What was the average life expectancy of a medic after he got off the chopper in Vietnam?

16 minutes for a machine gunner entering a combat zone

I was a Naval Hospital Corpsman in 1979. I attended a "c" school-Field Medical Service School- were I was taught combat medicine. My instructors were all Vietnam Veterans. My class was informed, at that time, that a Corpsman's life expectancy in Vietnam was 19 minutes. This time estimate was for the corpsman just getting off the jet that delivered him to Vietnam.

While apparently what was being told to troopers, the above is ridiculous on its face. If everyone died (on average) 20 minutes after they got to Vietnam, then, statistically, to have 1 person survive a full year in Vietnam, over 52,000 would have to die inside of 10 minutes. Plainly, that didn't happen.

Over 2.5 million US soldiers served in the Vietnam War (many doing more than one tour), with about 60,000 dying. For a 10-year war, that means there was (on average) 6,000 deaths per year out of 250,000 people serving, or a 2.5% death rate, or 1 death every 41 minutes. Presuming that only 25% of all people serving in Vietnam saw front-line action, and that ALL deaths were at the front-lines, that means 6,000 deaths for 62,500 grunts, a 9.6% death rate. Which means that almost 91% of all combat vets survived.

Frankly, no one measures "X-second life expectancies"; it's a ridiculous metric, and impossible to measure in a meaningful way. To do so, one would have to measure this:

A = average life expectancy of civilian of the same age as the soldier

B = % of soldiers dying that year

C = average age of a soldier

Let's say that A = 75, B = 0.1 (10%), and C = 24. So, the amount of time that a Vietnam vet could expect to live after arriving in Vietnam would be roughly:

(A - C ) * ( 1 - B )


(75 - 24) * (1 - 0.1) = 45.9

So, the average life expectancy of a combat soldier in Vietnam would be to live almost 46 more years (to age 70). And, that's a gross underestimation (i.e. in reality, it would be considerably higher).