Grandemange has some words of advice: “Try not to be naïve. Idealism is good, but also take with you realism. Be skeptical and question…question.”
Grandemange’s attitude towards America’s involvement is that “we can’t always trust the rationale or causes that we’re told. We need to be informed skeptics; we need to question when we think our country is wrong and have our questions answered.”
Overall, Grandemange appreciates his military service, believing it was very educational and a maturing process that he does not regret. He justifies that his sacrifice in taking care of injured individuals is always worthwhile.
Interviewed by Gabriella Aversa and Kathryn Khalvati on June 21, 2011