Doc Lefty Keeps An Unwanted Rifle

Stars & Stripes-February 4, 1969

CAMP EAGLE, Vietnam (Special) – “So you come from “Fort Sam Houston,” growled the hard-bitten sergeant at the new 101st Airborne Div. medical aid man. “Isn’t that there those conscientious objectors are from?”

“That’s right,” replied Pfc. Roger C. Brathwaite politely. “I’m one of them.”
The young member of the Pentecostal Church expected hostility from some of the members of the 2nd platoon of D Co., 1st Bn., 327th Airborne Inf.

Brathwaite had to persuade his draft board that a couple of fights in school had no bearing upon his conscientious objector status. They were merely a part of the life a West Indian Negro must face growing up in the streets and alleys of the Bronx.
He had spent two weeks in a regular Basic Combat Training company at Fort Jackson, S.C., before the Army recovered his records and sent him to Fort Sam Houston.

There he completed a course every bit as demanding as these at other training centers, except that no one handled weapons. Then, Brathwaite and his fellow trainees underwent instruction as medical aidmen. Most of his classmates were assigned to hospitals, but Brathwaite was sent to the field as a member of the highly decorated 1st Brigade of the Screaming Eagles.

“I could have joined the division band,” the medic explained. “I’ve played the piano in Carnegie Hall, and I play several other instruments. But I wanted to be a medic.”
His battalion is a tough one, and so are its medics. In a unit with a primary mission of engaging the enemy, a man who objects to killing is highly suspect.

“Does this mean that you won’t come and get me if I’m hit?” asked another platoon member.

“Of course I will,” the new medic explained. “That’s my job. It’s just that I don’t want to kill.”

In his first six weeks in the field, Brathwaite four times went forward through hostile fire to bring back and treat wounded men. “We know we can count on him,” said a rifle team leader. And he has earned the respect of his platoon along with a nickname – Doc Lefty.

Doc Lefty has made one concession-a necessary one because of the sudden, deadly nature of small unit actions. He carries an M16 rifle.

When he joined the battalion in November, he had long talks with Capt. (Chaplain) Donald W. Shea of Butte, Mont., and a veteran medic, Sgt. John P. Casey of Bangor, Me. They persuaded him to pick up a weapon for the first time.

“A medic has to move around on his own in a firefight,” said Doc Lefty as he cleaned his rifle. “I don’t want the guys to have to worry about protecting me. If I have to use it to protect my own life or the life of a patient or a buddy, I will.”

Brathwaite was asked recently if he wanted to move up to the D Co. command post as a senior medic. “No thanks,” he replied. “I’d rather stay with the platoon. I feel at home with these guys.”

By SPEC. 4 JOHN NEELY