Jake Cordova of Idaho Falls served as a medic for the 116th Eng. Battalion in the Vietnam War and is proud of the fact that he came from a fairly decorated unit.
“One of my medics got a Silver Star which is the third highest honor,” Cordova said. “We had a lot of things going for us.”
Bill Keats, who served in the 116th Battalion after Cordova’s group left, told Cordova once, “You guys set the bar. You guys set the standard and we had to live up to that.”
Cordova said the secret of his unit’s success was that they were all friends.
“We were friends that knew everything about everybody,” he said. “We were also special to one another and that really made a difference.”
It didn’t matter if they were from A Company or B Company or C or D.
“I referred to anyone in our unit as ‘one of our guys,’” he said. “So it was more of a comfortable feeling. It was a good situation being all together even though it was a bad situation we were put into.”
As a medic, he received eight weeks of training, which amounted to several anatomy and physiology classes, clinics on how to give shots, and lessons on how to stop bleeding and prevent shock. Doctors rotated through their base in Vietnam every six months.
“We did learn from the doctors,” Cordova said.
Right before heading to Vietnam, they had training in Fort Lewis, WA.
“We were a combat engineering unit so all they did was train combat engineers. They didn’t have training for my medics,” Cordova said.
But they did the best they could.
Cordova stayed at headquarters with the doctor where they had sick call in the mornings. Sometimes in the afternoons they would take an interpreter and visit the camps of the Vietnamese people and attend to any of their sick or wounded.
Cordova sent two medics to each company. His men were sent to work on projects such as roads and bridges and to be on hand in case someone got hurt, Cordova said.
“They ended up spreading out our unit into three areas. I think they knew it would devastate a whole community if something happened and we were overrun,” Cordova said.
Cordova and his friend Brian Morgan, also a medic, originally joined the National Guard in 1963. They wanted to do something that could help them in their civilian life and so both chose to be medics. Morgan did end up returning to become a fire fighter and EMT, but Cordova came back as a salesman in the clothing store where he worked prior to service. He became an owner of the store, but it closed down in 1978 when the Country Club Mall opened. Cordova then went into the insurance business.
He got divorced a few months after returning home from Vietnam.
“An awful lot of guys got divorced. I think what happened was when you got back you thought, ‘I just survived a war. Why would I want to survive a bad marriage?’”
But the worst was for the single guys who received Dear John letters.
“That is the worst thing any lady can do to a guy. It’s definitely not the thing to do to a guy in a combat situation,” he said.
He knows a few friends who suffered from PTSD.
“We saw terrible situations but not too many casualties. I was going to a combat zone and I was going to be a medic so I had to prepare myself for that. What we saw wasn’t good, but we were able to talk about it and deal with it.”
He said most were able to blank out the bad experiences and move on.
He said one of his fellow medics told him later, “I wouldn’t trade that experience for a million dollars. But I wouldn’t go back and do it again for a million dollars either!”
He sometimes reminisces about 1968. The year they were called up was a terrible year, he said. John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
“We had an interesting year in Vietnam,” Cordova said. “Although we were all in the same war, all these people had their own experiences that stick in their mind.”
Jerry Jensen, Cordova’s First Sergeant, enjoyed working with him.
“He was one of our two medics and they would get our medical supplies,” Jensen said. “They were great folks to work with. When duty called we answered the call and served our country the best way we knew how.”