They had been working more than eighteen hours every day for three weeks in a row. Everyone was exhausted, morale running low. With Eric being gone Casey felt lonesome although there were so many people around her that she liked. Almost the only thing that cheered Casey up during that time were the letters from home. Her dad, grandpa and her "uncle" wrote regularly and encouraged her not to give in. Two weeks after Eric's departure his first letter arrived. She was happy about that.
In the middle of December she found out that Josh McIntyre had gone back home also. Father Baxter told her when he came back from one of his tours during which he visited other outfits, aid stations or small villages to talk to the different people and helping them with whatever they needed. Casey was glad that Josh finally made it out of this hell. She realized how much she missed him but didn't know what to do about it. Working seemed to be best therapy since there was not much else to do.
It happened a week before Christmas. Casey left the OR around 10 p.m., the nightshift had taken over. She was on her way to her quarters when another rocket attack started. Since they came quite often Casey was used to the noise but the explosions still scared her. She saw shells bursting around her, the explosions lightened the dark sky like fireworks. She ran for the next trench to take cover but didn't make it. Suddenly the sky above her was bathed in light. The next moment she was thrown onto the ground and lost consciousness...
When she awoke a while later the shelling had stopped. She heard voices all talking at the same time, footsteps approaching her. Faint screams calling her name. Had it been JJ's voice? She felt her body being moved. When she managed to open her eyes she realized that she was lying on a stretcher. JJ and Amy were carrying her to the medical building. She tried to take a look at her body, there was blood everywhere. She closed her eyes again.
"What has happened?" Casey asked in a low voice. She couldn't move, her shoulder and belly hurt like hell.
"You got wounded pretty badly." Jackie told her while they entered the pre-op ward. "We have to operate on you."
"Anybody else or is it just me?"
Colonel Harrison came over and inspected her wounds. "No, you are not the only one. But looks like you caught most of it. Don't worry, we'll fix you up in no time. You know we have the best surgeons and nurses in whole Southeast Asia." He tried to smile at her and she nodded. The Colonel wanted to operate on her himself, he told Jackie to prepare Casey for surgery and called for Margaret to assist him.
In the OR just before the gas passer was going to take her under Casey opened her eyes again and looked at them.
"If something happens and I'm not making it..." She started to say. "...would you please call my dad and tell him. I don't want him getting the message of me being dead via mail or from some unknown Sergeant who walks up to his house telling him."
Margaret looked at her and nodded. "But don't worry, you'll be fine."
"But if not." Casey continued. "Promise to give him a call. His name is Benjamin Franklin Pierce, he lives in Crabapple Cove, Maine."
When she heard the name of Casey's father Colonel Houlihan was thunderstruck. Her thought's drifted off to the memory of a man she once used to know very well.
"Yes, we do." Greg assured her. "Now please, let us do our work."
The anesthesiologist put the mask on her face and within seconds the Lieutenant was sound asleep.
"Then let's begin." Harrison said. "Scalpel... Margaret are you dreaming? ...Scalpel!"
"Oh, I'm sorry, Colonel." The head nurse handed him the instrument as if in trance.
"What's wrong with you, Margaret? We have work to do! You want me to call for another scrub nurse? Looks like it would be better." His loud, angry voice finally brought her back to reality.
Colonel Houlihan straightened up and took a deep breath. "No, Sir. Everything's fine. I'm sorry!"
"Well, then get back to work."
When Casey woke up after the operation she found herself in the post-op amongst a lot of wounded soldiers. Margaret was on duty.
"How am I doing, Colonel?" Casey asked her.
Margaret came to her and sat down on a chair next to her bed. "Fine. You had some pieces of shrapnel in your shoulder and bowels which we removed. And we had to take out your spleen. Don't worry, Greg did good work and you'll recover soon."
The girl smiled.
"Can I ask you a question?" Margaret then said to her.
"Your father, did he serve in the Korean war? In a MASH?" The head nurse wanted to know.
"Yeah, but how did you..." Casey wondered but then she realized. "Wait a minute. You were Major Houlihan at the 4077? You served with him. My god, why didn't I ... your name always sounded familiar to me but I didn't see the connection."
Margaret looked at her in disbelief. She was speechless, just couldn't believe what that girl told her. She had spent many hours thinking of Captain Pierce after their farewell in Korea. In fact not a day went by during the past twenty years without him being on her mind, not even during her marriage. Through all those years she had wondered if he still lived in Crabapple Cove, the place he had talked about quite often back in the camp, but she never had the courage to visit him or call him. She soon after Korea while working in an Hospital in Tokyo met an Air Force Colonel, married him and got pregnant. The marriage lasted fifteen years but wasn't a very happy one. She always had missed something in that relationship. Now she started to realize what it was. Her son now lived with his grandparents since his mom and dad were in Vietnam.
She's Hawkeye's daughter, Margaret thought. He must have been married.
"Are you okay, Colonel?" Casey asked.
"Yes, I'm fine. I'm just a little shocked." The Colonel explained. "How has Hawkeye been through all those years?"
"Good. Living with grandpa Daniel, working in his private practice and helping out at Portland Hospital with chest cases." Casey told her. "He has talked quite a bit about Korea, mentioned you a lot of times. You two must have been pretty close."
The head nurse just nodded.
"May be that's the reason why he never married." Casey thought aloud.
"What did you say? He never married?" Margaret asked. "And your mother?"
"Oh, you're on the wrong track. He's not my natural father, he never had kids on his own, unfortunately because he's a good father." Casey told the Colonel about the death of her parents and Hawkeye becoming her foster father. "He never adopted me. I didn't want that. I wanted to keep the name Travis in memory of my parents although I only know them through the stories my dad had told me. But nonetheless he always was and still is a great dad and I love him!"
Since Casey had to stay in bed over Christmas the staff of the 55th, at least the ones who weren't on duty, spent the day in post-op with her. And when JJ came on mail call bringing her letters and little gifts from home Casey was happy. She enjoyed every letter.
"Hey, you lucky girl." Margaret said while taking a seat next to her bed. "So much to read. The only thing I got was one letter from my son." Suddenly her eyes fell on one of the letters. She stared at the return address.
"Colonel, is something wrong?" Casey asked.
Margaret took the letter and showed it to her. "I can't believe it. Is this the BJ Hunnicut I think about?"
"What do you mean?" The girl was confused. "He's dad's best friend and like an uncle to me. His daughter Erin is one of my best friends, she's two years younger than me. Too dumb, they're living on the other side of the country."
Margaret still was surprised. "BJ... I still can't believe it. He was at the 4077th also, a dear friend during that time. Does he still have the mustache? Most in the camp didn't like it but I thought it somehow made him very attractive."
Casey grinned. "Yes, he still has it. Peg couldn't talk him into getting rid of it. Want to see some pictures. Dad sent them to me. They were made this summer before I had to come here. Dad and I went to San Francisco and met BJ, Peg, Erin and her younger brother Michael, he is seventeen." She paused and handed her some photographs. Margaret's face brightened when she looked at them and she had to smile when her eyes fell on BJ's mustache. "But since he had been a good friend to you also why did neither of you keep up the contact."
"We kept it up during the first year after the war. But it wasn't easy. I was the only one who still was regular army stationed in Tokyo. The others were back in the States. We somehow lost touch. The only one I'm still good friends with is nurse Kellye. We worked together at the Army Hospital in Honolulu. Have you ever met the other members of the 4077th?"
Casey thought about it. "There was a reunion many years ago. There had been so many strange people. I can't really remember, I was about ten years old. Have you been there? They must have invited you."
"Yes, I remember getting the invitation. I was living in Honolulu then." Margaret answered. "But that day was actually the day I gave birth to my son...bad timing."
They did a great deal of talking during the next days and weeks. Margaret told her some more stories from Korea. The more she did that the more she realized how much she missed the whole bunch. Casey talked about her and Hawkeye's lives in Crabapple Cove. Hawkeye still had some written contact to their former CO, Colonel Potter and to Radar O'Reilly, who had been married and was father of twins.
It took about three weeks before Casey was totally recovered and was able to continue her work. She was happy because lying in bed doing nothing while the others around her worked like hell seemed not right.
Three weeks after her return to OR as a nurse the truce was announced. It was January 27th 1973 and the whole camp cheered. The American troops had to leave Vietnam until March 29th. One day the shelling and rocket attacks stopped, the silence was strange, it was hard getting used to it. Casualties were still coming. There was still work to do at the 55th but everybody was anxious to go home. When Casey received the date of her return to the "real world", which would be February 15th , she was overjoyed. She had seen so many of her friends rotating out, finally making their way back to the States, now it was her turn.
She didn't know what to feel when she headed for the helicopter that would bring her to the military airport near Saigon. She was the only one leaving the 55th on that day, Amy had already returned home a week ago and Jackie still had a few days of work ahead of her. JJ and Mickey would leave in three weeks.
She surely would miss every one of them. They had been her family for the last six months but now she was anxious to see her real family again. Margaret would stay at the 55th as long as the camp existed and would help closing it down. Casey had to promise her not to tell Hawkeye or BJ about her. She would like to get in touch with them herself when she would be back stateside. It was hard for the Lieutenant saying goodbye to her, they had become pretty close during the last weeks.
When Casey threw her duffel bag into the chopper and stepped in tears were streaming down her face. Of course she was happy having survived this war and finally leaving this country behind but the separation from the people who quickly had become very close friends, people with whom she shared her life for a long time in a place of madness, made her sad.
The airport was crowded. People wearing green fatigues as far as the eye could see. Casey had to wait a couple of hours until the paper work had been done. Finally she caught a flight to Honolulu in the evening. It was weird. She was going home but couldn't really believe it. And she was scared. She knew that the duty in Vietnam changed her - having seen badly wounded soldiers day in, day out, not getting rid of the horrible, bloody images, still having the awful smell of the burn cases stuck in her nose and still being scared of loud noises. Her thoughts drifted between the duty in Vietnam, the soldiers she treated - how were they doing? - and the life she would have to face in the States. She didn't know if anyone at home could understand what she had gone through. Maybe nobody except her dad and BJ could. What would it be like working in a normal hospital again without being afraid of the next push of casualties or rocket attacks? Would she be able to adjust to civilian life as fast as she did to army life? She had no clue and that scared her.
The flight went smoothly. She fell asleep as soon as they reached travel altitude. Not a very restful sleep though. Terrible pictures haunted her in her dreams. She awoke abruptly on the verge of screaming when the plane descended to Honolulu airport and wiped away the cold sweat from her forehead.