This is a time for us to remember all of the soldiers who have served our country throughout the ages. In particular, today, I wish to share my memories of my younger brother, Chris, who passed away on September 15, 2019.
Chris was a go-getter, in 1968 when he chose to become a U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman. He wanted to pursue his dreams of becoming a medical doctor, but also was called to service because of our long standing family traditions of military service haring back to our father, Richard McBee who served in WW II, all the way back to and including both the Revolutionary War with Captain Vardry McBee and the Civil War with Richard H. Clow. Chris had a desire to make the world a better place and so chose to enlist in a helping profession that would give him excellent training to come out of the service and pursue further medical training.
Chris served two tours of duty in The Republic of Vietnam during his four years of service. The first tour was as a corpsman attached to Company D of the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion of the Third Marine Division: Motto Swift, Silent, Deadly. The unit operated out of the Quang Tri Combat base with numerous patrols. During this service, Chris was cited for gallantry in combat in Vietnam.
Citation: “On the night of Sept. 3, 1969, the seven man reconnaissance team of which McBee was a member, was occupying a defensive position approximately one mile southeast of Quang Tri Combat Base when the Marines came under intense fire from approximately 30 enemy soldiers. Reacting instantly, McBee unhesitatingly exposed himself to hostile fire as he fearlessly moved about the perimeter rendering aid to the casualties. When one Marine was wounded by an enemy rocket – propelled grenade, which nearly severed his foot, McBee rushed to the aid of his companion. Determining that an amputation would be necessary to prevent further complication, he skillfully performed the necessary surgery while hostile rounds impacted near him and his patient. His heroic and timely action inspired all who observed him and saved the life of his patient.”
Following the action, Chris and most of the unit were evacuated due to wounds suffered in the action. After recovery, Chris was trained as a military recon. diver and then rotated back to the States where he was based in San Diego for nearly a year before volunteering to be posted again to Vietnam near the DMZ for the remainder of his time in service.
After the war, when we met up and were recounting our separate military service activities while drinking a few beers overlooking the Madison River outside of Bozeman, MT, Chris explained his view from the “ground” version of the action for which he was awarded his Silver Star. This is as I remember his story.
“We had been out all day on recon outside Quang Tri. We were with a different Lieutenant than usual because ours had a bad case of some fever. As night came on in the woods we set up our perimeter with tripwires and Claymore mines as usual and prepared to spend the night. It was all quiet and I snoozed a bit, the way you do when half your brain still is monitoring what’s going on in the woods. Somewhere about midnight I heard what I thought was rustling in the brush and the click of something that sounded maybe like a rifle safety. We woke everybody up and listened, but everything was quiet. In this kind of situation, with our regular Lieutenant we would have blown our mines and made our escape right then because we were pretty sure something was going down but we weren’t sure exactly what. It was only a minute or so later that I heard what must have been a grenade ping as a handle was released and then all hell broke loose. We had incoming fire and at least one or two explosions. Everyone were yelling and screaming at one another while I tried to see where the fire was coming from. Then it was one thing after another with the guys being wounded and automatic fire coming straight in on us. I just crawled to everyone and did what I could for the wounds. The one guy hit badly by shrapnel from an RPG had his foot dangling so I cut off what was holding the lower leg and fixed him up as best I could. We called in for covering artillery. Nothing came, but it wasn’t more than ten minutes later that we saw a searchlight and an armored unit literally came over the hill. The next thing I knew someone in the armored unit opened up with the 50 caliber machine gun, the hostile fire ceased and we were yelling “Cease Fire”to keep the guys from shooting us up. In the end, I look back on it and sometimes wonder why I got the medal because I was just doing my job and what I’d been trained for.”
Chris returned to the U.S. and began studying Premed. at Montana State. His Vietnam experience never left him and he fell into depression, suffered catastrophic PTSD and dropped out of school. He became a reclusive digital watch repairman for nearly 15 years, fathered two children with his caring wife, Karen Smith, and then because of psychological was divorced. He eventually, after extensive therapy, was able to return to Montana State to study Psychology. He specialized in the treatment of veteran’s PTSD and Compulsive Behavioral disorders throughout the State of Montana and his work had a positive impact on the lives of hundreds of his patients. He became the proud grandfather to 5 grandchildren now living in the vicinity of Bozeman, MT, with their parents: his son, Shiloh and Liz McBee and his daughter, Moriah and Matt McKee, from his first marriage. Chris eventually remarried and had over 20 years with his second wife, Kathy, who cared for him until he died peacefully at the age of 70, of a metastatic stomach cancer, likely exacerbated by his exposure to Agent Orange while serving his country fifty years previously in Vietnam. R.I.P. Chris, you are a true hero. From your brother Rick.
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