Chapter 9 - "Dear Dad"
I'm sorry it's taken me so long to answer your last letter. I've been a little under the weather lately.
And speaking of the weather, I think you asked about the weather here. Currently it's early summer here in Uijongbu . Already the weather is turning pretty warm, after that warm will give way to hot and sticky.
I'm glad to hear that you've recovered from your surgery. As I said before, please don't keep those kinds of things from me, Dad. You gave me quite a scare. You're all the family I have...
The word around here is that some progress is being made in Panmunjon at the Peace Talks. There's certainly been a lot of 'progress' on the battlefield, too. Both sides are managing to find better and more efficient ways to mutilate the human body. It's appalling.
Bear with me, Dad, this could be a long one.
A few weeks ago I had a few dates with a new nurse. Of course that's not really news coming from me. This particular nurse went out for a stroll in the middle of the night after our last date. Unfortunately she strolled through the minefield...I guess in the dark she didn't see the warning sign and she was still pretty new to the unit. There's something quite sobering about being with a person one night only to wake up the next morning to find that her remains have been blown all over Uijongbu.
She was a shy lady and since I'd been about the only person in camp who 'knew' her I volunteered to deliver the eulogy at the memorial service we had for her.
Dad, it turned out to be more than I bargained for. I talked to the nurses in her tent and it turns out they knew less about her than I did. I tried to pass the eulogy buck back to Father Mulcahy. That's when he gave me Millie's diary. I don't think I'd mentioned her name before...Millie Carpenter.
Reading her diary triggered an epiphany for me. She was in love with me and I had no idea. I don't remember her letting on...but if she had I doubt that I would have noticed. I looked at my reflection in the pages of that diary and I didn't like what I saw. Hawkeye Pierce can be a real jerk.
I've resolved to be more honest with people and let them know when I care. Beej thinks I'm overreacting. In any case I haven't had a real date in a few weeks. I have danced with Margaret Houlihan, the major I've told you about, at the officer's club. She's the one that I wrote to you about a couple of years ago and said that I'd make a pass at her but I couldn't figure out how to do that and salute at the same time. She's changed a lot since then, I'm happy to say. I would really like our relationship to be more but I'm not sure I'm ready for that. She's been hurt, too and I think she deserves better than me. There is also the fact that she outranks me, not that I care about that, but I know it's always been important to her. I think I did tell you about her marriage to and divorce from that Penobscott clown.
I'll say it again, Dad, I love you. You've always been my hero. You're the reason that all I ever wanted to be was a doctor. You've shown me through your example.
Okay, if I know my dad like I think I do, you're still wondering what I meant at the beginning of my letter by "under the weather." I don't have a cold or flu, but it would be a lot easier if that's all it was.
The truth is I've been under the weather emotionally due to something that happened in surgery the week after Millie died.
You know I really thought I'd desensitized myself to the atrocities in this place. By that I mean that I could look on a GI who'd been severely wounded without losing my lunch or falling apart.
This one really got to me.
We'd been in surgery for 12 hours, which is a normal day for us at "Carnage Hall" We were ready to call it a day and head for the showers when we heard choppers. It turned out to be one chopper with two chest cases. Charles and I were elected to operate on them. Two chest cutters, no waiting.
My patient was a young corporal who'd been on my table twice before. We see a lot of repeat customers here. Their wounds aren't severe enough to send them home so we send them back to the front so they can get shot at some more. This kid reminded me a lot of Radar, innocent and naive. What you noticed first about him was his red hair and freckles. You'd expect to find him in the malt shop with a Bobby Soxer named Becky, not on the battlefield playing soldier.
The kid...Howard Owens was his name...his wounds didn't appear to me to be life threatening. He had quite a bit of shrapnel, though. (I'd say 'you know what I mean' but I doubt that you see many shrapnel wounds in Maine.)
So I'm talking to Howard before putting him under...you know the drill...help them to relax...in mid sentence he starts gasping and saying that it hurts when he breathes...so I listen to his chest and it sounds normal to me, equal and bilateral. I think panic...I assure him everything will be all right until I notice cyanosis in his lips.
Before Beej could get the mask on his face to put him under the kid's eyes roll back and his chest comes up off the table and the pulmonary artery bursts! Dad, I've never seen anything like it. It was a geyser! The force of it knocked me to the floor. You know the expression 'seeing red?' The room was red, blood spattered everywhere...I caught most of it in the face. I can only imagine what I must have looked like, judging from Beej and Margaret's appearances.
I blanked out for a while after that... I must have because the next thing I remember is being in the shower with Beej sponging me down, a humbling experience at best. It might have been more fun if it had been Margaret instead of BJ. All kidding aside, and there isn't much to joke about here, it was rough.
Dad, I felt like I'd killed that kid myself, I mean I sent him back to the front twice. That night I had too much to drink at the officer's club and lost control of myself. After everyone left I picked up a chair and broke everything I came in contact with. I don't think it made me feel any better, in fact with all the flying glass I gave myself a nasty cut over my right eye.
Colonel Potter could have thrown the book at me, but he didn't. Instead he called in Sidney Freedman, the psychiatrist I've told you about. When he's not "couch side" he's one hell of a poker player. We've had a few sessions and I guess I can see that I'm not responsible for Owens' death. Some days I'm more convinced than others. I hope one day to stop having nightmares about it.
I'm sorry this is such a graphic letter, Dad, but you've always said that you wanted to know everything that was going on in my life. ( Andy Hardy couldn't ask for a better dad.)
I did get a 3 day pass to Tokyo out of the deal. Sidney told Potter that I needed some R&R.
On the lighter side and anything would be on the lighter side. The MP's brought in a young Korean woman in cuffs not too long ago. She was accused of trying to kill soldiers but it turns out that she's been separated from her family and was trying to find them. I'm not sure what she was doing with a gun. Our former belle of the ball, Klinger has taken Miss Soon Lee Han under his wing. She is cute as a button, big brown eyes and dimples that rival Shirley Temple. Who knows where this will go.
Everyone's getting excited with the coming of the 4th of July. There's a picnic planned on the beach in Inchon. I'm looking forward to it. It's been way too long since I've been to a beach...a lifetime ago. I miss you, Dad. Perhaps there really is an end in sight to this war.
Well, I have to end this letter now, Dad. Beej has just finished his letter to Peg and would like to go to sleep.
Your slightly unhinged son,