Chapter 12 - Letting Howard Go
"What a beautiful letter," said Margaret, her eyes welling up with tears.
Margaret, Charles, Hawkeye, BJ, Father Mulcahy , Klinger and Soon Lee took up two tables in the officer's club. The club was crowded that night. Spirits were high as there was more talk about the war ending and everyone was looking forward to the trip to the beach.
Hawkeye had read Mrs. Owens' letter several times that day. Tonight was the first time he'd had a chance to share it with Margaret, Charles and Klinger.
Charles looked Hawkeye in the eye and said, "What a gracious lady. I hope you can accept what she says and forgive yourself, Pierce."
Hawkeye smiled at Charles and raised his glass. "Cheers, Charles."
"Amen," said Father Mulcahy in agreement.
"Thank you, Father, for writing that letter to them. And thank you for sparing them the gory details," said Hawkeye. "You're a man of true discretion."
"Here! Here!" said the colonel. "To Father Mulcahy."
Everyone in the club chimed in. Father Mulcahy smiled humbly and raised his glass and said, "To all of you, the family of the 4077."
"To us!" said Klinger. "You're all the best."
"The finest kind," said Hawkeye, still smiling at the priest.
"I was really just doing my job, Hawkeye. Offering comfort and hope are all in a day's work."
"And you do it well, Padre," said the colonel. "Pierce is right. No parent should have to know that their child died in such a bizarre way. You have the gift of the golden pen."
A peppy Glen Miller tune played on the juke box. Hawkeye stood up and offered his hand to Margaret. "Might I interest you in a lindy, my dear Margaret?"
"If you think you can keep up," she answered with a wide grin.
The two hit the dance floor. They didn't talk much as the dance was pretty upbeat. Margaret was light on her feet. They made a great looking couple on the dance floor, BJ thought. He shook the quarters in his hand.
"Those two can really cut a rug together, can't they?" said the colonel.
"It's good to see our Hawkeye laughing and having a good time," said the priest. Everyone at the table agreed.
The next tune was a ballad thanks to BJ. As the music slowed Hawkeye and Margaret remained on the dance floor for a few steps.
"Margaret can we go somewhere and talk?" Hawkeye whispered in her ear.
"Sure, we can go to my tent," she answered.
The two made their way to the door, holding hands. Colonel Potter leaned over to BJ and said, "Hunnicuttt, I don't think you're going to need those quarters tonight."
"May I buy you a drink, sailor?" asked Margaret who was a bit tipsy already.
"Sailor?" asked Hawkeye.
"Well, you're sure no soldier," she replied and they both laughed hysterically.
Hawkeye grew thoughtful, "I'll never forget him. I wish there was more I could have done. I'm so sorry ..."
Margaret put her finger to his lips, "Don't, Hawkeye, please. Give yourself a break. Haven't you knocked yourself around enough?." She kissed her finger and lightly touched the scar over his eye.
Margaret poured them each a glass of scotch. "Was there something special you wanted to talk about Hawkeye?"
"I um...I..." He reached out and took her hand. He pulled her close and gently kissed her on the lips. "Thank you for sticking by me."
Margaret put her arms around his neck and lay her head on his chest. "You're welcome."
"Attention all personnel: The perfect ending to the perfect evening...Sorry folks...We have company."
"Wounded," whispered Margaret.
"Hawkeye looked at Margaret and said, "Hold that thought."
Day followed night at the 4077. The doctors and nurses had spent several grueling hours in surgery the night before. It was now late afternoon the following day. Margaret and Hawkeye had Post Op duty.
Hawkeye was checking sutures on a leg wound. "Hey, Johnson. That's some pretty decent embroidery I did on you last night. You should be out dancing with your sweetheart in no time."
The next patient on his rounds was a young man named Sergeant Seth Willis. He'd been wounded seriously, so seriously in fact that Hawkeye knew he wouldn't pull through. The damages were too extensive.
"The best we can do is try to keep him comfortable until the end," he told Margaret. "It shouldn't be too long. I give him a few hours at the least, a couple of days at the most."
She hated hearing that. They were all so young. They should have long lives ahead of them, wives, children...grandchildren. She sighed when Hawkeye gave her the news.
"I'll sit with him for a while," she said.
Hawkeye watched her as she went over and took Sergeant Willis' hand. The man opened his eyes that glistened from a high fever.
"Hi there gorgeous. I m-must be in heaven already," he said with great effort.
Margaret smiled, trying to look as cheerful as possible. This was the part of being a nurse that she hated the most. She became a nurse to help people get well, not to sit by helplessly while they died.
"That's the worst pick up line I've ever heard," she said.
"If you don't like that one I have more..." he coughed and closed his eyes.
Hawkeye stopped and watched Margaret with Willis. He'd finished his rounds and now he sat at the desk filling out patient status reports. He thought of something she had yelled at him in the officer's club that awful night; "when was the last time you sat by the bed of a dying boy and held his hand?" She was right, he thought. He could be an 'arrogant bastard' as she'd put it. It was easier for him, as a doctor to detach from the patients, at least most of the time. He sighed as he remembered Corporal Owens.
He walked over to where Margaret sat and pulled up a chair.
"Mind if I join this party," he asked.
She looked a little surprised and said, "Of course, there's always room for one more. Are you finished with your rounds, Doctor?"
Sergeant Willis moaned and opened his eyes again. "Hello, Doctor. I hope you don't mind, but w-when I get out of this bed I'm g-g-going to take this lovely lady away from h-here."
"It's okay, Willis. I have to say that I admire your taste in women," he said.
"Doc, I'm not going to m-make it a-am I?"
Hawkeye looked away.
Margaret took Willis' hand in hers. Willis turned to her and smiled. "I-I knew s-she wouldn't be able to resist m-me. A-all the beautif-ful dames..." he coughed and fought for breath.
"Why don't you rest, Sergeant," she urged.
"N-no...t-there's s-something I-I need to s-say b-before I go. W-will you d-do something for me. I-I have a b-brother I haven't s-seen in a l-long time. A-and my p-parents...P-please w-write and t-tell them I l-loved them. I-I d-don't want to d-die w-without letting them know."
"Willis, consider it done," said Hawkeye patting the young man on the shoulder.
"Th-thanks, doc," he said faintly and then he was gone.
Margaret gently put his hand under the cover, closed his eyes and pulled the sheet over Willis' head. She bit her lip and Hawkeye pulled her to him. She leaned her head on his shoulder and cried softly.
Hawkeye said in low voice, "I see what you mean, Margaret."
Margaret called a corpsman to take the body and then told Nurse Able to take care of cleaning the bed linens. Life went on and so did the work that had to be done.
Hawkeye went back to his desk. What he had just witnessed touched him deeply and made him think. It wasn't just the fact that he'd actually sat by and spent time with a dying patient. It was something Willis had said. "I don't want to die without letting them know..." He thought back to Millie Carpenter's memorial...he'd told his friends that he cared but it wasn't enough, he hadn't been specific. He had an idea.