Army Medic Combat, Vietnam War
Training/Duty Stations - Basic training, Fort Dix, N.J., September to November 1967. Air training, Fort Sam Houston, Texas Nov. 1967 to Jan. 1968
Stephen Cobb, U.S. Army
Vietnam Units - February 1968 to February 1969, 11th Armored Calvary Regiment Platoon Medic 3rd Platoon; Lima Troop, 3rd Squadron, 10 1/2 months; Medic/Medical Specialist 37th Medical Company 11th ACR 1 1/2 months
Combat Operations Participated in 11th ACR Operation Valley Forge, Operation Alcorn Grove, Operation Clifton Corral
Medals, awards - Combat Medic Badge, Good Conduct First Award, National Defense Medal, Army Commendation with Bronze Star (1 for saving life), Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnamese Campaign, Presidential Unit Citation, New York State Conspicuous Service Medal , New York State Military Commendation, New York State Merit Award
Education - Graduated from Fredonia High School Class of 1964, attended University of Buffalo 1967, BA Political Science SUNY Fredonia, Associates Degree in Nursing JCC 1976, BA Social Studies SUNY Fredonia 1992, MA, Curriculum Development SUNY Fredonia 1996
Married - August 21, 1971 to Susan (Purcell)
Children: Justin, Evan, Collin; wife April (Dingman)
Stateside Unit: Dunham Army Hospital, U.S. Army War College, Carlisle, Pa., Feb. 1969 to July 1970; Emergency Room, Outpatient Clinic and Ambulance Driver; New York National Guard 1974-1988 Co. A 1-27th Armor 42nd Division Company Medic.
Worked 17 years as a Social Studies teacher primarily in the middle school in the Fredonia Central School District.
Currently is the Instructor-Coordinator for EMT Training SUNY Fredonia. Deputy Fire Coordinator of Emergency Medical Services - Office of Emergency Services Chautauqua County.
Stephen Cobb was born in Jamestown. His parents were the late Marden E. and Betty Cobb and Fredonia was his hometown throughout his childhood. Steve's dad worked for the gas company and his mother was a homemaker and later a teacher in the city of Dunkirk school system. He has two siblings, an older brother John who lives today in Linwood, Ill., and a sister Mary who lives in Dunkirk and teaches piano at SUNY Fredonia.
Steve enjoyed a small town childhood. He was outdoors as much as he could be. His parents moved out to live on a grape farm on Berry Road in the late 1950s. Steve's father was very active in Boy Scouts and that spilled over to Steve and he was able to attend Philmount Scout Ranch and work at the Scouting Pavilion at the 1964-65 World's Fair. Cobb obtained the rank of Eagle Scout.
After graduating from the Fredonia High School in 1964 he headed off to Paul Smith's College to obtain a degree in forestry. But that never happened since he transferred to the University of Buffalo the next year. He then did very poorly in school and eventually left UB. With this departure, and with the Vietnam War heating up, the draft call up numbers were increasing and he lost his student deferment. He did attend Fredonia State part-time in 1967.
With the potential of being drafted into who knew what, he, against the wishes of his parents, enlisted in the Army in May of 1967 under the delayed enlisted program. When he signed up the recruiter asked him what he wanted to do and the reply was to become a medic. The response from the recruiter was not typical: he said, "Do you know there is a war going on and you will be there for sure?"
Cobb entered the Army in September of that year and did his basic training at Fort Dix, N.J. His dad, who had been in the service in the 1930s warned him to keep his mouth shut throughout the training and everything should be OK. That advice obviously worked as he was one of the only 22 members of his company to get an early promotion to Private E2 at the end of basic. He was now earning $55 a month.
One interesting episode from basic took place while the platoon was doing bayonet training. The trainee had to stab a dummy while yelling "kill, kill, kill." Cobb could not get into this killer mode and was soon being dressed down by a drill sergeant. He was finally asked by the sergeant what his MOS (what his job is in the service) was going to be and he replied medic. At the point the sergeant who had been in Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne said "Don't worry about this, a medic saved my life and I want to make sure you become a good medic also, not a bayonet killer." With that Cobb's bayonet training days were finished.
From basic training Cobb was sent to Fort Sam Houston in Texas for training as medic. His class was mostly individuals who had some college but did not want to go to NCO school, so they soon became the honor class for that cycle. The training was for 12 weeks, but he never felt it was enough training for what he was about to do. At that time the Army combined the training program to cover both if you were assigned to hospital or working as a field medic. The training ranged from learning how to give bed baths and making hospital beds to simulated combat conditions carrying a person more than your weight on your back for 100 yards after rendering them the required care.
There were days of classroom training then out to the field to go through simulated battlefield conditions such as loading helicopters for medivacs. Upon completion of the training Cobb and 97 percent of his class received orders for Vietnam. Also Cobb received another early promotion now becoming a Private First Class or PFC.
Cobb went home for two weeks leave before leaving for Vietnam. He went in late Feb. 1968 which at the time of Tet offensive of 1968. It started just before he left home. He and a friend from both basic and AIT training flew from Buffalo to San Francisco to go to the Oakland Army Depot to be processed to go to Vietnam.
That took three days of paperwork, shots, more shots, getting jungle fatigues issued. They then flew via commercial airline to Vietnam with stops in Hawaii and the Philippines. At each of these stops several people did not return to the plane as they had decided not to go on.
When approaching Bien Hoa Airbase to land, the plane had to circle for almost an hour as the base was under attack as it was now in the middle of the Tet offensive. Cobb and the others could see the small puffs of smoke from rocket rounds hitting the airbase and the plane became silent as it sunk in.
Departing from the plane was like walking into a blast furnace. The heat and humidity was terrible. The sweat started to roll off and would do that for the next 12 months. Cobb was bused to the 24th Replacement Center to be assigned an unit.
Remember the Tet of 1968 was continuing during this time so the base was being rocketed and that was his first night there, going in and out of a bunker when attacks came. Finally after two days he was assigned to the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, "Blackhorse." Of course he had no idea who or what this unit was. He was soon to find out.
In 1968 the 11th ACR base camp was located about eight miles northwest of a small city by the name of Xuan Loc. Cobb flew into the base camp and was being processed in at headquarters as there was napalm being dropped outside of the base camp. Reality again hit at that moment.
During Cobb's tour with the 11th ACR he served as a platoon medic with 3rd Platoon, "L" troop, 3rd Squadron for ten and a half months and at the end of his tour with the 7th Medical Company assigned to the 11th ACR. Both assignments were challenging, but the platoon medic position would be the most difficult.
As a platoon medic he was responsible for the well-being of the crews of eight armored personnel carriers (APC.) This usually meant between 30 to 40 individuals depending on the strength of the unit at the time. His medical equipment included an aid bag, extra field dressings and two ammo cans with medications, other medical supplies and one litter. That was what he was issued and inherited from the medic he replaced. That individual had done his time and was going back home. Cobb never felt that he had enough supplies to handle any large numbers of casualties and he always felt he needed more training. The amount of responsibility that had been dropped into his 21-year-old lap was unbelievable.
Cobb's track was the command track which had the platoon officer on board and two other soldiers, one being the driver of the vehicle. He was assigned a M-60 machine gun on the left side of the track. He also had to know how to fire and maintain the 50 caliber machine gun on the track. During any movement of the tracks Cobb also had to switch the radio frequencies for the officer as the command track had several radios on board. His would become some days a very painful experience as he would have to reach down inside the track to switch frequencies throughout the entire day.
NEXT WEEK: Part 2.