Bruce Gant, my friend and classmate from Atlanta’s Druid Hills High School (’65), served as a U.S. Navy medical corpsman in Vietnam in 1968. Bruce served at the Battle of Hue as part of the U.S. effort to turn back the Communists’ Tet Offensive in early 1968. In his role, Bruce provided first aid to wounded Marines upon their evacuation to an aid station. The battle was a vicious, bloody brawl in the streets and buildings of what was once the ancient imperial capital city of Vietnam. At the battle’s conclusion, 80% of the city lay in ruins, and the lives of 142 U.S. Marines, 452 South Vietnamese soldiers, and 5,100 Communist soldiers had been lost. Additionally, the Marines suffered nearly 1,100 wounded in the fighting. I should add that, while the cost was high, the Marines were victorious, adding yet another battle streamer to the flag.
On January 31, 2018, Bruce and his wife Vicky entered Hue exactly fifty years after Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, under the command of Captain Chuck Meadows, entered Hue and exchanged heavy gunfire with enemy soldiers occupying the city. Thus began the battle wherein three understrength Marine battalions of approximately 1,000 Marines would face a well-concealed, well-entrenched foe estimated by some to number 10,000 soldiers.
This was a highly anticipated return visit for Bruce, and the weather in Hue was cold, rainy, and miserable, much as he remembered it fifty years earlier. Back in ’68, he came into Hue on a medevac chopper on February 9, and was assigned to the Battalion Aid Station of 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines. Bruce had experience in the operating room from a previous tour of duty at a naval hospital in Puerto Rico. However, nothing there could have prepared him for the severity of the combat wounds he saw once in Hue. He was a mere twenty years old at the time, and was suturing, removing shrapnel, and dressing the wounds of the continuous stream of Marine wounded. He was also performing triage, determining which of the badly wounded should be prioritized for treatment, along with identifying those who had virtually no chance of survival. Bruce was trusted to make those life and death calls that few other twenty year olds would be called upon to make.
Bruce remembers how many Marines would refuse hospitalization and return to their units after being treated, unwilling to leave their buddies still in the fight. Many would need further medical attention when their wounds became infected. Bruce himself was painfully wounded by shrapnel on February 15, and left Hue on a medevac chopper for six weeks of hospital treatment. He was awarded two Purple Heart medals along with more than a dozen other ribbons for his service in Vietnam.
Members of Golf Company have remained in contact over the years. Among many others, Bruce is friends with Gen. Peter Pace, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who served as a platoon commander during the battle. He was also close friends with Col. Chuck Meadows, the Golf company commander, who died unexpectedly after returning from the most recent trip back to Vietnam.
Bruce Gant is an authentic American hero, a survivor of one of the most famous battles in Marine Corps history, and I am proud to call him my friend.
Semper Fi, Doc.