From 1967-68, Ramiro “Ram” Chavez was an Army medic in Vietnam.
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Ramiro “Ram” Chavez stays involved in veteran activities in his hometown Corpus Christi, Texas.
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The voice on the other end of the long-distance call was friendly and conversational.

Ramiro “Ram” Chavez was driving in Texas, taking his wife to her scheduled doctor’s appointment. The Vietnam veteran agreed to a phone interview for the next morning when he’d be at home and readily available to share his story.

In this initial conversation, he showed he liked to tell jokes and he wasn’t shy about talking about his experiences. He was an Army medic as a Soldier in Vietnam.

“I was decorated for saving lives, not for taking them,” Chavez said.

Decades after the war, he went to a doctor’s appointment in San Antonio. The doctor held onto his soft hands and asked if he washed his hands often. His wife, Janie, replied that he did. Chavez had never considered that his past had led to this obsession with handwashing.

Chavez, who had become a band director, music teacher and school administrator, recalled that his unit was ambushed in Vietnam. One young Soldier was hit in the groin area; another guy was wounded below the knee. Chavez, the medic, sprang into action to treat them both. His hands were covered in blood. His uniform was covered in blood.

“We would take our shirts off to make litters to carry the wounded,” he recalled.

The doctor’s query made him remember these experiences. It dawned on Chavez that he continuously washed his hands after the war to cleanse them of all the blood that covered them while treating the wounded.

“For years I washed my hands,” he said. “That was my PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). It was such a relief to tell the doctor that; it became easy for me to talk about it.”

Our interview continued as scheduled the next morning and into the afternoon.

The Corpus Christi, Texas, native served in the Army from April 1967 to April 1969 and left as a specialist 5. He was a 21-year-old private first class and a medic when he arrived at Long Binh in September 1967 for his yearlong tour. He joined C Company, a medical company, in the 7th Support Battalion in the 199th Light Infantry Brigade.


Vietnam revisited

Part 370 in series


His first combat experience came Dec. 6, 1967, when his base camp was notified that one of its companies had inadvertently walked into a North Vietnamese army camp and was being annihilated. Medics were needed immediately. He and two other medics were rushed by helicopter to the Iron Triangle, west of Saigon near the Cambodian border, at the Nashua landing zone. Chavez experienced four days of what became known as one of the 12 bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War. This was the enemy’s preparation for the Tet Offensive which would happen a month later.

“Between Dec. 6th and the time I left, it was an upside-down world for me,” Chavez said. “It changed my life completely.”

From Jan, 1 to May 5, 1968, he served as the senior medic for D Company, 4th Battalion, 12th Infantry. He was scheduled to leave the field May 5, but he voluntarily returned May 6-10 after his replacement got killed. He was wounded in the forehead by shrapnel May 6, southeast of Saigon.

Major battles he experienced included the Nashua landing zone Dec. 6, 1967; the Tet Offensive Jan,. 30-31, 1968; the fighting at a racetrack and near a Catholic church, Feb. 20-25, 1968, in Cholon, a suburb of Saigon; and the Easter Offensive, May 6-10, 1968. He said he wants to honor the memory of those who were killed in action.

“My mission in life has always been to remember what happened and honor the veterans and my family with my service,” Chavez said. “If we don’t remember, who will? You came back but they didn’t. The least you can do is remember.”

Chavez received the Combat Medical Badge, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with “V” for valor, the Army Commendation Medal, the Purple Heart, the Good Conduct Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Ribbon with four bronze stars for four major campaigns, the Valorous Unit Award and the Presidential Unit Citation. His tour ended in September 1968.

He returned to Vietnam in 2017 and found the locations where he had fought.

He and Janie, his wife of 51 years, reside in Corpus Christi. Their son, Ramiro, resides in San Antonio; and both daughters, Viola Chavez-Flores and Rachelle Chavez-Cintron, live in Corpus Christi. They have 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. “And they all have dogs except us,” Chavez said laughing.

Retired after 25 years with the Corpus Christi school district, he was a band director, music teacher and assistant principal. He received a bachelor’s in music education from Texas A&I-Kingsville, now known as Texas A&M-Kingsville, in 1974. He received a master’s in school administration from Corpus Christi State University, now Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, in 1984.

Chavez, 76, is founder and organizer of the Veterans Band of Corpus Christi, which is in its 36th year. He is a life member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Disabled American Veterans and the Vietnam Veterans of America. He also belongs to the American Legion and the National Association of Medics and Corpsmen. He enjoys playing and writing music; he started on the clarinet and plays tenor sax, keyboards and flute.

He shared his thoughts on this nation’s commemoration of 50 years since the Vietnam War.

“It was about time,” he said. “We’ve been involved with it since the beginning.”

Editor’s note: This is the 370th in a series of articles about Vietnam veterans as the United States commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.