Preface: This is my third fanfic and I know it's not a real MASH-story 'cause it doesn't take place in the Korean war and most of the familiar characters are missing in the beginning but there are connections I promise. I was inspired to write this story by a book written by a nurse who served in a medical outfit in Vietnam. It's called "Home before Morning" and I highly recommend it. It shows the horrors of war and what it does to the people involved. I hope the author doesn't mind me relying on her book. I know there might be some mistakes in this story. Please be kind. I'm no nurse and I've never been to a war, I just don't know how things really had been in Vietnam.I just used my imagination and I guess it's much more romantic than the real world.Forgive me. Some of the characters don't belong to me, they belong to 20th Century Fox and since I'm not writing to make money I hope it's okay to use them. Now enjoy reading. And don't hesitate to send your comments, no matter if good or bad, to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Vietnam, August 1972:
It was a hot and humid day at a military airbase near Saigon.
"What the hell am I doing here?" A young woman was thinking. She was sitting in the shade on her duffel bag waiting for a helicopter to bring her to an outfit a couple of miles north. "I should have listened to dad as he told me about Korea."
She had arrived a day ago. The 24-hour flight from the States hadn't been much fun, squeezed together with soldiers and other nurses she hadn't been able to find sleep at all. And finally having arrived in Vietnam the climate almost knocked her out. An hour ago she got her assignment to a surgical unit. A MASH-type facility, someone had explained to her. Again she remembered her father talking about his tour of duty in another war, in another country not that far away. Was she really doing the right thing?
Suddenly she heard the helicopter. The tall woman stood up, took her bag and walked towards it. Her brown hair waving in the wind.
It took them about half an hour to fly to the 55th Surgical unit. There the woman got out and the chopper lifted of again.
"You must be Colonel Harrison." She greeted the man who was waiting for her.
"Yes Ma'am. So, you are Lieutenant Casey Travis. You are pretty lucky. Right now it's very quiet around here. Seems like you're getting a good chance to settle in. Welcome to the 55th." The commanding officer answered.
"Thank you, Sir." The young lady said. She looked at the man who smiled at her. He seemed to be nice, was about 50 years old like her dad.
Then they headed for the camp.
"So, what brings a beautiful young lady up here? You can't be older than 25." Harrison asked although he already knew.
"Well, I'm 23 and my job brought me here. I'm a pretty good nurse and I volunteered because I wanted to help."
"Yeah, I know." He smiled. "We always need good nurses. You're from Maine?"
"Yes, I was born in Portland but grew up in a very small town near the coast. Now I live in Portland again working at the hospital."
When they finally reached the road that ran through the camp a blonde woman who was about Harrison's age was approaching them.
"I'm sorry, Colonel, I'm late. Nurse Carter and I had to take stock since it's so quiet right now. The supply room isn't filled up. I had to order a couple of things before the deluge is coming." The woman said. "So this is my new nurse?"
"Yes, Colonel." The CO answered. "This is Lieutenant Casey Travis. And, Lieutenant, that's our chief nurse Colonel Margaret Houlihan."
The nurses shook hands. Casey seemed to be confused.
"Margaret, will you show the Lieutenant around the compound and take her to her quarters? I have to get back into my office."
"Sure, sir." Margaret said and looked at Casey. "Something wrong, Lieutenant?"
"What!? Oh, no, I was just thinking..." She still seemed confused.
"Well, then let me show you around." Margaret said. "By the way you seem to be a really good nurse, I read your papers. You went to nursing school in Boston, worked at Boston General and now you are at Portland Hospital. The doctors wrote best references about you..."
"I just do my job." Casey blushed. "And I love it."
"I hope you do it here as good as in the States." Margaret smiled. "I actually have no doubt about that. Now let me show you your quarters and the rest of this place."
They walked through the camp. It consisted of some bigger buildings - most of them medical facilities - and of a couple of small huts - the quarters of the staff. Well, they weren't tents, not like in Korea as she had heard. They were more like little self-made wooden shelters with tin roofs. The operation room and the mess hall had accordion sides, so would be easier to transport by helicopter or truck. Some other elements of the medical facilities were air-inflatable with double-walled fabric, like the ward section, laboratories, X-ray. Even an officers' club existed. Those buildings were also mobile. The camp had changed places quite a bit since the beginning of the war but they had been in this place for more than five months.
It was a camp similar to the MASH camps in Korea, only the name changed to Surg 55th (Mobile Army). It was called a MUST unit - a mobile unit, self-contained, transportable.
On her way Casey also met her tent mates nurses Carson and Dobson, various other nurses, Father Baxter, the catholic priest of the unit and the company clerk Jeremy Jarvis Jones, called JJ, a young, smart and funny black boy who was always up to tricks.
"Oh, Lieutenant, I'm sorry." Margaret suddenly remarked. "You must be starving. I'll show you our mess tent first and then take you to the OR. Okay?"
"Fine with me, I'm really hungry."
They went into one of the bigger buildings.
"You call this food?" Casey was looking at her plate, stabbing around with her fork trying to figure out what she was eating.
Margaret grinned. "Nobody really knows what it is. I think not even the cook. But I had worse stuff to eat. I've been regular army for more than 20 years and the food was always bad."
"Well then I better get used to it." Casey said.
They finished eating and then Casey was led to her quarters. She shared it with three other nurses but they weren't inside when she entered. She unpacked her things quickly and so she left the hut again soon. She heard noises and laughter from the south and headed towards it.
It was hot and sticky, the climate was just terrible. When Casey had walked some hundred yards she stopped and couldn't believe what she was seeing.
There was a small lake just south of the 55th and almost the whole staff was having a beach party out there - although there was no real beach, only grass and mud but nobody cared. People were swimming, sunbathing - relaxing.
Casey was surprised, she hadn't expected this. Nurse Carson saw her and approached her.
"You didn't expect this. I know but you'll get to know the work soon enough. They predicted lots of wounded for tonight and early morning." Jackie Carson said. "This is the place we can escape to when we have some time off which is pretty rare. It's nice to have a place other than the officers' club were you can go and forget the war for a couple of hours. Isn't this location just great?!"
"Yeah." Casey answered still a bit confused and was dragged to a group of young women who offered her a beer.
She needed some time to adjust to her new life, this afternoon definitely was one she loved. She met the people of the camp - most of them were nice people. Her room mates were easy going and she knew she wouldn't have problems to live with them for some time.
It was kind of a déjà-vu for her. Her dad had told her a couple of times about Korea - mostly about the bad things, the wounded, the cold winters, people dying. But he also told her about the times when they were no wounded - about playing golf, football, having a party and just having fun. And this afternoon was fun for her!
But the fun didn't last that long. It was late afternoon when loud cracking noises interrupted the party. Casey was scared to death. Before she had the chance to ask somebody what it was, she was pushed into a nearby ditch and a man threw himself on top of her.
"What's going on?" Casey asked terrified.
"Rocket attacks. The Viet Cong frequently uses the big red cross that we have on some of our roofs as target practice." The man answered. Then Casey recognized the voice. It was the outfit's company clerk JJ who protected her with his own body.
They heard more rockets. The siren of the camp continued its ear-splitting sound and a voice from the loudspeaker gave orders to the personnel to take cover. Then they heard explosions.
"That must be our artillery trying to get rid of the V.C.." JJ explained. He could feel Casey trembling and tried to calm her with some of his jokes. It didn't really help.
"Hey girl, you'll get used to this. Promise." He took her hand and held it until the attack ended after about half an hour.
"That was a short one." JJ said as he stood up. "But we can be sure now they leave us alone for tonight."
Casey was still lying on the ground. She couldn't move. JJ carefully helped her to get back to her feet. He gave her a tight hug and then they climbed out of the ditch.
"Why did you do this?" The nurse suddenly asked. She was still a bit shaky but in the stage of recovery.
"Do what?" JJ didn't know what she meant.
"You protected me..." She looked at him eyes wide open.
He shrugged his shoulders. "Bad habit." He blinked at her and laughed.
She smiled at him shyly and murmured "Thank you."
"You're very welcome. It's always a pleasure lying on top of a beautiful woman." The Corporal blinked again. "Let me buy you a drink."
Casey looked into his dark brown eyes, nodded and finally laughed. This boy wasn't older than 20 years, how could he handle such a situation with so much humor?
Then they walked back to the camp. She felt much better now.
They reached the officers' club and joined the others.
Casey definitely didn't have enough time to settle in. The casualties came next morning around dawn and the flow didn't seem to end soon. Normally the doctors and nurses worked 12-hour shifts but during a push like that everybody worked as long as he could stand on his feet, just taking short sleeping or eating breaks and then continue working. The young Lieutenant soon found herself in a crowded OR assisting a doctor which she didn't know yet. The work was totally different from what she was used to. During nursing school or as a scrub nurse in the OR back in a stateside hospital she just assisted the surgeon. Here she soon learned that her job wasn't only to hand the instruments to the operating doctor but also assisting him by doing surgery herself. There were only two people working on a wounded soldier, so both of them had to do surgical work. Casey caught up on the new things pretty fast. The head nurse and most of the doctors were satisfied with her job.
Her first shift lasted about 60 hours with not more than short naps for her in between patients. There had been several times, several moments in which she wanted to throw up when looking at the various soldiers suffering from multiple wounds or burns. To her most of them seemed to be much too young to be in the army. But somehow Casey was strong enough to manage not to let go.
She ended up working most of the time with Major Elijah Eriksen from St.Paul, Minnesota. Everyone just called him Eric. He had been a chest surgeon at a children's clinic in Minneapolis before being drafted and thrown into this war doing meatball surgery. Casey immediately liked Eric. He was in his early thirties and had a good sense of humor. He had dark hair, light green eyes and the mustache that he wore beneath his mask made him look like a wise, caring man. She learned a lot of new surgical procedures from him and he always was very patient with her. Even in situations when Casey felt like getting sick from the sight of badly wounded soldier or a young kid in front of her on the gurney Eric threw in a joke or a funny comment about anything but wounded to get her mind onto other things. It always helped and Casey somehow pulled herself together.
They both made a good team. They talked about a lot of things while working on a patient, that helped both of them not giving in. The soldiers suffering from napalm burns where the worst, some of them you couldn't really identify because most of their skin had been charred. It was hard standing the awful smell. Casey and Eric only had three of them during this shift but both of them were on the verge of feeling sick while working on them.
Fatigue and exhaustion did their part also. Casey drowsed off a couple of times during operations but Eric would wake her up again. He was much more used to having not enough sleep. They drank lots of coffee to stay awake.
When they left the OR after more than 60 hours all she wanted to do was sleep, for at least two days in a row. But would she get the chance to do that? She didn't think so. How long until the next load of wounded would be coming? How long until she would be standing there again in the blood of boys that weren't older than herself, in the blood of the tiny Vietnamese children that stepped on a mine or were hit by shrapnel? These thoughts scared her.
Silently the doctor and his scrub nurse went from the OR into their separate changing rooms. Casey's T-shirt and pants were covered with blood although she had worn a coat while doing surgery. She threw the gown which was soaking wet from blood into the laundry basket, took her fatigue shirt and stumbled outside. She was definitely not in the mood of washing herself from head to toe now.
When she walked through the pouring rain - the rainy season seemed to have started again - passing the load of body bags that was lying in front of the medical building, she couldn't control herself anymore. Her stomach turned and she knew she had to throw up. Quickly she ran to the women's latrine, arrived just in time and let it all out.
Afterwards she was exhausted. And when she came back out again her tiredness had turned into sadness. Casey knew she wouldn't be able to find sleep right now. She needed a drink.
And she definitely wasn't the only one who had that idea. When she entered the officers' club she saw that it was well attended. People were drinking and dancing, that in a way shocked the Lieutenant. How could they have fun after such a terrible work? She looked out for Eric and sat down next to him.
"How are you feeling after your first tour of duty?" The doctor asked her. "Is everything okay?"
Casey didn't really know what to say. Her lips were trembling. She drank a sip of her beer but that couldn't stop the tears in her eyes. Eric suddenly stood up and dragged her outside. There he laid an arm around her shoulder and they went for a walk. They sat down under a small shelter close to the lake, listened to the rain and drank their beers. It took a while before one of the two broke the silence between them.
"So young! They were so young, younger than me." Casey began. "Why did they have to die? Why is this all happening? My God, what the hell was I thinking? Why did I come here?" Her body started shaking and tears were streaming down her cheeks.
Eric looked at her, his own eyes filled with tears. Then he embraced her and just held her for a long time.
"I know, it isn't fair." He said. "You did a very good job in there, you saved a lot of people. Think of them. Don't let the horrors come too close to you, or you won't survive in here."
"But how am I supposed to do that?" Casey's voice was trembling.
"You'll learn it. Believe me."