Milton Cochran, USMC
See part 1 here.
See part 3 here.
So, Milt Cochran became “Doc” to a platoon of Marines. He followed them through the jungles of Vietnam where temperatures over 120 degrees were common. They fought the enemy and they fought the elements of nature, and bugs, and reptiles, and parasites.
Milt cared for his men’s feet and he cared for his own. His jungle boots rotted away, and he was given replacements—taken from a dead Marine—that were two sizes too big for him. Later in life, Milt would blame those big boots for a life-changing moment that took him away from Vietnam and the Marines who were in his care.
He loved his men and they loved their Doc. In his words, “I was their orthopedic surgeon, their neurologist, podiatrist, and psychologist all rolled into one. I enjoyed the faith these Marines placed in me, but I realized that their respect and my peace of mind could be earned in one way only; by my being with them on the trail or in a firefight, ready to respond to that most dreaded of battlefield sounds…the call of ‘Corpsman up!’”
Doc Cochran exulted when he was able to save a life or help a buddy, and whenever a Marine died in his arms, he crumbled and went to pieces.
Then came the ill-fated day in July of 1967 when the platoon was headed out on patrol. Milt was second in line behind the point man, Frank Ducala, pushing their way through chest-high elephant grass. He never saw the trip wire that set off the explosion, blasting a crater in the ground, leaving him shattered, bleeding, on fire and near death.
Combat Corpsman George Gallagher rushed to Milt’s side, stanched his bleeding, dressed his muddy wounds, prepared him for the medevac helicopter, and saved his life—Milt would never see him again–ironically, Doc Gallagher himself would be shot and killed in combat a few weeks later.
Bus Cochran was at work at the Seymour town garage when he noticed an automobile with US Navy markings pull up outside. He went to meet them.
“Are you looking for me?”
“Are you Charles Cochran?”
“Is your son Milton Cochran?”
“Yes. Just tell me, is he dead or alive?”
“He’s alive, but just barely.”
The little group left the garage and proceeded to the family homestead to gather the relatives and wait for Milt’s mother to get home from work.
Milt was taken from Vietnam to a hospital in Japan for his initial treatment, then to Alaska, then to Philadelphia, and finally to the West Haven Veterans Administration Hospital. His precarious condition necessitated these many stops: The explosion had taken one leg below the knee, shattered the other leg, blown away one buttock, severed arteries, and rendered one arm and hand useless. Many of us might have given up on living at this point; but not Milt Cochran, for whom fate had other plans.
To be continued.