Platoon Medic Steve Oliphant's 
Paratrooper, Platoon Medic, 1st Platoon, Company B
 
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Photo (L-R): Richard Pittman 3/C 67/68), Medic Steve Oliphant,
Cpt. David Hillard (CO/C 68), PSG Carl Thanheiser (4/C 67/68),
PSG August Klamar (1/C 67/68)

     Stephen A. Oliphant, Jr., 19-year-old platoon medic, 1st Platoon, Company B (1968), native of Ft. Bragg, NC (Army Brat).    Steve entered the military service on June 23, 1967 (10-days out of high school).  He took his basic training at Ft. Ord, CA in June thru August 1967, followed by AIT at Ft. Sam Houston, TX for medical training to become a combat medic--from September through November 1967, then to Jump School at Ft. Benning, GA in December 1967.     

     “I went to Ft. Benning directly from Ft. Sam Houston,” says Steve.  “The men that volunteered for Jump School and eventually dropped out were sent to Germany.  Those of us that got our wings went directly to Vietnam .  I graduated from Jump School in December, got a short leave, then headed for South Vietnam in January 1968.  After arriving in country, I spent almost a month at ‘Repo-Depot’ in Long Bien during TET.  While I was there, they had me doing KP, filling sand bags, and performing various other details until my assignment to a unit.”      

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      At the end of February 1968, the Currahees of the 3-506th had survived the infamous Communist TET Offensive and were victorious at Phan Thiet and LZ BETTY in Binh Thuan province (click on map below).   By mid-February, Steve had received orders to join the 3-506th at Phan Thiet.  He reported to the aid station, met the Battalion Surgeon, Dr. Andrew Lovy and was assisted in packing an aid bag with the essentials he would need as a field medic.  Medic Oliphant recalls, “I believe that it was my second or third night at LZ Betty, when the base was mortared and the ammo dump blew up.  The first explosion caught me on the tarmac in front of the dispensary.  Several of us were standing around a jeep talking when it went off.  Everyone but me dove for cover under the jeep.  I couldn’t understand why the others reacted in such a way, because I figured that if the explosion didn’t get me, then the danger had passed.  I had forgotten the old adage about ‘what goes up must come down’; but after the metal rainstorm began, I was also under the jeep.  Later, I was assigned to go down to the beach and stand by to help possible wounded in that area.  While there, another huge explosion occurred, sending me scrambling to get under a hootch. In the process, a big chunk of shell fragment hit me in the elbow.  It was a long night for this ‘Cherry Medic’ for sure.”  

     Medic Oliphant bounced around from one unit to another for several days and finally was permanently assigned to Platoon Sergeant Joe Jerviss’ 1st Platoon, Company B.  During the month of March 1968, the 3-506 conducted their typical “search and destroy” operations in search of the enemy.  On March 18, 1968, PSG Jerviss and his 1st Platoon, Company B, received orders from Cpt. Mike Pearson, Company Commander of Company B, to move out and set up some “night ambushes” in the Disneyland area northwest of Phan Thiet.  Once in position, PSG Jerviss and his men waited patiently for the enemy for two nights.  When the Viet Cong didn’t show up, the decision was made to move the platoon toward LZ Bartlett.  

      By late afternoon on March 21, 1968, 1st Platoon stopped for the day and began to set up their Night Defensive Perimeter.  As the Currahees were having evening chow, they began receiving enemy fire.  The volley of gunfire continued on and off throughout the night.  

     The next morning, the platoon was ordered to split in half.  PSG Joe Jerviss, along with squad leader, SSG Joe Garrett, took two squads and moved out into an open field in pursuit of the enemy.  Their advance was immediately halted by enemy fire, and the Currahees were forced to move back to cover.  The decision was made to try and flank the enemy.  Once again, the Currahees moved out in search of the enemy.  Medic Oliphant recalls, “As we moved out, we crossed a dry creek and found ourselves in the midst of thousands of punji stakes positioned about four inches apart.  I was several meters behind Sergeant Jerviss and his RTO, when I heard someone call for the medic to come forward.  I sped up and moved forward about thirty meters until I was in sight of Sergeant Jerviss.  At that point, I sensed a bullet zip past my nose and scrambled behind a small berm right next to the bank of the dry creek.  One of the men had scraped his calf on a punji stake.  The wound wasn’t bad, but I was fully aware of the possible infection these things could cause.  I squatted down, unzipped my aid bag, and began to work on the wound.  

     By this time, PSG Jerviss had come upon a punji stake with a piece of paper attached to it, which turned out to be a marker for a booby-trapped grenade.  Within seconds, the grenade exploded amid constant gunfire and the advancing Viet Cong.  “At that point, says Medic Oliphant, “everything got blurry and dusty.  I saw objects flying by me in slow motion, and I momentarily lost my hearing.  After a few seconds, I heard Sergeant Jerviss screaming with pain.  As the medic, I could not help him—I could not move and finally realized that I was also wounded.  Someone pulled Sergeant Jerviss over to the bank and down the incline to the creek bed.  I eventually was able to move enough to hook my arm through the strap on my medic bag and slide down the creek bank alongside Sergeant Jerviss.  Shortly thereafter, the company senior aid man—SP5 Lawrence Moristo—made his way forward to take care of the wounded.  

   Medic Oliphant, along with Sergeant Jerviss and two other Currahees, were eventually medevaced back to LZ Betty and treated at the evac hospital.  From there, Medic Oliphant was flown to Camp Drake in Japan, where he spent three months before going on the States.  At Fort Ord, California, Steve spent an additional four and a half months in treatment/recuperation.  After being released from the Fort Ord hospital, Steve was assigned to the 307th Medical, 82nd Airborne.  He reenlisted to go back to South Vietnam, hoping that he would be assigned to a hospital on his second tour.  Instead, he was assigned to a unit and stationed back at LZ Betty—the 1/50th Mech. Infantry.  This was in November 1969, and he had just missed the 506th as they left Phan Thiet for Ban Me Thout.  

     After a full tour in South Vietnam , Steve went back to the States to Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland and was stationed at the hospital there for a year.  From there, he was assigned to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina with the 82nd Airborne.  Two and a half years later, Steve was finally discharged from the military in April 1973.  Following his discharge, he bummed around for a while until deciding to attend college.  He enrolled in the nursing program at the Junior College in Palm Desert, California and eventually received his RN Degree.  

     Steve met and married his wife, Cherie, in 1980 and worked as a nurse until 1989, when a back injury forced him into disability retirement.  He lost Cherie in June 2002, after a brief illness that took her life.  Steve has a stepdaughter and two granddaughters.  He loves to spend time with the girls and hopes to bring them with him to the DC reunion this summer.  

Steve’s reflections on his Vietnam experience. . . .  

     “My Vietnam experience has made everything else downhill.”  

     Since this initial write-up back in 2010, Steve met and married his current wife, Maribel from the Philippine Islands.  The two moved from California to the Philippine Islands, where they now make their home.  They return to California to visit family and friends on a regular basis. Steve can be reached at: pachyderm4@earthlink.net.   

Photo (L-R): Richard Pittman (4/C 67/68), Medic Steve Oliphant (1/B 1968), Cpt. Dave Hillard (B Co. CO 1968 (Deceased), PSG Carl Thanheiser (4/C 67/68), PSG August Klamar 2/C 67/68) - KC Reunion 2001

Jerry's Note:   The Morning Report dated 22 March 1968 States: Five WIAs – PSG Joseph L. Jervis, SSG Joe J. Garrett, Pfc. Michael W. Shepherd, SP4 Medic Stephen Oliphant, and SP4 Butler McKinnon medevaced to 36th Evac. Hospital.  I have not had the opportunity to interview former SSG Joe Garrett, McKinnon, or Michael Shepherd for their recollections of the incident.  I met Garrett only once since Vietnam and that was at an earlier 3-506th reunion at Clarksville, TN back in the late 1990s.  He has chosen not to stay in touch.  I have yet to locate Mike Shepherd or Butler McKinnon.

 
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