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Interview with David D. Dryden [7/27/2009]

Louise Forshaw:

Today is July 27, 2009, and we are at Institute of Historical Survey, in Las Cruces, New Mexico where David D. Dryden will share his military experiences. Colonel Dryden was born in Sioux City, Iowa, on December 16, 1935. He is now seventy-three years old. He lives at 1117 Cave Springs Trail in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Colonel Dryden served in the Army Medical Service Corps from July 1958 to August 1985. He achieved the rank of Colonel. The interviewer is Louise Forshaw. Colonel Dryden, would you like to start at the beginning, when you entered the service?

David D. Dryden:

Well, I entered the service in July of 1958 after graduating from the University of South Dakota as a distinguished military graduate. My first military post assignment was at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. I was commissioned in the Army Medical Service Corps. My undergraduate degree, was in journalism. My first very short assignment was assigned to the Brooke Army Medical Center Public Information office where I wrote short articles on interesting military events and covered some sports activities at that time, because at that time there were a lot of athletic teams in the military that competed with each other.

I was only in that assignment for about three months, and then I went to the Basic Officers course for the Army Medical Service Corps. Then during the time I was in that course, I was selected to go to helicopter flight training. I subsequently went to Fort Walters, Texas for the first half of the training, and then the last half of the training was done at Fort Rucker, Alabama. I completed flight training, and my assignment out of flight school was to Wertheim, Germany where I was assigned to an Army Medical Evacuation Detachment at that time, where I flew for three years, essentially medical evacuation missions all over Germany.

Louise Forshaw:

How did that operate?

David D. Dryden:

We had six helicopters, and there were several detachments in Germany. We covered kind of what I guess would be the central part as a routine mission. We were about fifty miles south and east of Frankfurt in the mountains, a quaint little German village. The post was actually an artillery post. We had an aviation transportation company, along with our detachment there. In any event, our assignment was to have a helicopter on call seven days a week around the clock for any emergency medical evacuations that were needed and took patients to the army hospital at Wurzburg, Germany and also to Landstuhl, Germany and, on occasion, to Wiesbaden, Germany to the Air Force hospital there.

Louise Forshaw:

Who would these patients be?

David D. Dryden:

Patients were civilian dependents, and military who were injured or sick in the course of their duties in Germany. So basically, I did that while I was there. I did attend the course on instrument training for helicopters which was quite novel at that time. I was one of the very few at that time to get an instalment rating, solely because they weren't teaching it at the basic helicopter training courses when we went through, so there were not many of us who were able to pick up that qualification except if we were lucky in terms of assignment and location and being able to work it in.

So, subsequently that tour ended -- I will go back and say, just out of curiosity for information, many of our dependents were military wives who were in labor. We would go to the various posts and pick these ladies up and get them to one of the hospitals in time. A couple or three occasions we didn't quite make it. So the Corpsman and the medic and the maintenance crew chief who flew with us were in attendance with us usually, and did quite well. We never lost a baby and everything worked out fine.

Louise Forshaw:

So you delivered the baby, literally and by helicopter?

David D. Dryden:

Yes, and then got them to the hospital subsequently. The other major injury we had was a number of head injuries that were quite serious from time to time. Those had to be flown to Landstuhl, and many of those we flew out of Wildflecken, and places along the border, where we actually kept a helicopter when the troops were in training because that was close to the border at that time. So, for various reasons we kept things quite close for immediate response there. We did have a number of head injuries, and these took - as all of ours did, many of the flights were at night, in foggy weather, which was usual for Germany, sometimes snowy weather.

So it was a very interesting and rewarding and learning experience in flying in Germany just because of the weather, largely. I guess I'm trying to follow, after that, the unit that I was in was subsequently transferred out of Germany to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where we were assigned to the 45th Air Ambulance Company. This became a very temporary assignment for us, as we all knew the unit was sent back to the states, specifically, our unit to Fort Bragg to be dispersed, and the pilots all got orders mostly to go to the Republic of Vietnam, in mid 1963.

While I was at Fort Bragg, however, one of my most interesting experiences there was that I was signed out to the 82nd Airborne Division, to their instrument training branch and there I was teaching instrument training to various pilots from the 82nd Airborne Division and other attached units that were at Fort Bragg at that time. So that was a highlight, I guess what I would say, just to put it up front so I don't forget it.

Ultimately, I became a Senior Army Aviator, which requires at least 1,500 hours of flying time, and some other criteria which I don't remember offhand. Ultimately, I was awarded the Master Army Aviator badge, and I ended up flying a total - before I was grounded, which I will get to in a minute -- I ended up with a total of 3,581 hours of flying time. Of that, 1,036 hours were combat related missions. I flew 427 hours of that total as an instructor pilot, and let's see - and I had, of actual, although I was instrument rated, and flew a lot of IFR flights, I actually accumulated a small hour of 34 hours of actual weather time in the helicopter.

Louise Forshaw:

These were all flying in helicopters?

David D. Dryden:

Yes, indeed. So, that kind of brings me to the Fort Bragg conclusion and we then, several of us were then tapped to join a unit at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. At that time it was the 82nd Medical Detachment and our stay at Fort Sam was very short, about three months, while all the pilots and the crew chiefs and the medics and related staff were brought together, and then we were sent to Vietnam in November, 1964.

When we got to Vietnam, we joined up with a sister unit, which was already there in Vietnam specifically at the Tan Son Nhut Airport in Saigon, now Ho Chi Min city. Because that unit had been there for, I guess, about six months, as I recall, they decided to split the people in the detachments so that our detachment that I was in was going to ultimately go to Soc Trang, Vietnam, which was about one hundred miles south of Saigon, deep in the delta along the coast. So what happened is about half of our unit split. Half of us went to Soc Trang, and the people who had been at Soc Trang for some time were split, and they went back to Saigon.

So we had two units who had about fifty-fifty percent of some people who had been there for six months or a little bit longer and the newbies as we called ourselves. Of course, the old guard there were our teachers initially and taught us what to be aware of and things we should look out for and how we should approach our medical evacuations, etc., etc.

Louise Forshaw:

May I ask you to spell Soc Trang?

David D. Dryden:

Yes, it's S-O-C T-R-A-N-G.

Louise Forshaw:

Just the way it sounds; our person who transcribes will need to know how to write it.

David D. Dryden:

Anyway, my experience at Soc Trang was like many - we flew many, many combat missions, many rescue missions, and I received several awards while I was there. But I will talk about those maybe as a group a little later on, to try to remember events. Many I have put way back in my memory bank that I do not recall of the rescue missions that we went on. Just because of the nature of what we saw and the difficulty of dealing with some of that. Over time, some missions I remember, primarily only because I have the written award that helps me recall what we did at the time.

Louise Forshaw:

Did you have any personal reactions to these missions, particularly if your were bringing out men who were seriously injured?

David D. Dryden:

Well, on this first tour, ironically enough, we were really in support of the Vietnamese; there were no American troops south of Saigon at that time except American advisors. So we were really there to support the military advisors and get them out if they needed it. They were our key; they called us when they needed evacuation of the troops they were in combat with throughout the Mekong Delta. So, as I recall, the day that I was leaving Vietnam, they had announced that the twenty thousandth American troop had just arrived in country at that time, so it was very early on in the start-up, the build-up of the forces.

Most of the early forces that came in stayed in the Saigon area and north; not many of them came south. So, in any event, I recall that. I had many interesting flights out of Soc Trang; we were close to the Cambodian border. And yes, we did on occasion sneak across that border to bring evacuees out. We did not go deep into the country, but we did go somewhat over the border in response to a call that we were needed. Probably the most interesting thing that happened to me at Soc Trang, as I recall, was that I did have an accident, a helicopter accident.

It was on December 31, 1964, New Year's Eve Day. I remember it well, and I was the instructor pilot and the pilot who I had to give the pilots a quarterly check ride. Each one on military procedures and other tactical approaches, questioning them on how they would handle certain situations and so on. So anyway, this one day, it was a down day, there were no missions scheduled, no combat missions scheduled on either the 31st or the 1st as we know it. I took this opportunity to take one of our pilots out for a check right, very early in the morning on the 31st.

We were flying in what we called closed traffic, which means at that time the tower operator knows we are flying a pattern around the airfield for landings and take-offs and we don't have to tell him what we're doing. He's supposed to then keep us advised of anything that's coming in. Well, unbeknownst to us, a twin engine French Dornier - don't ask me to spell that - landed unbeknownst to us, and had refueled. This was a CIA plane; he came and refueled and then for some reason asked the airport operator for a mid-field takeoff, allegedly because he was concerned about a low rear tire which they had on those airplanes at that time.

So, long story short, myself and the pilot I was with were shooting auto rotations, which means we were coming in, simulating an engine failure and landing to the ground. In this case we could do it because I was on board and the pilot was allowed to go all the way to the ground, without the engine - the engine is running but the clutch is disengaged, and it's a simulated event, it's as if you have no engine. In any event, at about five hundred feet, I heard this strange noise.

I said to the pilot who was flying, "Give me the aircraft back, I hear something and I think it's close." And about that time, we got hit. We didn't know what it was, but what it ended up being was the French Dornier, the twin engine came up underneath us, one of his props chopped our tail rotor blades off, and then he subsequently fell away from us, and was lucky enough to make a one hundred and eighty degree turn, but he crashed just off the end of the runway. Then we went into what is considered a very fast cyclic three hundred and sixty degree turns, rapid turns that happen when you lose your tail rotor.

Fortunately, just before we were trying to get back to the airport runway and straighten it out-- I won't go into the details of how you do that, but there's a procedure and ultimately at probably about seventy-five to a hundred feet, the aircraft stabilized. We were just about lined up with the airfield runway, but we couldn't quite make it, and there was a large ditch off to the left of the field with about three feet of water, so we really didn't have much choice. It was the next alternative, so anyway, we went into that and crash landed. Both of us walked away; we felt unscathed at that time. And subsequently we found out, we got with the American pilot in the French Dornier plane and he had sustained plexiglass cuts from part of our tail rotor that went through his main window and over his left shoulder.

So anyway, long story short, at the time, at least, and none of us thought we had any serious injuries other than what I just described. I broke a thumb subsequently, I found that the day after, which deadlined me for a couple months. My pilot I was working with just got muscular strain, and we all walked away. So that was one of the unforgettable moments.

Louise Forshaw:

Quite an exciting episode.

David D. Dryden:

Quite an exciting episode, that's right. Thankful to be around. So, that's probably the most interesting event. I did, subsequently, one day on takeoff with another pilot, we were taking of from Soc Trang and we were transporting six litter patients going to the Army Hospital at Tan Son Nhut in Saigon, which is where the major hospital was. All we had was a small clinic, a doctor and two nurses where we were. These patients needed to be transported. So we took off and had an engine failure at about one hundred and fifty feet.

Fortunately we were able to go straight off the runway, and we put it down in a rice paddy that had about three feet of water in it. Fortunately, it was a very nice landing. Nobody got hurt, they immediately sent security people out to us, we weren't that far from the airfield. They got people out quickly, offloaded them. They got another Med Evac helicopter running, and we transferred the littler patients into that plane and they took off and successfully delivered those six patients. Again, no injuries from that particular incident.

I had some very interesting missions at Soc Trang, in support of the Vietnamese. Most of it, of course, was fighting in the rice paddies along the Mekong Delta. Some very tricky flying at times; in many ways it was quite easy because there weren't many trees, you could see a lot. You didn't have to worry about wires or things like that. Flying there was somewhat relaxing in many ways, except you were as visible to the enemy as anything else because there was very little cover anywhere.

Louise Forshaw:

Were there a great many Vietcong in that area at that time?

David D. Dryden:

There were. I don't remember the numbers, but there were. We had a number of -- I forget the number of missions we had, but almost everyday there was either a small congregation because the unit that was stationed on the airfield with us was a gunship unit. So they were always called out, of course, for fire suppression. Being a Med Evac pilot crew, we couldn't carry machine guns or anything of that nature because the Red Cross is on the helicopter, and the Geneva Convention. We were allowed to carry personal weapons, such as a pistol or a rifle.

So, on many of our missions, the gunships, if the area was hot, as we called it, and it was under fire, they would line up one on each side of us as we flew in to the landing zone, and they would fire suppressing fire for us. To at least get us into the area and it helped some but always, most of the time, we were receiving small arms fire, on almost all of our pickups in that area, despite the ability of the Vietnamese troops to set up security force and those kind of things.

There were many missions however, by the same token, that we went in without any problem; there was no enemy fire, we were able to go in and evacuate the wounded or the sick, and on occasion the dead, which we did bring out. So, those are the things that I remember. Just the distaste of war.

I was quite proud, as all of our people were, at that early time in the war of what we were doing; we didn't realize what we were going to come back to in the states in terms of how the people felt about us, because at that time there was no television. What we got was basically things from our loved ones at home who sent papers, articles, tapes that they had taped, and told us about things that were going on and so forth.

Louise Forshaw:

What were your living conditions like?

David D. Dryden:

They were not bad, actually. We lived in what we called Tranchet Huts, and we each had a separate room, walled off. About like being in a very small prison cell, so to speak. But we had a cot, a little screen door for the front. We had maid service, who, they came in and kept the floors clean and did our laundry. We had a little officers' club, the enlisted club, and that's where we went in to eat. The food was not very good; at some times we didn't know what we were going to get. We always had dried milk, usually. No fresh milk or things like that. The meals were sparse, but adequate. We certainly didn't hurt for food, per se.

We had a lot of fun at times. We played cards, we played poker, we played pinochle, many of the troops even at that time had their guitars and would play at times. We had some very nice times on occasion when we would get a rare load of steaks that might come in or hamburgers. We'd have cookouts. You know. So we all lost weight, but we didn't starve. It was quite good, actually, in retrospect. Showers available to us, so we lived relatively decent.

So I think, by and large, that's how I would describe that first tour. Many people had differing opinions, but we all really were supportive of what we were doing. Very dedicated to our mission. We had never, at the time I was there, despite the weather or the conditions; we never had a pilot who turned down a mission. We're proud of that.

Let's see, I guess from that time then I was sent back to the states for a military school. While I was in the school at Fort Sam Houston, which was a short course, I got a call and was asked if I would be interested in going to Japan. I said, "Well, what would the assignment be?" "Well we want you to go over, we're sending a new unit, establishing a new unit at Camp Zama, Japan," a new Med Evac detachment. It's mission will be to meet Air Force Airplanes at two Air Force bases in central Japan and pick up the wounded being evacuated by those C-130's out of Vietnam and transporting them to, at that time, which was six military hospitals, Navy, Air Force, and Army, within a perimeter that we could fly to, and they said we would have six helicopters and six pilots, etc., etc.

I said, "Well, what if I don't go." They said, "You're going back to Vietnam right after this course." I said, "Well, that makes my decision kind of easy doesn't it? How long would I be in Japan?" They said, "About two years, no promises, but about two years." I thought well, that's great, maybe the war will be over by then, I won't have to go back. So anyway, that was one of my - and I bring this up, because it was a related combat mission, one of which very few people were aware of it being done.

I want to read something, only because I was awarded an Army Commendation Medal, but I just briefly will read through this to give you the depth of what we did during the two years we were there and the significance. It was the 587th Medical Detachment. I was there from, according to this, the 23rd of May '66 to the 26th of April 1968. And it says that during this time I consistently displayed my technical ability, "he organized and led the newly activated detachment, charged with the mission of moving patients by helicopter ambulance in an off-shore support area, and originated effective standards of in-flight medical care and evacuation, procedures for all air-moved patients within Japan. Under his guidance and leadership his unit adapted to the requirement of transporting 259 to 7,444 patients per month, and a total of more than 51,000 patients, including seriously ill and burnt personnel, were moved by this detachment during this period of his tenure."

So I bring that up; there are other things that it says we accomplished there, but it was a very significant mission. We were seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, always had at least one crew on call. We generally had fairly advanced notice on when the aircraft were coming in, and many of them came in at night, many of them were, in fact, night missions. In addition to the patients, we transferred I can't remember how many units of blood we transported because at Camp Zama, they had a blood laboratory, and so there was both incoming and outgoing blood that was coming into that laboratory all the time.

We would load sometimes as many as two or three helicopter cabins just full of boxes of blood coming in one way or another to be transported. So that was another very significant part of that mission, very critical operation. Before we got there, those patients were being moved by ground, on rough roads, long trips, sometimes four or five or six hour rides to get where they were going in ambulances. So, it was untold saved lives because many of them were very critical when they came in, couldn't go any further, needed to be held in Japan for operations or further treatment. In some cases they went back to Vietnam.

In many cases, however, they were in such shape that then they were, again, as we picked them up and brought them back to the airfield, to the Air Force, where they were offloaded from our air craft right into the Air Force Transport Hospitals and then flown back to the hospitals in the United States. So it was again, a very interesting part of history, I think. That detachment, I lost track of what happened, but that detachment basically stayed there, I know, 'til the very close of the war in '71 or '72 and I don't know how many patients they must have moved in total after we left; it had to be phenomenal. A very good, rewarding part of my career.

Okay, so I guess from there -- I went back to Vietnam, and fortunately, we were sent back to the states; it was a new unit so several of us went at the same time to Japan, and formed the new unit. As I said, there were six pilots, six aircrafts, and a host of ancillary people, medics and mechanics. So, when it was time for us to leave and go back, many of us were leaving at the same time; we all had orders to go back to Vietnam. But, we as it were, since we had all gone essentially right from Vietnam to Japan and back, they sent us back to the states for a thirty day period, which really was to allow us to relocate our families and take care of them and then go back to Vietnam.

Anyway, I went back to Vietnam the second time in 1968 and I was initially assigned to the 45th Air Ambulance Company in Tan Son Nhut at the Saigon Airport, and I stayed there for only about a little less than thirty days, and then I was asked whether I wanted to stay there and be a platoon leader, or whether I wanted to go up north to Hue Phu Bai and become a detachment commander because that detachment commander was due to rotate. They were looking for, and I had been named, if I wanted it, to go up there.

This friend of my commanding officer, who I consider a friend, put no pressure on me; we had known each other a long time and had done some flying together and he said, "Look, you make the decision of what you want to do, and I'll be supportive," so it didn't take me long to say, "I want to be my own boss," so to speak, because I would work for a company commander if I stayed at Tan Son Nhut, I was going up to an independent detachment that was at Phu Bai, and it was assigned to the 66th, I think I'm right, the 66th Medical Group, which headquarters was in Da Nang, so I did not have a boss that was close at hand [Laughter], so to speak. I had pretty much free reign; it was my detachment and everything and I must say that the group commander, who was a very nice physician in command of that medical group, and his staff were extremely nice and supportive, gave us all the help we needed.

In any event, I took that detachment. We were at that time the only attachment that was that far north. We were, I'm trying to think of how far we were from the no-fly zone and the border area. Not far. But anyway, we covered that whole northern area for a period of time. Ultimately, the 101st Airborne Division came in and their camp headquarters was only about fifteen miles from us, and they had their own medical detachment that supported the 101st. Then subsequently there was another detachment that was assigned even further north of us, and they took care of the northern area, and all of us were flying in the Da Nang Valley.

Frequently we had to fly into the no zone area to evacuate people who had gone in for whatever reason. So the flying was much different there, a lot of mountains, tough terrain. We used the hoists on our aircrafts on many occasions to recover wounded or sick, because the area was so dense with trees and thick that we couldn't get to them, so the hoist would penetrate. They would try to watch us as best they could and guide us and keep us over, and we'd drop the hoist and bring them up in a basket. Those were dangerous missions, actually, because you were hovering just above the treetops or where ever you might be, and you were an open target to anything. Nobody really liked that mission, nobody ever refused it that I'm aware of, ever. But you were always glad to see that mission over.

There were some unfortunate crews that did not return. Many of our patients in that area were flown back to where we were located in Hue Phu Bai, we had the 22nd Surgical Hospital, which was a MASH, which we were co located with them. Our helipad sat right out front of their emergency entrance, and that's where we brought many of our patients back. On a number of occasions we had to search out and fly patients to the Navy Medical Ships, the USS Sanctuary, or the USS Repose which were hospital ships; neither of them were on station at the same time. One of them would be on station and the other would go re-supply and do the things they needed to do, but there was always one located anywhere from twenty-five to fifty miles out to sea. All head patients had to be flown out to those.

That was a very interesting aspect of our mission out there. We made numerous trips, both in good weather and bad weather, a lot of night missions, and they had radar that could help us find our way, but it was interesting landing at times. The seas sometimes were rough, and the winds fairly high, and they would position the aircraft just like they would do if they were an aircraft carrier, into the wind as best they could, and many of our landings were quite hard, actually, on the deck of those ships. I have, in my memory bank, some pictures; on one mission again, a friend I was replacing who was leaving as the detachment commander, he and I were on one of these missions, this one day - and we flew out to the ship, on a beautiful day, very nice; they weren't far out, probably twenty miles off the coast. We went in, and lo and behold, we knew something was up, and the deck became loaded with people, the whole staff -- nurses, doctors, corpsman, Navy people. Well, we made the five thousandth landing on the ship. They had baked a cake, and I have pictures of that, baked a cake for us, and congratulations, quite a memorable experience that we had again, one of those enjoyable times and very nice.

We had a great working relationship with the crews and the staff of both the Sanctuary and the Repose. They did everything they could to make our landings as safe as possible and again, it was a wonderful working relationship - as it was with any unit in Vietnam, when you were working with any other unit despite what it might be, whether it was a combat unit bringing you into an area, or whatever. So that was one of the more interesting experiences I had at Hue-Phu Bai. Again, I received a couple of awards, one soldier's medal.

I was there for an unusual event where, here again I was out flying one morning with a pilot on a check ride and we heard this emergency call coming into the Phu Bai airport. It was a Vietnamese aircraft that was smoking, and they thought they were on fire. So they came in, they landed and skidded off the runway. We happened to be - we heard them coming, so we positioned ourselves to be over there in case they crashed, we knew we'd be able to get out there quicker than the ambulance, actually. As it turned out, the aircraft went off the runway, was smoking.

We were first to get up beside it - and lo and behold, out of this aircraft - women, children, pigs, chickens [Laughter], you name it, were coming running out of there and, of course, our Corpsman ran over to help people get out. We assisted people, just minor injuries, but we were able to get that area cleaned some up very quickly. The aircraft did not catch on fire; they got the fire trucks out, sprayed it down. Again, we just happened to be Johnny-on-the-spot. Very lucky, it could have been anybody. You know, because of the fact that there's potential of a fire, I was over rewarded for what we did, in my view.

Louise Forshaw:

But somebody recognized it.

David D. Dryden:

Somebody recognized it in any event.

Louise Forshaw:

I'm going to ask you to spell "Phu Bai" for us.

David D. Dryden:

Okay, it's P-H-U B-A-I, and the Hue is H-U-E. It was called Hue Phu Bai, we were really in Phu Bai, but the area was called Hue Phu Bai. You may recall that Hue was where they had, actually, just before I got there, they had a tremendous battle in that city. Our detachment, of which I was not part of at that time, was recognized for all the work they did during the evacuation mission in that significant battle, which was awfully fierce and tough.

Louise Forshaw:

Did you ever become weary, either in spirit or body?

David D. Dryden:

Yeah, some days were long. We flew - it was not uncommon to, if the battle was big and depending on what was going on, we could be on station and on call for several hours and fly many missions in and out during the course of that battle and yes, there were times when you, you appreciated your down time, let's put it that way. Again, I should mention that the living conditions at Phu Bai, which were kind of stark compared to our living conditions in Soc Trang, because Soc Trang was an old Vietnamese airbase.

So you know, it had some structures and things and was a little more permanent. In Phu Bai there was nothing permanent and the 22nd Surg Hospital of course they had the tents and the things they lived in and so forth, and they were very jealous of us because the guy that I replaced was a hard worker and had a lot of pride, and they went up there and they scrounged lumber, they scrounged this, they scrounged that and they built a really quite nice compound for themselves, that everybody had living quarters; we call them permanent compared to tents. Living quarters, screened, both for the officers and enlisted, we were able to scrounge so we had hot water for showers. We did quite well.

We ate at the hospital mess, so that was nice for us, and the food was good. The hospital staff, because of the work we were doing, a tremendous relationship again with the nurses, all the nurses and the docs and the corpsmen, just a beautiful working relationship with the surgical hospital. It was run well, treated a tremendous number of patients, saved a lot of lives. It was just a very - again - rewarding, but it tugged at you a lot. Because we saw particularly, you know, in us going right to the battle scene, and many times getting out of the aircraft and going into the triage area, the emergency room, the hospital, we saw some terrible traumatic, terribly injured patients, and many who didn't make it. It was tough. We saw them die. It was pretty hard.

And so, let's see - what else is interesting in that area? The Ah Shaw Valley was famous for the fighting that went on out there. That was, again, a very difficult mission. On nights, very dark, very mountainous, difficult flying. Not uncommon, both in the delta and up there, that we were landing to things like flashlight, or even as small as a cigarette lighter, to find the location of where we were trying to get into. A lot of very difficult flying, but we had some really expert commissioned and warrant officers who were excellent, excellent pilots. The young warrants were nuts, they were - you couldn't scare them if you had to, I mean, just wonderful, dedicated people. And I guess, as best as I can recall, that's kind of the highlights of the things that we did. The nature of our mission, rewarding and tough to say that we left that country as we did, but none of us ever felt it was for naught. Most everybody said we did our part, did what we were asked to do.

Louise Forshaw:

It's the people who didn't go, who had the negative things to say.

David D. Dryden:

Yeah.

Louise Forshaw:

Well, now, you stayed in the service, after your combat duties. What kinds of duties and missions did you take on after that?

David D. Dryden:

After that, basically, I went to U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland, where they were developing vaccines and drugs for biological warfare efforts. We did some very interesting research. In that unit there were twenty-five doctors, twenty-five veterinarians, and twenty-five medical service corps officers who had Ph.D.'s and Master's degrees in every kind of science that you could believe. Microbiology, you name it, as were the veteranarians who were specialized.

We had a closed containment area, one of the only in the United States and in the world except for one in England as I recall - was well known for containment, so that if anybody was exposed to some of the things we were working on, if they punctured themselves or exposed, we had a full containment facility we'd put them in to be treated. People, you know, you've seen in the movies, funny suits, funny masks, air supply, so they could do it. In my tenure there, we only had one vet who stuck himself, I forget what he was working with, but he had to spend I guess it was two weeks in there 'til they decided that he was going to be safe, and he was okay. That was the only time we had exercised that unit.

That unit was known for having volunteers who came in, and volunteered to take the shots that we were working on and developing, and that was the other reason we had that unit in the event there was some kind of reaction by some of these volunteers. We had a place to put them and take care of them. These were almost always in every case conscientious objectors, who volunteered to do that. A lot of people don't realize - even though they did realize they were conscientious objectors who were in the Army and wouldn't carry weapons - they were always assigned to medical units and so on and so forth.

In fact, early on, I had forgotten, when I went to Fort Sam, between finishing my basic training course for the Medical Service Corps, I was assigned to a medical company in Fort Sam Houston, and our mission was to train the conscientious objector, because they didn't go to the other basic training courses, because the infantry, they all used weapons and so forth. So we had a modified program for training these conscientious objectors without weapons, and I can say that they were never a problem, they were good soldiers and you never had to worry about them. They - we had to modify our training schedule because of their religious beliefs, and when they went to church on Saturdays and etc., etc.

But just a wonderful experience for me and one that I'll never forget; I think it was a wonderful thing. Those men, at that time there were no women still, at that those men did just wonderful, and that's another part as I think about these things. So anyway, that was my assignment at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, I went from there to the 56th Medical Battalion, as a commander of the 56th Medical Battalion at Fort Ord, California, which was attached as the 7th Infantry Division. I had there an Army evacuation hospital which could take up to a thousand beds.

I had a MASH hospital under my command, I had an Air Detachment, I had a Medicine detachment under that command and our mission was really, should we deploy - it was in Germany, frequently, not during my tenure, but frequently these deployed unit would actually go to Germany for their training. Our training, I say lovingly, took place at Fort Erwin, California, out in the middle of the desert, just a lovely spot.

Did I ever wish I was in Germany? Yes I did. But that's where we went for our annual evaluation and test that every unit got that had to go through to see if you were combat ready and knew all your stuff and fortunately, during the tenure of my command, we did manage to pass that test, and I remember it well. My division, assistant division commander, I remember - came in after a long night, said, "Come in, I want to talk to you." I went into his area out in the field, he pulled out a bottle of Scotch and said, "Time we had a drink, congratulations." And we did, good memory.

One bad experience there is that in the Air Ambulance Detachment, not under my command, they lost a tail rotor at high altitude and the entire crew was killed. They couldn't recover, so the four people on board, and very sad part of my experience there, but -

Louise Forshaw:

Does that cast a pall on that experience for everybody for awhile?

David D. Dryden:

It was demoralizing, tremendously; the detached commander took it very hard. Because the altitude they were at, you know, it's basically thought that they should have been able to recover and get the aircraft down, but it didn't work out that way, the circumstances. Nobody really saw it; they called in an emergency and when we got to the spot there was virtually nothing left, to say the least. Again, a very disturbing thing that you had to go through, but part of the business. So I guess that kind of is my - we had a division commander whose last name was Major General Foote. Everybody used to tease that everything is measured by Foote's foot.

You didn't want to get too close, he was a tough commander. He had Brigadier General Carlson who was an even more difficult assistant division commander, who bugged us terribly in the motor pools and things. They were doing their thing - again, we did well and enjoyable. From there I went to Irwin Army Community Hospital, in Fort Riley, Kansas, as the Executive Officer, and at that time, all the military hospitals, including the Navy and Air Force, all commanded by doctors. Despite the fact that we were trained as hospital administrators, we were called executive officers; later, we got a fancier title as deputy commander of administration, and subsequently, after I left, things were changed and now most hospitals are run by trained - educationally by trained hospital administrators. And some are docs, some went on to get their degree in hospital administration but they were few and far between.

So anyway, at Irwin Army Community Hospital, again we were home of the Big Red One, 1st Infantry Division. Wonderful experience, we had a great relationship with the division. Of course, our support was to support the entire community of Fort Riley; dependents, military, retired, as best we could. Again, a very nice experience. I was very involved in the community. A very enjoyable, nice assignment. From there then I was, actually, I missed an assignment. I'll come back to it. After that I went to, was sent to William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, as the deputy commander of administration. I was there from 1982 to 1985 until I retired. I had a very nice experience in that hospital.

I forgot one assignment. Actually, I got my Master's degree via the Army Baylor University program. I was in school from 1969 to '71. Academically, I was in school for '69 to '70, and then we had to have a year's residency after that year of Master's degree work. Then you were given your degree after you completed your residency. I did my residency, then, at Turtle Army Hospital, in Savannah, Georgia, which was an old Air Force base; it had been converted. After I had been there for about four months -- I had a preceptor who was in fact the administrator of the hospital - we all had administrators, and they were our teachers. They gave us things to do, assignments, papers to write, tasks to do and what have you. Well, my preceptor got orders for Korea, after I had been there for about three and a half months.

So the query was, what are they going to do? And ironically enough, down at Fort Stewart, Georgia at a very small hospital there, there was another fully trained Baylor graduate who was stationed at Fort Stewart. So, in their wisdom, since it was forty miles away, they said, "We're not going to send anybody to Turtle; you can become the executive officer. The preceptor from Fort Stuart will monitor your work, and you'll be an administrator/ resident." Again, that was rather unique; that didn't happen very often. I'm not sure of anybody who had that happen to them without actually completely their year of residency. Again, for me it was beautiful. My boss was forty miles away, great guy, he came to visit me about once every two weeks. Would give me things to do, but gave me my own rope to hang myself, so to speak. So it was, again a very unique interesting assignment.

From there then, I had a chance to stay there as the executive officer. I toyed with that, but my alternative was to go to Tripler Army Medical Center, in Honolulu, Hawaii, as the inspector general for that big medical center. I toyed things over, and I said, "I've had a pretty good experience here, I'm going to opt to take that job in Hawaii." So I was sent to the Army's Inspector General training course, which was quite extensive and great, and ultimately went to Tripler, where I stayed from 1971 to 1974 as the inspector general of that medical center. So that kind of brings me back to where I was after all of that. Kind of disjointed, but maybe we can put it all together.

Louise Forshaw:

But you retired from Beaumont, right?

David D. Dryden:

Yes.

Louise Forshaw:

Okay, what did you do with yourself after your retirement?

David D. Dryden:

You know, I retired. Actually, I was planning on spending thirty years, but I got this civilian job offer. So I decided I would take it, and it was with a for-profit psych company who ran psych hospitals, and they had about fourteen at the time, most of them in the Southeast. They asked me if I would be interested in a hospital in Jacksonville, North Carolina. That is the home of forty thousand Marines, Camp LeJuene, in that city. I said to myself, "Well, I'll take a look at it." So of course, they sent me down, my wife and I, and I took the job. I didn't like it. My first job, but it was for profit, and I didn't like that. I didn't specifically like the business ethics of this particular company, and so six months after there, I told them I was very unhappy and I was probably not going to stay with them. I kind of put them on notice. Then in nine months I had really made up my mind, and I said, "You know, I just can't - I'm not a fit." They liked me, I did well, they offered me all kinds, they said, "Being a trouble shooter for us, or we'll send you to another hospital." I said, "No." And I didn't want to tell them basically that I was distasteful of their business ethics, I probably should have. But they were young; the company was owned by a lawyer who put a million dollars of loan money into the company. We parted on nice terms, and, as it worked out, there was an assistant administrator's job coming available at the local county hospital in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Onslow Memorial Hospital. So I went over and talked to the administrator. He was a very nice guy, we got along, and he interviewed me. It wasn't long before he called me back and said, "If you want the job, it's yours." So I talked to my wife and we stayed. I took that job.

I was in that job for two years and was actually in line to becoming the administrator because the administrator was retiring, and I didn't have a lot because being a county hospital they had to go through a procedure of recruiting and so forth, which they did. In the meantime, right after he had told me, he said that he was retiring and said, "This job is probably yours if you want it, no promises but you get along well with the board, my guess is..." So anyway, I got a call from a friend who was in Beaumont with me, he was the deputy commander for the medical part of the business at William Beaumont, an orthopedic surgeon. He was in Albuquerque. He said, "Dave, do you know anyone who would be interested in coming and taking a job as administrator of a small children's orthopedic hospital in Albuquerque?" I said, "Don, I don't know. Let me call you back tomorrow." My wife was there when the call came in; we were having a Christmas party. I got home that night and she said, "What did Don Vichick ask you?" So I told her. She said, "I know somebody; you call him back and tell him you're interested." [Laughter] So long story short, I called him back and he said, "Well, we got to have your resume, fax it right away to me, they're closing the search." So I got that job. I went to Carrie Tingley Children's Hospital in Albuquerque, where I was the administrator for eight and a half years. Then I said I'm going to retire and go to Las Cruces, is what I told my wife and everybody. That's part of the University of New Mexico of course. When I first went to the hospital it was state, then they moved it. About the time before all this transpired, a job came open in Roswell, New Mexico, at the state's rehabilitation hospital. Our daughter lived in Roswell; she was a divorcee with one grandchild and I said to my wife, "You know, we ought to go over there." My wife didn't want to go but, like a good wife, she continued to follow me. So I put my hat in the ring for that job and got it. So then I became the director of the Southern New Mexico Rehabilitation Facility in Roswell. That job I kept for two years, and then retired and came to Las Cruces.

Louise Forshaw:

You retired for real and came to Las Cruces.

David D. Dryden:

That's it in a nutshell, kind of disjointed.

Louise Forshaw:

Well, you certainly have had a long career and made many contributions to different people.

David D. Dryden:

I had a great time. I miss the Army tremendously, I'd go back in a heartbeat.

Louise Forshaw:

Alright, now, tell us why you miss it.

David D. Dryden:

Well, I miss the camaraderie, the closeness of people. The fact that we really have a unified mission, and with rare exception you've got everybody that's supportive of that, be they military or civilian. I've worked with some beautiful civilian staff people in hospitals, in my military career. The relationship, I guess, [inaudible] no matter how hard you try, you're always thinking in the same direction, the same line, going for the same purpose. Not many people are trying to divide or diverge from that. That's just what I got out of it, I think. I think it was people who, I hate to say this, but they knew who the boss was and you didn't have to make a big issue of it. And when somebody said, "We have a job to do," people pitched in and got it done, under trying and difficult circumstances. Many times short of people, short of money, short of whatever and with very little back biting, very little complaining. And very few, in my career, very few disciplinary problems that I ever had to deal with. I just think the people were wonderful.

Louise Forshaw:

Well, as you know, people who are coming after us will be reading or listening to your account or experiences. Is there anything you'd like to say to people who haven't had the opportunities and experiences?

David D. Dryden:

I would just say that serving your country in any of the services, Coast Guard, Navy, Marine, etc., makes no difference. It's just a great contribution and I personally still wish we had the draft. I really do. I think everybody grows tremendously from the experience of being able to work and serve your country, and you know for that matter, I don't care what it might be. Any related service, where you're able to serve your country I think is a great experience, and a great thing to learn from and you meet some awfully dedicated and nice people.

Louise Forshaw:

Well, thank you. This completes our interview with Colonel David Dryden.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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