Searching for Navy Corpsman Williams

A sick Marine Corps Veteran reached out to VA’s Veterans Experience Office in 2019 to help him find the Navy Corpsman buddy who saved his life in Vietnam. This is part one of a three-part story, and it contains vivid and emotionally triggering memories of combat.

Bill Mulcrevy had just dug in. He and 23 others from Mike Co., 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment (3/5) – including close friends Jim Johnson and Navy Corpsman Gregory Williams – were the first wave for Operation Hastings, a multi-force task force to push the PAVN 90th Regiment back across the DMZ and prevent it from taking over Quang Tri Province.

Mulcrevy and Mike Co. built the perimeter that secured LZ Crow in a small valley just south of Song Ngan, a suspected PAVN marshaling area. Reinforcements – Operation Hastings’ second wave – were incoming.

It was July 16, 1966. Mulcrevy and the first wave watched the sky. And then they watched the sky burn.

The search for Navy Corpsman Williams

First wave and the burning sky.

A company-sized element of PAVN troops ambushed the LZ. They downed the four incoming helicopters delivering 3/5’s second wave. Mike Co.’s first platoon leader got on the radio and learned that other task force elements wouldn’t get there in time, that 3/5 wasn’t going to send further reinforcements until first wave could remove the threat.

First wave was on its own.

Under attack, Mike Co. defended its position while the lieutenant called for fire. Johnson, Mulcrevy and a small squad assaulted a PAVN machine gun nest. They found a heavy, tripod-mounted 51-calibre machine gun, shot the operator, and – lacking thermite grenades to disable the weapon – knocked it over.

The lieutenant directed and watched as an F-4 delivered two 500-pound bombs, taking out several 12.7mm machine guns just 50 meters from their position.

On the ground, in the counterattack, Johnson took two rounds to the throat.

***

Mulcrevy is lost in thought. He’s a statue, eyes frozen. In his mind, it’s 1966, back in the valley where Gregory Williams performed an emergency tracheotomy on Jim Johnson.

When Mulcrevy comes to, he apologizes and says that, “It’s not easy remembering this stuff.”

But he knows he’ll never forget this stuff. He won’t forget the bullets overhead, the dirt exploding around them, or the calm, methodic way in which Doc Williams went about saving Johnson’s life.

All of it was chaos – all of it except Williams.

***

Three weeks after Operation Hastings, while Johnson was recovering aboard the USS Repose, Mike Co. was patrolling a series of villages near Tam Quang for Operation Colorado when it came under sniper fire. In reaction to the fire, the Marines ran straight into an NVA ambush.

The search for Navy Corpsman Williams

Operation Colorado, and running into an ambush.

In the ensuing chaos, Mulcrevy sustained four rounds to his leg. One bullet hit his grenade pouch, sending shrapnel into his upper thigh.

“I’M HIT, I’M HIT!” he yelled.

In a cloud of dust, Williams found his friend and knelt by his side to treat his wounds. As with his actions during Operation Hastings, he gave no regard or concern for his own personal safety or the bullets flying past.

The preternaturally calm Williams used all his strength to apply a tourniquet to Mulcrevy’s arterial bleed, and then pressure dressings to his other wounds.

“Well, Gregory, what do you think?” Mulcrevy asked him.

“Bill,” he replied, “I think the Olympics are out.”

On the battlefield, under attack, with rounds spitting up around them, the two friends laughed together for the last time.

***

Each night for decades, Mulcrevy has lived with the internal chaos of these memories. Those same firefights, over and over. The horror of Johnson’s injury, over and over. His own arterial bleeding and Williams loading him onto the MEDEVAC, over and over. He used to drink a gallon of coffee at night because he didn’t want to go to sleep.

He didn’t want to go back to Vietnam.

“They didn’t feel like nightmares, they felt like a never-ending movie,” he says.

As age and other health issues have caught up to Bill Mulcrevy, now 72 [This story was written in 2020], he’s spent a whole second lifetime reliving the defining moments of his young adult life. And those moments have led to a gnawing realization: this never-ending movie doesn’t have a natural ending.

He wondered, Whatever happened to his friend, Gregory Williams?


Read part 2 here.

Read part 3 here.

By Jason Davis is the managing editor for Vantage Point and an Army Veteran. Nicholas Crawford is a graphic designer for the Veterans Benefits Administration.

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Published on Mar. 26, 2022

Estimated reading time is 3.8 min.

Views to date: 3,501

17 Comments

  1. John Conway April 5, 2022 at 1:52 pm

    My first cousin Bill Sutton from Virginia got killed in July 1967 up in Danang serving with the Marines. I was in Nam a year later with the Army 4th Inf. Div. up in the central highlands of Pleiku, Kontum, and Dakto. If any of you jar heads remember him I would love to hear from you. God bless all who served in that miserable shit pit. Semper Fi !! And God bless the army too.

  2. Patrick Collins April 1, 2022 at 4:52 pm

    Put me on your list of names, Patrick Collins, Sgt. USMC 1964-1968. Served in Vietnam 1965-1966 as a Marine combat correspondent operating in the field w/ the grunts for 1st MarDiv out of ChuLai. I hope corpsman Williams is found!

  3. John Rapo March 31, 2022 at 10:50 pm

    What a moving story and tribute to the Brotherhood of all Marines. Combat solidifies that bond and the Brotherhood for life. That connection is well illustrated in this story. God Bless all you Marines.

    While I am here, I thought I would share a Vietnam memory, maybe one of you ‘Marine’ readers out there may remember Michael J Rapp.

    Gunny SGT. Michael J. Rapp -USMC (Retired)
    1965-1966
    Danang, RVN.

    Gunny SGT. Michael J Rapp passed away from the effects of Agent Orange. RIP Gunny!

    Leaving Vietnam, and completing his enlistment commitment, Michael Rapp Returned home to Michigan.

    Michael left Active Duty and signed up with the Marine Corp Reserves. He served until he retired as a Gunny SGT., in the 1990s.

    CPL. Rapp USMC was in I-Corp with the 3/9 (?) if my memory serves. Anyway, I received a letter from home advising me my cousin Michael Rapp was in or around the same A/O as me. I had this idea to search out Michael.

    I set out in search of my cousin. I learned rather quickly, Marines are a connected group. What were the chances of finding my cousin out there somewhere in the field? Not good, right?

    I approached several Marines asking if anyone knew Rapp. Further down the road West of Danang, I asked a couple more Marines if they knew a Michael Rapp, they did, and pointed me in the direction and location he might be. Small world, out there in the boonies, I eventually found Michael.

    On that first meeting, I remember he and his platoon had just returned from a long combat patrol, they all looked like hell had come down on them. Probably did! Throughout the remainder of 65 / 66, We crossed paths a couple more times .

    I’m John Rapp, USN – GMG-2
    12/1964 to 03/1969.

    I was in Danang from July 1965 to July 1966. In 1967 I was in the Mekong Delta operating out of Bin Thuy,. 1968 I was back in the Mekong Delta operating out of My Tho.

  4. Linda March 31, 2022 at 5:13 pm

    He found him, but not in time to speak to him again. It looked like he had a nice long life.
    His tomb stone said he passed away in 2017, he had been a devoted husband, and father of four.

  5. Robert McIntyre March 31, 2022 at 3:18 pm

    While aboard ship off the coast of Viet Nam(Blue Water Navy) I placed several stitches in a fellow sailors arm from injuries he received during flight operation upon the Flight Deck, several years later while grocery shopping I hear a person yell out Hey Doc, and as I continued to walk and and away pay no mind there was another call out, Hey Doc, Coral Sea to which I turned around and he was walking towards me with an out stretched hand and the greeting: You Don’t Remember Me ?
    More than anything I remember His Cut, His Pain, His Suffering and him asking if there was going to be a scar ?…..Yes I remembered him after he explained and he showed me a very small scar

  6. Bill Mayhar March 31, 2022 at 2:49 pm

    How does a person find someone that was in the Navy when they were. There is an officer that I owe a huge debt to that I would like to track down if possible.

    • Ruppert Baird April 2, 2022 at 7:31 pm

      There’s a FB group called Veteran Buddy Finder.

  7. David Knoeppel March 31, 2022 at 2:23 pm

    The Marines knew our value and protected us. Like many, I was a 19 y/o Hospital Corpsman when the C130 landed in Dong Ha and we were told to run off the plane to the single light in the distance as the air strip had been receiving incoming. Holy sht!! Served proudly and grew up fast in the bush with 1st Battalion 9th Marines (1/9 the Walking Dead) 3rd Mar Div Delta Co and then 3rd Med Battalion in Quan Tri 1968-69 Semper Fi. God bless the Marines, the Corpsmen and all who served

  8. Michael Botello March 31, 2022 at 11:13 am

    Overwhelming!

  9. Joe Brooks March 31, 2022 at 10:22 am

    I serviced with mike co. 3/7 1st mar div from 69-70
    Joe Brooks 1st platoon.

  10. Jerry Sanders March 31, 2022 at 7:36 am

    Love these stories of bravery & velour God Bless all of my fellow Vietnam veterans ❤️ DongHa 68/69 Seabees

  11. MARILYN PEREZ March 30, 2022 at 8:56 pm

    I pray that Bill Mulcrevy, finds his buddy Gregory Williams.

  12. John March 30, 2022 at 8:29 pm

    It’s really sad that some of us still re live those moments and it seems like yesterday after fifty-four years ago in Vietnam, I live with guilt knowing that my company Lima 3/9 3rd Marine Div was ambushed April 30th, 1968 and lost 32 marines brothers, if someone from that era and unit and remembers, please e-mail me.

  13. jack demuth March 30, 2022 at 7:18 pm

    So did you find Williams?

  14. Together We Served Admin March 28, 2022 at 3:59 pm

    This was the result of a great collaboration with the VA and many others who helped with this amazing story. Togetherweserved.com was proud to be of assistance. TWS has over 2.1 million Veterans on board in case you may be searching for someone you served with. Feel free to contact us at admin@togetherweserved.com.

  15. Together We Served Admin March 28, 2022 at 3:56 pm

    This

  16. Mercy March 27, 2022 at 3:10 pm

    this one of the best thing i came across today on the internet

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