Care Under Fire

In the Vietnamese jungle, 90 miles northwest from Saigon, Bill “Doc” Strusinski found himself on patrol with his platoon when they received major fire from the flank — the two soldiers whose job was to break up an ambush. With sniper fire in the air, Strusinski heard the one word he will never forget.

“I hear the call for ‘medic,’ a very memorable moment when they do that,” Stusinksi said.

Stusinksi would find himself crawling out to the flank, 30 yards from the rest of the platoon, to help the two men who had been injured. This was not an uncommon event for Strusinski, so he knew to bring back up.

“I was smart: I never crawled out to the flank by myself. I always volunteered the M-60 machine gunner to go with me,” Strusinski said. “I remember saying, ‘Grady, we got to go out and get these boys.’ ”

Strusinski was able to help one of the soldiers who had been hit in the head with a bullet, and after dragging him back to safety, he was evacuated.

“If somebody got hurt, that’s my job — my job is not to throw hand grenades and shoot rifles,” Strusinski said. “My job is to go get them, and that’s where you say ‘OK, Bill, suck it up.’ ”

This was Strusinski’s job as a 21-year-old medic serving in the Vietnam War. Now, the 73-year-old is receiving recognition for his book depicting his time in Vietnam. “Care Under Fire” was published in May 2020 and tells of his experiences as a soldier and the life that comes after it.

Getting drafted

Strusinski’s story started when he was drafted and served in the United States military from 1967-69 as a medic on the front lines of the Vietnam War.

Strusinski decided to be a medic because of an opportunity he heard about that would let him serve in a hospital in Italy or Germany instead of the front line. This was not the orders that he received, however, after graduating.

“When I got my orders, I had to go to the first sergeant and say, ‘What do these orders mean?’ ” Strusinski said. “I said, ‘What hospital is this?’ and he said, ‘Oh, son, that’s Vietnam.’ ”

Soon Strusinski was sent to serve on the front lines instead of the hospital away from the war that he had imagined. This would be where he would become “Doc.”

As the platoon medic, it was part of Strusinski’s job every day to make sure the men were ready to go out on patrol. Because of his time spent with his fellow soldiers, Strusinski said that they began to trust him like a chaplain. Some men would even ask for marital advice.

“As a medic ... in the infantry, ... everybody brought their problems to you. I was the one that had to certify them fit for patrol the next day,” Strusinski said. “But somehow they had this relationship with me and they would share their stories, and I’m giving them all kinds of advice about marriage and therapy. I had never even had sexual relations myself at that time. I must have talked a good story back in those days.”

The Vietnam War was the first time that medics were implanted into the infantry. They would go out on patrol with the platoon and be right in the middle of any action that was happening.

Over his almost two years spent in Vietnam, Strusinski went out on almost 200 patrols and saved countless lives before the end of his service.

Coming home

When Strusinski came back from the war he remembers not feeling welcomed home. In the United States, there were protests over the war, and the troops would end up taking the blame for what had happened.

It wasn’t until Strusinski was asked to speak at the Minnesota ambulance association a few years ago that he felt welcomed home.

“That felt special because I was welcomed home after all these years when veterans didn’t talk about this stuff for 30 years because we were not respected coming back from Vietnam,” Strusinski said. “Nobody welcomed you home; they called you ‘baby killer.’ They did all kinds of things, and I’ve been called that, and I’ve had people spit at me and stuff like that.”

Strusinski obtained his degree in political science and has spent his career working as a lobbyist. Politics became something that he wanted to invest in after seeing a political war. He also wants those in politics to know the ramifications that war has on soldiers.

“Those are important lessons for people to understand to this day. Politicians need to remind themselves ‘Is going to war worth the effort?’ ” Strusinski said. “Our leaders have a tremendous responsibility to understand the impact on that soldier and their families for the rest of their lives.”

‘Care Under Fire’

Strusinski decided 53 years ago when he finished his service that he wanted to write a book. It just wasn’t until now that he had the time to. “Care Under Fire” has already started to receive praise.

The Minnesota Humanities Center has awarded Strusinski a “Legacy” award, from the 2020 Veterans’ Voice Awards, for the chapters that he submitted from his book detailing his first casualty.

“I was fortunate with some other excellent candidates and excellent people who actually received the awards,” Strusinski said. “I’ve been working as a lobbyist representing clients for a lot of years, and I’ve always been a behind-the-scenes back-door guy. But to put myself out there on behalf of veterans and to be recognized that way was very touching to me. I was very flattered to receive that award, very honored. It means a lot to me that here, 50 years after Vietnam, my story about the first is the worst ... touched a lot of people, and I’m so honored to be recognized in that way.”

Now, 53 years after his time as a medic, Strusinski is still trying to save lives, only from different diseases. Strusinski has begun public speaking and sharing his own experiences because he does not want anyone to forget or to suffer from the impacts of the war.

“All of us that were in combat, we serve a lifetime,” Strusinski said. “I’ve been dealing with military issues for over 53 years.”

Strusinski believes that almost every veteran suffers from PTSD, and he feels that his story can help those who may be suffering in silence.

“We’ve learned how to compartmentalize those things in our life and how to move forward. The evil spirits don’t get out or the nightmares too often anymore, but they’re always in the back of our minds and you know that,” Strusinski said.

This is why Strusinski wants to continue sharing what he has been through in his life, because he knows that it will help others.

“That’s why I don’t mind speaking to groups, and that’s because I want people to know that they’re still dealing with issues and sometimes more so now than they did earlier when they were really busy with their careers and raising families. Now they’re suffering more from those battle experiences and some of them need help and a friend or someone to talk to.”

Strusinski will be the speaker for the Veterans Day Service in Forest Lake that will happen after press time on Wednesday, Nov. 10.

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