History of North America

The Spanish doctor decorated by the US in the Vietnam War

In the first years of the Vietnam War, the US Army was totally convinced of the necessity of that war and was united and disciplined. As the war dragged on, morale and discipline deteriorated. The same thing happened among the American civilian population that contemplated the horrors of the first war broadcast by the media. What President Lyndon B. Johnson he had thought it would be a military walk, it turned into hell. So, he requested the support or, rather, the military aid of several Western countries, among which was Spain -considering Franco a recognized anti-communist seemed like a good choice. In 1965, Biddle Duke , the US ambassador to Spain, personally handed Franco a letter from Johnson in which he explained his projects in Vietnam and asked for his help…

[…] In this situation I must express my deep personal conviction that the prospects for peace in Vietnam will increase to the extent that the necessary efforts of the United States are supported and shared by other nations that share our purposes and our concerns. […] I ask you now to give serious consideration to increasing such assistance through methods that clearly indicate to the world the solidarity of international support for the resistance against aggression in Vietnam and the establishment of peace in that country.

Franco's letter in response is priceless...

My dear President Johnson:
I thank you very much for the sincere judgment you send me of the situation in South Vietnam and for the political and diplomatic efforts that, parallel to the military ones, the United States has been developing to pave the way for a settlement peaceful. I understand your responsibilities as the leading nation at this time in the world and I share your interest and concern, with which we Spaniards feel solidarity at all times. I also understand that a military abandonment of Vietnam by the United States would affect the entire security system of the free world.

My military and political experience allows me to appreciate the great difficulties of the enterprise in which you are engaged:guerrilla warfare in the jungle offers advantages to subversive indigenous elements who, with very few troops, can keep much larger contingents of troops in check; the most powerful weapons lose their effectiveness before the atomization of the objectives; there are no vital points to destroy for the war to end; communications are precariously held and their custody requires considerable forces. Jungle warfare is an endless adventure.

[…] I understand that the problem is very complex and that it is presided over by the American interest in defending the nations of Southeast Asia from the communist threat; but since this is eminently political in nature, it is not only by force of arms that this threat can disappear. Observing, as we do, the events from this European area, we may be wrong. However, we keep the hope that everything can be resolved, since deep down, the main actors aspire to the same thing:the United States, that Chinese communism does not invade the territories of Southeast Asia; the states of Southeast Asia, to keep China as far away from their borders as possible; Russia, in turn, for its future rival, China, not to spread and grow, and Ho Chi Minh, for his part, to unite Vietnam into a strong state and for China not to absorb it.

I don't know Ho Chi Minh, but because of his history and his efforts to expel the Japanese, first, the Chinese later, and the French later, we have to give him credit as a patriot, who cannot leave indifferent the annihilation of his country. And putting aside his acknowledged character as a tough adversary, he could certainly be the man of this hour, the one that Vietnam needs. In this higher interest of saving the Vietnamese people and the people of Southeast Asia, I think it's worth it for everyone to sacrifice something.

I have wanted, my dear President, to make these confidential reflections to you in the direct language of friendship. Although I know that many are in your spirit, I loyally expose my judgment with the purpose of helping the best service of peace. and the future of the Asian peoples.

His good friend,
Francisco Franco

So, no military aid and, furthermore, he questioned the conflict itself and even dared to praise Ho Chi Minh himself. . Even so, he did not want to antagonize the US and decided to send a team from the Military Health Corps made up of twelve people. In September 1966, the Spanish team settled in Go Cong, 60 km from Saigon. In a 200-bed hospital, the twelve Spaniards, helped by some Vietnamese, cared for US and Vietnamese soldiers, natives and even some who knew they belonged to the Vietcong; that treatment of patients if no type of discrimination made them win everyone's favor and they were able to work without many setbacks. Another thing was his residence that, due to its proximity to a barracks, suffered the occasional attack. Medical captain Merlos Saldaña acted in one of these attacks. .

Members of the Corps at the door of the hospital

During a night in which the Vietcong bombarded the barracks with mortars, the Spanish paramedics had enough to take cover and pray that their residence did not receive many hits. Despite the noise caused by the explosions and the bullets, from the residence of the Spaniards the screams and lamentations that came from the barracks could be heard. Captain Merlos decided to go to the barracks to help the wounded, for this he had to cross the land that separates both buildings and dodge the crossfire. He grabbed a first-aid kit and ran to where the screams were coming from…he found a wounded US sergeant on the ground. Even though the building was still being bombed, he managed to get it to safety and stabilize it throughout the day. When it was all over, he went straight to the hospital to continue treating the wounded. He considered it his duty... The Americans awarded him a medal for his bravery.

For five years almost a hundred military volunteers, in contingents of 12, served in that hospital without any recognition by the Spanish Government. Go Cong authorities dedicated a bridge to the Spanish.

Bridge of Spain

Sources and photos:AME (Association of Spanish Military), El Mundo, Franco's doctors