365 Days - Ronald J. Glasser The "mission of the Army Medical Corps is to support the fighting strength not deplete it." This was the stark reality face by doctors and surgeons who performed heroically to save lives and who, naturally, were reluctant to see all their efforts destroyed, especially in cases where the soldier might only have days or a couple of weeks before his time in Nam was up. Vietnam was a war of limits, some areas were off limits to bombing, soldiers were limited to a year "in country."

Glasner was a pediatrician sent to Japan to care for the children of officers stationed there. Because of the enormous demands placed on the medical service and the huge number of casualties, he was ordered to work in the hospitals where the wounded were sent. This book recounts episodes in the combat lives of those soldiers.

It was a war of numbers. 365. The magic number. Body counts, the only thing that mattered. Some units would count and then bury their enemy dead on the way in so they could dig them up and count them again on the way back out. Commanders would assign quotas and if a squad didn't meet its quota, they'd have to go out again until they met it.

The book consists of a mind-numbing series of stories -- sketches, he calls them - from the battlefield and hospital interspersed with medical reports of excruciating injuries, their treatment, successes and failures. All the stories are true, either witnessed first hand by the author or retold from incidents related to him by soldiers at the hospital.

An excerpt: "The next morning the two platoons were flown back to the rest of their company. That first night back, they were hit again --two mortar rounds. The next day on patrol near the village, the slack stepped on a buried 50-caliber bullet, driving it down on a nail and blowing off the front part of his foot. When the medic rushed to help, he tripped a pull-release bouncing betty, blowing the explosive charge up into the air. It went off behind him, the explosion and shrapnel pitching him forward on to his face. Some of the white hot metal, blowing backwards, caught the trooper coming up behind him." This kind of incessant trauma finally caught up with the men and one finally snapped. He charged the village, which most assumed was harboring VC, shooting a retreating two men and a girl. Both were shot by the furious troopers. "They stripped the girl, cut off her nose and ears, and left her there with the other two for the villagers."

With this kind of pressure, it's no wonder, many men just broke and became catatonic or paralyzed. They were shipped to the hospital and Glasser describes with some awe the "new psychiatry," a process by which the army snapped them out of it and made sure they were returned to duty as soon as possible. In WW II 25% of those evacuated from a combat area was done so for neuropsychiatric reasons. In WW I it was called shell shock and the assumption was that soldiers had been too close to a shell when it went off causing some kind of brain trauma. The army could not tolerate the loses from psychiatric problems. They discovered if you change the expectations, no longer consider someone mentally ill, but expect him to return to his unit, to walk, to perform his normal duties, to not forget he is in the army. Evacuation from the front was not helping, it was making things worse; they discovered "that it was best to treat these boys as far forward as possible; that their unit identification should be maintained and, above all else, the treatment should always include the unwavering expectation, no matter how disabling the symptoms, that these boys would be returned to duty as soon as possible."

The army had to learn how to deal with racial issues as well. In one case a black soldier, a medic, had been rotated back to base where he went nuts, attacking several superior officers. He was sent to the hospital in a strait jacket. When the CID folks came to investigate, the psychiatrist told him, "the Army made a bad mistake with him. They made him a medic, gave him respect and an important job, and then rotated him back to base camp where he was harassed, abused, given menial jobs, treated like a stupid nigger, and told to mind his own business."

The new psychiatry worked, but it did nothing about the war in which 11,000 wounded were sent for repair each month, with hundreds killed. And, of course, there was no follow-up to see what happened to those who returned to duty down the road.

Extraordinary read.