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Interview with Stanley Gensler [4/20/2012]

Aaron Goldstein:

If we could begin, the name of the veteran is Stanley. His birthday was 5-12-1935. Served in Vietnam in the United States Army Medical Corp. Highest rank achieved was Captain. The recording is taking place on 4-20-2012 in West Palm Beach Florida. My name is Aaron Goldstein and I am Stanley’s grandson and I am being assisted by Daniel Leder. The interview is being conducted for the Veteran’s History Project for the Library of Congress and thank you very much for assisting us. Sir just to begin with some few life details of yours, where were you born and if you could talk a little about your family?

Stanley Gensler:

I was born in New York city, the Bronx to be exact. I was the middle of two other children. We were brought up in Yonkers, New York. Moved there at about age four; went to high school in Yonkers; Yonkers High School. Then I went to NYU- Uptown Division. Following that, I was admitted to Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx; spent four years there. Then I went on to my surgical residency for four years at the Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. Then following that, I was inducted into the army. I spent the first year in Colorado Springs and then the second year in Vietnam; mash surgical unit in South Vietnam just below Saigon. Is that just about what you need?

Aaron Goldstein:

Good thank you! Can you talk a little bit about whether you were drafted, your enlistment, and how you were a doctor and in college and exactly how that worked?

Stanley Gensler:

At that particular time, a draft occurred; a drafting young men were in two different categories. Number one, the general draft, and I believe it was between 18 and 25. Then there was a different draft for physicians which could go up to 35-37 years of age. Some of the physicians were right out of medical school. Some of the physicians were in residency programs and some of the physicians were already in private practice and they had to give up their private practice and go into the Army.

Aaron Goldstein:

So you were enlisted?

Stanley Gensler:

Alright, in that particular time, there was something called Berry Plan which the Army allowed you to, if you were in your surgical residency, the Army allowed you to complete your surgical residency before going in. It was called being and obligated volunteer. That’s a good way to English. I chose to do that so I signed the papers after my second year in residency of the four years. And after I completed my residency, I completed my surgical boards and then a couple months later, it was my fourth year of residency, I completed it, was certified, and was inducted into the Army as a Captain.

Aaron Goldstein:

And all the other people that got drafted in the middle of their residency, did they just become medics?

Stanley Gensler:

Yeah the Army could use you however they wanted to

Aaron Goldstein:

So it was almost like an insurance policy, by finishing you ensured you were going to become a doctor?

Stanley Gensler:

Yeah that’s right. I was more valuable as a certified surgeon than someone who was drafted in between his residency and had not completed his residency. It was a smart deal on both sides. The Army got a qualified surgeon and the surgeon was allowed to complete his residency.

Aaron Goldstein:

So if you went in as a Captain, how exactly did boot camp work? Because isn’t it run by sergeants?

Stanley Gensler:

Yeah

Aaron Goldstein:

They were trying to tell you what to do and that didn’t work out to well?

Stanley Gensler:

Yeah I received my letter telling me to show up at Fort Carson, correction, at Fort Sam Houston in Texas. That’s where you receive your uniforms and all the equipment that you needed. They tried to teach us how to march and formation etc. It was a losing battle. I felt sorry for the poor sergeant who was out ranked by everybody in the area and he tried his best. Part of the training, also, for two weeks we went to a place right out of Houston called Fort Bulles which was in Texas also. And that was for basic training as such. They taught us how to use a compass. They taught us how to use various weapons. They, as a climax, had us crawling on our stomachs while they shot machine guns over our heads. And that was the end of our training.

Aaron Goldstein:

How was it adapting to the military life coming from the civilian life.

Stanley Gensler:

We didn’t take it too seriously really. We knew that we had a job to do as a medical officer. All this other marching. We continued throughout the time we were there. I can’t say it was a big joke but it was unnecessary harassment, really.

Aaron Goldstein:

Because you had a set job and you didn’t want to deal with the Army?

Stanley Gensler:

Yeah, Yeah

Aaron Goldstein:

So what happened after basic training?

Stanley Gensler:

After basic training, we received our basic orders. My orders sent me to Colorado Springs, which was very very nice for a year. We were attached to the hospital there, which I believe was the 9th division infantry division hospital. We took care of both the military personal and the dependence. Our usual existence there was operating in the morning, finishing between 11 and 1 and we were free for the rest of the day really. However, I was fortunate that they were out of space on the Army base so we had a house; we got a house off base which was very very nice. We had Pikes Peak in the distance with snow on it. Very pleasant. I had a bunch of friends going through the same but each time we went on the base, we had a salute going in. We were harassed at times where the General wanted us to get up at 3 a.m. and make formation. It was freezing and it was taken because we had to take it. It was a waste of time but that was about our existing. It was very nice to have a family, when family came, and we had a house and enough sustenance to have a decent life to enjoy ourselves.

Aaron Goldstein:

Then how was the transition from that to Vietnam?

Stanley Gensler:

Well I remember coming up to the house. Your mom, Susan, was at the window, she usually greeted me. She was about a year old. She would be waving through the window and sure enough I came up to the door and your grandma saw that I was quiet and not very happy. She said "were you called in?" and Yep. They lifted our entire base, really, because they were supplying a new hospital in Vietnam; one of the MASH units. MASH, as you may know, stands for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. The purpose was to create a hospital which they could move around, much like MASH the TV. show. But these were complicated type of Quonset hut in which the hut was blown up with compressed air like the tubes of a tire so that we ended up with unit like this and the canvas floor was quite nice, clean, air conditioned, and we had units for surgery, for pre-op, post-op and x-ray. That was the type of unit we had. Just before going there, your grandma and I went to San Francisco, had a nice couple of day, and then we took off by severely incontractic plane to go to Vietnam. We landed by a place called Pleiku and it was a sharp contrast; sand bag filled areas to sleep, the night before we got there, got mortared so everything suddenly became very very serious. I was assigned to the MASH unit down in the delta. The only way we could get there was by helicopter because the entire area was, Viet Cong, was running all over the place. So we took a helicopter ride into Dong Tam. Dong Tam was a unique base in that Westmoreland, he was the big general during that time, had the idea of putting a base in the middle of the Macon Delta. Now what he did was take a pumping unit, large pumping units, and take the silt of the river and pile it up, creating dry land and an island. That’s what he did for the year I was there; the island got bigger and bigger and finally not only helicopter but regular cargo planes could land there. We were, as I say, surrounded. It was not safe to go off base. The artillery was around us. We got mortared frequently. What aggravated us, really, was some Vietnamese were called in to act as, if you want to call it servant or whatever, to clean our barracks and do menial labor around the camps. We noticed after getting mortared a couple of times that they would come out after everything was quiet and sort of pace off where the mortared had gone so the next time that they shut the borders, which usually was at night, they were a little more accurate; really peeled us. The casualties came in mostly by helicopter because the roads weren’t really safe. They would come in, we would get them off the helicopter, bring them into the pre-op tent, give them anything necessary to stop the bleeding and or give them a transfusions also.

Aaron Goldstein:

Were most casualties were Army, Navy, Marines?

Stanley Gensler:

This was an army base so most was army. We also had a contingent later on with the Navy; those things that went through the air compression, the airboats. So we got some of those. We also on occasion would get the CIA planes coming in. We knew they were CIA because 2 things: number 1 they usually showed up or beat up at around 4 o’clock in the morning and number 2, the planes were a different color, not planes, but helicopter were another color so we knew they were the CIA type. The purpose of the unit was to try and save life, stabilize the patient, and if we could, number 1, well it didn’t affect his triage, that is, the wounded would come in, we’d see what category to put them in. Even number 1, they could be bandaged up and put aside. 2 and 3 usually would be more severe and had to be operated on as soon as possible and number 4 would be dead. The ones that we operated on had a good record. Things change between each of the wars as you possible know. Possibility dying after a wound in World War 2, if I’m not mistaken, was somewhere about 20 percent . In Korean War, where they started helicoptering them in was down to 7 percent, I think. In Vietnam, it was less than 2 percent.

Aaron Goldstein:

So that’s if you got to them in the MASH?

Stanley Gensler:

Yeah, if you came in alive, you could usually save them with a mortality rate of 1 to 2 percent. The purpose, as I say, was to try and stabilize them, operate them if you had to, and get them out to a field hospital which was a bigger hospital in Saigon. We didn’t have enough bed capacity to keep them there. Either you went back to your unit after having a Band-Aid put on or you were shipped out as soon as you could. The more severe, really, after going to the field hospital in Saigon, were, and it was noted that they could were not in good enough condition to go back to the war, they were flown to either Japan or to the States; it was a direct flight to the States. I had an opportunity there, it was the only time I volunteered, to go to Japan that is on these large planes. They would line up the wounded on stretchers on both sides, going all the way up. There were no seats except for a small section and the nurses were with us and we accompanied them and took care of them if there was an emergency on the way to Tokyo. Then I sort of got lost after I deposited my wounded. Somehow, we were supposed to sign up as soon as we got back to get back; to get a transportation back. But somehow, I lost my way.

Aaron Goldstein:

For a couple of day?

Stanley Gensler:

For a couple of days, yeah. I had my tour of Tokyo. It was very interesting.

Aaron Goldstein:

Did you do anymore, uh-uh, traveling or R and R? Where did you go?

Stanley Gensler:

Well, before R and R, we did, I got off the base twice. Number one, I did a stupid thing. Um, one of the medical officers, uh, went to the (uh) Vietnamese hospital in the Mi To, which was the (um) village town, um the native village town. And, uh, I decided to take a ride with him, uh, and we did. We got the jeep and we went into town, one of the reasons was because your mother had a birthday coming up, and I wanted to get her a present. Uh, we saw the town market, which was very interesting. Um, we, uh, saw the thousand year eggs, the hundred year eggs, a native delicacy in which they would bury the egg in the ground for many, many years and then take them out and eat them, (um, pause) which was interesting. And then, fortunately we got back, we rode back, and we found out that (uh) two hours after we got into the base (uh), the next group of jeeps were attacked (uh), fortunately no one died in that. So that wasn’t too smart. The other time we went off was one of the USO shows in Saigon, (uh) we were somehow manipulated our way into getting onto a helicopter which took us to Saigon. We saw the show which was very very good, the Bob Hope Show at that particular time, I don’t know if you would know him. He went through all the wars and would entertain the soldiers. A very nice show, some young ladies (uh) got very good reception on the stage and then we flew back. Those were the only two times, other than R and R, that I got off the base.

Aaron Goldstein:

And how about R and R?

Stanley Gensler:

R and R, we had two R and R’s really. One, um, the first one I went to was Hong Kong, (uh) which was a, I believe, week or ten day type of thing in Hong Kong and your Uncle Joel and Aunt Joan lived there so I was treated very nicely, they took me around. I saw everything, bought a whole bunch of things because at that time you really could get bargains there. Fantastic. Some of the people went to Thailand. I didn’t do that. In fact, some of the men had their wives fly to Thailand and, particularly in the Air Force, and they were able to take weekends in which they hitched a ride to Thailand, was with their wife. So there were many ways of playing the game really. Then the second R and R, I went to Hawaii and met, um, your grandma there, we had a week, and then we came back.

Aaron Goldstein:

And how was it having like a week of break and then coming back? It must have stunk coming back.

Stanley Gensler:

We were not happy fellows, that’s for sure, and when we landed at Tan Son Nhut, which was the Air Force base in Saigon, coming back from Hawaii, uh, they had been bombarded the night before, and you saw a lot of damage being done so, uh, we snapped out of that very rapidly.

Aaron Goldstein:

And how was it, uh, like the environment on the base? Was it mostly other doctors if it was a MASH?

Stanley Gensler:

Oh no, we were on the Army base. We had what they call a hooch, which was a two-level wooden structure with a, um, metal roof. Uh, the officers were billeted separately than the enlisted men. Enlisted men generally were either in the hooch or a tent on a platform. It was either very, very rainy, uh, and muddy up to the knees almost during the monsoons, which were the rains that come through there, or it was very dry with dust coming up and when the helicopters came in the dust went all over the place. It was disgusting.

Aaron Goldstein:

Did you win any awards while you were there?

Stanley Gensler:

Ah, they gave me a Bronze Star. Nothing special, really. I did what I was supposed to do. One night we were being mortared so we were in the bunker and we got a information that there was a wounded, uh, and so I was on duty so I went out and uh...

Aaron Goldstein:

While you were being mortared?

Stanley Gensler:

Yeah, yeah. Well, you know, you got to do what you got to do.

Aaron Goldstein:

So you were awarded the Bronze Star. How’s that? Is it your commanding officer awards it to you?

Stanley Gensler:

Yes, yes, right, that’s exactly.

Aaron Goldstein:

And, um, what else. How did you, did you ever have to take care of any Viet Cong? How did you balance your, uh, like rules as a doctor with, you know, the fact that they were your enemy?

Stanley Gensler:

We treated them just the same as us except that we took care of our wounded first and then we took care of them. From experiences with the Viet Cong who came in, they always came in with a translator, took them into the operating room. Uh, and sometimes, the anesthesiologist worked with the translator to try and get information because when they gave them the truth serum to try and put them asleep, they sometimes got some information that way. Otherwise we, you know, we operated the same. In the recovery room, they were with the soldiers, too. They were treated just as well. The only other thing that we did also was we had plenty of blood donors, fortunately, and when we finished, if we had excess blood, what we would do with that we took the bottles into the, um, um, army hospital, the Vietnamese Army hospital, and they used those what we considered expired, but it was safe to use them.

Aaron Goldstein:

Did you do any work on the native Vietnamese population?

Stanley Gensler:

Civilian, yeah, civilian. Number one this fellow I went into the village with he actually went into the native villages and uh had clinics for the civilians, and we did some surgery on civilians but once again the army personnel came first and then they took care of them. Uh one interesting thing Westmoreland came to visit the wounded uh at our base uh and uh big hallelujah occurred when he was there all the officers "yes sir no sir" it was uh very interesting. It was uh, he seemed a nice fellow he went to speak to each of the wounded, he seemed concerned.

Aaron Goldstein:

What did you do during your time off duty, what did you do for recreation in the base?

Stanley Gensler:

Well that varied uh, number one the officers were separate from the enlisted men as I say we had an officer’s club if you want to call it. Uh in which uh in the evening uh you had all the liquor you wanted, um sometimes there was, one year I remember one time, pig roast in which they had a pig and put him on a spickit and for twenty four hours had the uh flame going to cook it and they had a party, the times it occurred then towards the end um I think it was a month left uh number one they brought in some photographic material so we could take photographs uh and number two they even put in a swimming pool for us, this was already when the base had become five miles in size because it was continuing, uh playing cards was uh very frequent, a lot of good poker games I mean uh you missed a lot, and uh what else, uh that’s about it really, writing letters, receiving letters uh we received uh I received from your moth I mean grandma uh recordings on cassettes and we would play those uh your mom heard when she was growing up that one year really well, your grandma did a good job keeping me in place with what was going on.

Aaron Goldstein:

And going into Vietnam could you know the set time you were going to be in Vietnam and then you would get released back to America?

Stanley Gensler:

Yes at that time, one year uh at a time you were kept there for one year then you’re out.

Aaron Goldstein:

So how was the process of going back home, how did that work?

Stanley Gensler:

Well we took a plane to San Fransisco and went to, I don’t know what they call it the building in which we decommissioned, when we went up to the window they would ask us "Well do you want to reenlist" they said they would make me a major if I reenlisted and I said "no thank you" and then we took a plane ride from there to New York and your Grandmother, family greeted me in a committee.

Aaron Goldstein:

How was it returning to the home life, I know there was a lot of protest to the war, over here how was it?

Stanley Gensler:

At that particular time several things occurred, number one we had uh a television set by the way at the officers club and Martin Luther King was assassinated at that time so that was a big shock, we saw the protests on television which didn’t make us feel very good, and uh so we knew what was going on to a certain extent and uh coming home, I fortunately had a family, your grandma, your great grandma, uh your mother stayed uh your mother, your grandmother, stayed at my mom’s house while I was at Vietnam, so I had uh I came back to a stable environment I uh was not subjected to the narcotics and everything else that was going on that the read front lines. So the transition was very quiet for awhile and then I decided well geez I better make a living and I got a I joined a group on Rhode Island.

Aaron Goldstein:

How was the army pay while you were in there?

Stanley Gensler:

It was a as I would say captains pay, which was about the same as I received during my residency, I think we made all of ten thousand per year, uh ten or eight somehow I figured eighteen thousand sounds right.

Aaron Goldstein:

And coming back have you, do you stay in touch with any of the veterans you met or get involved in the organizations.

Stanley Gensler:

Yeah I as far as kept in touch a very close friend lived up in Connecticut and was close to me and his wife were good friends they would talk often when we were in Vietnam. And we kept going with them for quite a while and then one fellow came from yonkers, so he was the post office clerk, enlisted man and he came up one day we were out on the porch, he came up and invited us to a party that his parents gave him, unfortunately he like the most of us was exposed to agent orange and he ended up losing a leg, because of amputating a leg he got cancer and required amputation, other than that no I didn’t keep in touch, Rosemary that is your grandma as usual did all the socializing.

Aaron Goldstein:

And lastly, looking back do you have any life lessons that you learned from your military service and experience?

Stanley Gensler:

Well you got to do what you do, what you can, what you are obligated to do, and the army was a unique experience, one that I would not want to repeat and but you have an obligation you have to fulfill it and that’s what we did.

Aaron Goldstein:

Well thank you very much sir we appreciate you spending some time with us.

Stanley Gensler:

Thank You.

 
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