Gordon Ward Gahan Collection

Medical Evacuation

Medical Evacuation

In the fall of 1967, Gahan was assigned to produce a picture story on the 57th Medical Company (Air Ambulance) and its evacuation of casualties from combat zones. Medical evacuation (medevac) in Vietnam was, for the first time, conducted largely by means of air extraction using helicopters. Due to the nature of combat there, communications among different parts of a unit were often difficult or nonexistent, and enemy fire plus hostile terrain made overland evacuation tricky, if not impossible. The exclusive focus on “flying ambulances” underscores the ubiquity of helicopters in Vietnam, while the photographs associated with the story complement and provide an active contrast to technical images of helicopters that are also part of this collection.

The photographs that Gahan took for the Army Reporter show the various stages of a typical successful medical evacuation from the viewpoint of those flying and working in the helicopter. Depending on the situation on the ground, different scenarios would unfold. When the aircraft could get into a landing zone, stretchers carrying the wounded were loaded directly from the ground into the chopper. When inhospitable terrain or other threats, such as enemy fire, made it impossible for the helicopter to touch down, soldiers could be lowered on a hoist to pick up the patient as the helicopter hovered above. Inside the aircraft, the wounded are treated on the floor en route to the nearest hospital. Blood and bandages are all around, and bags of plasma are administered in order to stem blood loss. One medic, SP5 Herbert C. Donaldson, his brow drenched in sweat, administers mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, as the published caption specifies, to “keep a patient breathing till he can get to the hospital”[1].

 


1. SP4 John Prokorym, “Operating 57th Med ‘Flying Ambulance’; Dustoff Chopper Crew Performs Emergency Evacuations,” Army Reporter (October 14, 1967): 8–9.