8. Dear Beej

    “Sherman, Sidney Freedman.”

    “Sidney!” he cried, with equal parts pleasure and anxiety. “How'd it go?”

    “Pretty well,” Sidney's voice said over the crackling line. “He has a ways to go yet, but at least he's started talking.”

    Sherman felt apprehensive. “Anything that I should know about?”

    “Nothing of a security nature,” said Sidney. “He's had some deeply disturbing experiences. He may eventually be able to share some of them in time.”

    Sherman remembered his own homecoming after WW II. Every time some neighbor asked him about what had happened over there, he either trotted out one of his stock combat stories or changed the subject. To this day hardly a handful of people knew what had happened to him after the battle of the Argonne Forest.

    “I can appreciate that,” Sherman said.

    “I thought you would. It's too bad, too, because I think Hawkeye would benefit from having a conversation with you. Unfortunately, it looks as if that's a little too overwhelming for him at the present time. I think your chat will have to be postponed until some quiet evening when you're both back in the States.”

    Sherman's heart sank. “The States.”

    “Yes. I'm endorsing the course of action proposed by the Evac. We'll move Hawkeye to Tachikawa General tomorrow. They have dieticians there who work with the hemorrhagic fever victims. Hawkeye's condition won't be so apparent there. Once he's gained back a little weight and can move comfortably, he'll head for the docks of Yokosuka and home.”

    Sherman said remorsefully, “I was afraid he wouldn't make it back to the 4077th.”

    “I don't think he's ready for that. He needs a little time to put this experience in perspective.”

    “How much time?”

    Sidney paused, then said, “Hawkeye is a doctor, first and foremost. In all of his wartime experiences, the common thread was his adherence to the Hippocratic Oath. That applied to his detainment as well. There's always a mental component that helps get people through adversity of that type. With some men, it's hate -- pure, driven hatred of the enemy. With others, it's a belief, such as holding to the tenets of their religious faith.”

    “Or the Hippocratic Oath,” said Sherman.

    “Exactly. The code of the healer is Hawkeye's faith. No matter what situation he found himself in, he always held true to that creed. That was the continuous thread that allowed him to impose some sort of consistency and order on a situation that in all almost every other way was completely beyond his control. It was his determination to save every life he could that carried him through. And that determination is going to help him pull through the emotional aftermath of his imprisonment.”

    Sherman felt tired. “What should I do?”

    “Later this afternoon, you might want to call and wish him well.”

    “And after that?”

    “Time will tell.”

* * *

    Hawkeye stood under the warm spring sun next to the bus that would ferry him and several other patients to the military airport, where a transport plane would take them the next leg of the journey to Japan. His gear that BJ had brought down for him was stowed. His uniform was new. It felt stiff and awkward and hung on him like a baggy canvas sack. Beej stood solemnly by, hands in the pockets of his lab coat. Margaret, back in dress uniform for the road, fretted at his side as the loading drew to a close.

    “You'll take care of yourself, won't you?” she asked.

    “If I don't, Sidney will get after me,” said Hawkeye. “He's promised to look in on me every few days.”

    “I'm glad.” Margaret's eyes were sad. “I'm sorry that you won't be coming back to the 4077th, though.”

    “It's better this way,” said Hawkeye. “Otherwise, Charles and I would fight to the death over who was the real chief surgeon, and BJ would have to come back from the Evac Hospital to take over. It would be a mess.”

    BJ grinned. “Thanks for the vote of confidence, Hawk.”

    Hawkeye looked startled. “I didn't mean it that way!”

    “Sure, that's what you say now. Once you've gained back twenty pounds, you won't care what you say to hurt my feelings.”

    “Well, that's certainly true.”

    Margaret refused to be distracted by the banter. She asked, “You'll write, won't you?”

    “Only if you promise to do the same,” said Hawkeye.

    “Of course I will.”

    But to Hawkeye's eye she looked uncomfortable as she said it. He shot BJ a glance over her head, but his friend just shrugged his shoulders.

    A private approached their little group. “Major, your jeep is ready.”

    “Thank you.” Margaret turned back toward Hawkeye. Her eyes showed a telltale glisten. She put her arms around him gently. Hawkeye drew her close, enjoying the feel of her and the scent of her perfume. Reluctantly he relaxed his hold. Margaret pecked his cheek.

    “Be well,” she whispered.

    “You, too.”

    She slipped from his grasp. Still holding his hand, she slowly stepped back until his fingers fell away. She blew him a kiss, then turned to follow the private.

    Behind him, corpsmen were buttoning up the bus. Hawkeye said to Beej, “I've got to go.”

    “Before you do...” BJ reached into his pocket, looking uneasy. “I wasn't sure if you would want these back or not.”

    Sunlight flared on metal. With a shock, Hawkeye realized BJ was holding his dog tags. Hawkeye took them in wonder, the metal plates clinking against each other. “Where did you find them?” he asked.

    “The search and recovery team found them after the battle.” BJ paused. “SL and his crew didn't get very far.”

    “I see.” Hawkeye hesitated, then put the tags around his neck. He forced a smile. “Look, Beej. I'm back in the Army.”

    BJ laughed. “Not for long.”

    “Thank God.” Hawkeye's smile faded. He and BJ looked at each other, then stepped forward for a farewell hug.

    “Keep in touch, Hawk,” said BJ, releasing him. “Don't make us wonder again about what's happened to you.”

    “You, too,” said Hawkeye. “I'm counting on you to get home.”

    “I'll follow in your footsteps, never fear.”

    Hawkeye climbed the metal rungs and found a seat near the back of the bus. BJ was visible a few feet away, frowning upward at the dirty window, his arm raised to shield his eyes from the sun. The driver ground the gears, and the bus shuddered forward. Hawkeye raised a hand, and BJ did the same. Dust rose from the wheels as the bus pulled away. In moments BJ's white coat was lost in the haze, and all that was left behind him was an impenetrable cloud.

* * *

    June 2, 1953

    Dear Beej,

    I'm home at last, though I still don't believe it. It feels like a dream. That's far better than what we went through in Korea, when everything seemed like a nightmare.

    The boat journey was completely anticlimactic. It was monotonous, tedious -- in other words, perfect. I ate, I slept, I walked the decks. It was refreshing to smell salt air again. I spent long hours leaning over the railing, watching the iron sea. The Pacific it might be, but the spring winds whipped up white caps and frequently misted me with spray.

    Actually, it was kind of nice to spend day after day not doing anything. I remember I once told Clete Roberts that when I got out, I wanted to do nothing for six months. Well, the leisurely trip from Yokosuka to San Francisco came close to filling that desire. Day after day of nothing but wind and water. They'd initially recruited me for short-arms inspection, but fortunately Dr. Shinonaga from Tachikawa gave me a permission slip to ride along as a complete vegetable, a request that Captain Elliott reluctantly honored. So I had nothing to do but stand outside day after day and let the wind do its best to blow through me. It felt very clean and restorative. I remember one day in particular. The sky was so gray you couldn't tell where the sea ended and the sky began. There were lots of little droplets spewing down that had chased everyone else off deck. I got out that last bottle that you'd saved from the still, Beej. I took it on deck. No one was around. I pitched it far across the waves, and the sea swallowed it. That was my farewell to Korea.

    The homecoming in San Francisco was glorious. I hope it's as spectacular for you. At the first glimpse of coastline, everyone who was still below crammed onto the decks. I don't know how to explain it, Beej. They say home is where the heart is. I guess I'd left more of my heart over here than I'd realized, because that growing strip of craggy green was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. When the first buildings came into view, the mood onboard shifted to ecstatic. When we finally spotted Golden Gate Bridge, everyone went wild. I had total strangers pounding my back -- not altogether welcome attention, as I'm still a little short in the padding department. I myself couldn't cheer. As we drew near to the Golden Gate, Alcatraz held my eye. I kept watching those bleak walls as the ship steamed past, the whole stark complex perched on its rock that plunged sharply into the sea. Despite its proximity to the bay -- or maybe because of it -- the place struck me as painfully forlorn. I kept imagining what it would be like to be in there, instead of doing time in a converted storage room at Songnim. I understand that those guys were put there for a reason, but I couldn't help wondering which of them was staring at a stone wall that very moment, unable to see anything but granite or steel beyond the reach of his foot. The whole time that we pulled into the harbor, it seemed that Alcatraz was boring into my back.

    Landing at the docks was great. There were a fair number of people there. Most of the guys disembarking were former casualties like me, although we had a few regular troops, reassignments or whatever. It was strange to see women dressed up again -- American women with hats and purses and handkerchiefs, not to mention high heels. I haven't seen anything like that since Klinger filed his frocks away. It seemed as if I had stepped back in time, except that the fashions were new. I looked over the faces from the deck as we docked, but I couldn't see any that I recognized. I have to admit, I was nervous. All I had seen were a few photographs, and the film we had conspired to make for your anniversary. I thought in the mob I'd walk right past her.

    Then, as I shuffled toward the exit, suddenly she just leaped out of the crowd -- this absolutely gorgeous blonde and her enchanting little girl. Beej, you are one lucky man. Do you know that Erin has your eyes, exactly? And Peg Hunnicutt in person totally blows away Peg Hunnicutt in photographs. We shook hands formally while Erin hid behind her skirt. Don't worry, Beej; Erin didn't even think of calling me “daddy.” It took her most of our meeting just to quit hiding from me. But I'm a total stranger, and it was incredibly generous for Peg to meet me. Some of the guys didn't have anyone to meet them, and walked off alone. I thought that was kind of sad, even assuming that they had someone to meet them farther down the line, as I did.

    Anyway, Peg, Erin and I had a late lunch as planned. I was under no illusions that she was interested in any of my adventures. I was a link to you, and that's all -- as it should be. She didn't say anything directly, of course, but I could tell she was worried about you, and maybe my experiences were partly to blame for that. So I laid it on thick. The 121st is the best, safest hospital in the orient. There are GIs on every corner with the express mission of looking after you. It would be far more dangerous if you worked in San Francisco. She probably didn't believe two words out of three, but she seemed to relax a little.

    It was hard to know what to say. I tried to stay away from the tricky ground as much as possible, and concentrated on the little things -- what it was like to be your roomie in the Swamp, the triumphs you've had in surgery, some of the jokes you played on me and the rest of the staff. Peg hung on every word. As she got more involved in your Korean escapades, she forgot her self-consciousness -- after all, she was having lunch with a man she'd never met before -- and began asking me questions. I felt a little awkward, since I didn't know how much you had told her in your letters -- things like how many times the hospital had been bombed or whether you'd ever been in danger personally. I glossed over that as best I could. I think she knows I was being evasive, but she was too gracious to say so. If Peg ends up never really trusting me, Beej, it will be this first conversation that did it. But I didn't want her to worry, and I really think you'll be safe in Yongdungp'o until they let you go home.

    When it came time to go, Peg saw me off to the airport. It felt so wrong, me meeting Peg and Erin without you there. Then again, I suppose in that case I would only be in the way. I hope you get home soon, Beej. When you've had a little time to get reacquainted with your family, just send the word. I'd love to see you all again.

    I took the evening flight back to Maine, with only one connection in Chicago. I napped most of the way, so I was in pretty good shape when I arrived in Portland the next morning. I walked down the steps and into the terminal, and there was Dad waiting for me. It was funny, Beej. Until that moment, part of me wasn't sure whether or not I'd ever really get to see him again. But suddenly there he was, looking very much as he had before I left. The only difference was that he seemed a little older, with a few more creases in his face. I'm going to have a lot of making up to do for him for a long time, I think. Our reunion was quiet and enormously satisfying and perfect in every way. I hope your trip home will be the same.

    He let me rest up that day, although mostly I just needed a shower and shave and chance to ditch my horrible Class As. If I never wear a uniform again in my life, it will be too soon for me. The next night we had a party, and I got to see all of my old friends. Dickie Barber and Toby Wilder and their families were there, and Marcia and Annette and Terry. Old friends. It was funny, because they didn't seem like my friends anymore. They're still nice people, and I like them, but they seemed more like friends of this other person, this younger Hawkeye Pierce before he'd gone away to war. From the middle of the crowd it seemed as if I was looking at everyone through a telescope. They appeared sharp and clear and at the same time very distant. I just didn't feel part of them anymore. Maybe I have to go through some sort of civilian adjustment period. They had some gag gifts for me. The mayor came by (he and Dad are old buddies) and gave me the key to the city -- the latch for a lobster trap glued to a plaque. There were other silly things, like a toy doctor kit and civilian underwear (this last from Dickie Barber, and not one of the ladies). It was rough because I knew they were doing their best to welcome me home, but no one there really knew what I'd been through, so they could only meet me partway. I guess part of me is still halfway around the world, walking through post-op trying to be professionally detached from the host of broken and missing limbs that reach up to me on every side. Part of me is still listening for choppers that will never come, and wondering how long this lull will last. My war senses have yet to go off alert.

    The worst moment was when Tommy's parents stopped by. You missed meeting Tommy Gillis, Beej. He and I had been friends since the 5th grade. He died on my table in OR. The Gillises were very nice about it. They said they knew that I had done everything possible. Which was just about nothing, because he had mostly bled out by the time I got to him. But there was this haunted look in their eyes. I imagine my dad had that look on his face far too many times in the last two and a half years. It kind of got to me, thinking about all those lives I didn't save. I know it comes with the territory. It's just different, somehow, when the territory is your own home in your own home town.

    This letter is getting depressing and I didn't mean to do that. What I meant to tell you is that every minute of the day I hope for a speedy end to the war so you can all come home. If you ever see any of our old friends at the 4077th, tell them that I'm thinking about them. I'm going to write Radar, too. Potter said that he was worried about me. I doubt he'll be able to take any time away from the farm, but at least I can reassure him that I'm doing okay now.

    I wish you the best of luck at the 121st and hope it works out. Stay safe, Beej. Come home so I can visit you. My love to Peg and Erin,


* * *

    My darling,

    It's late in the evening, and all is calm. Erin is asleep after her busy day. We met Hawkeye's boat as planned. I was worried that I wouldn't recognize him after all that he'd been through, but he really looked very much the same as in the last picture you sent. His hair had more silver and his face was a little thin, that's all. I could see the white scar on his forehead against the darker color of his skin. He's as tall and lean as a fence post. His appearance gave Erin quite a shock -- I don't think she's used to anyone quite that tall (be warned, my darling). She spent the first hour hiding behind me as much as she could. When we reached the restaurant and Hawkeye and I settled down for some quiet conversation, then she began to come out of her shell. Hawkeye has a gentleness that makes him very approachable, except for that honking laugh that would send Erin scurrying away almost in terror. She even got used to that after a bit. I think, given time, she could come to be quite fond of her Uncle Hawkeye.

    Hawkeye tried to explain to me how far removed you are from the fighting. By my map it looks like only a few miles, but as both you and Hawkeye are at pains to reassure me, I suppose I must consider myself reassured. You've told me so much in your letters, but it was wonderful hearing the details from someone who was there. I can almost see the famous Swamp and your “enlisted men welcome” Officers Club. I would dearly like to meet Colonel Potter, too. Hawkeye speaks of you and the others with such warmth. I can see what you like about him. He was much quieter than I'd expected. I kept waiting every minute for him to make a pass at the waitress or some wise cracks about, oh, I don't know, the Army or his boat trip over here or something. But he seemed content to talk about you and his long posting at the 4077th, and play little finger games with Erin when she crept around the table to investigate him.

    I have to admit that seeing him hurt me. Partly because I can see the strain of what he's been through in his reserved manners and reflective mood. Partly because I'm angry that you weren't given your freedom at the same time he was. I suppose it's only fair, that he was there longest so he should leave first. But I want you to come home. I wanted so badly for it to be you who was stepping off that boat. Erin's birthday is coming up in only a few weeks. Is there any chance that I'll be able to meet you at the dock in time for her special day?

    I love you. I'll just keep saying that until I see you safe at home. Please, my darling. Come home soon.

    Your own,


* * *

    June 28

    Hi, Hawk

    Life at the 121st is okay. I still miss the folks at the 4077th, but on the whole I'm glad that I made the change. It hurts a little less knowing that you're no longer there. I think if I was still sleeping in the same bunk in the Swamp while you were safely home in Maine, I might have become a bit bitter. But here I can pretend that I'm on some extended medical conference. In my imagination you're still as close as the 4077th (if I need you to be there). Otherwise, you and Peg are just in my “hurry back to America” bucket that keeps getting filled to the brim.

    I had an interesting visit the other day from everyone's favorite major. Margaret had come down for a couple of days to do some follow-up statistics on the 4077th's wounded. They're still not back to their former efficiency, which grates on her terribly. I think maybe in the old days she would have been upset because the lower efficiency rating might have reflected poorly on her self image as a head nurse or top-notch major. I think now she's concerned mainly because she really does see that rating as a measure of human lives. She mentioned you often -- usually in contrast to Charles. “When Hawkeye Pierce was chief surgeon,” and so on. It was funny seeing Margaret so vigorously supporting you. I think she's trying to make you into a legend at the 121st. She might even succeed. Your MASH record, you know, is still unrivaled.

    She was obviously dying to wheedle some news about you from me, without it seeming as if she wanted any news about you, so I made it easy for her and just told her everything, including the fact that you'd dated a couple of times, but hadn't seemed to connect with anyone so far. I hope I wasn't too far out of line. She seemed pretty interested in any details about your life there. She again mentioned wanting to give up Army nursing and return to the States. I wonder if maybe you're influencing that decision a little. After all, you were thinking about going back to work at a hospital one of these days. Then again, I could be imagining things. But you might want to drop her a line if you haven't yet. It's just a thought.

    Speaking of work, I'd better get back to it. We're doing a boom business this month. The Chinese have apparently doubled their ammunition again, and the wounded Chinese we see are in much better condition -- fresher and better fed. That little stunt that Syngman Rhee pulled letting all those Communist prisoners go didn't help. We all keep hoping that an end is in sight, but from where I sit, it looks as if this war could go on for a long time.

    I hope to see you someday, if not soon. Take care of yourself, buddy.


* * *

    Hawkeye stood on the platform at the busy bus terminus in Portland, watching folks emerge from the express. The growl of motors and reek of diesel fumes added their unwelcome contribution to a warm July day. Hawkeye shifted from foot to foot, eager to pick up his charge and get away.

    There he was now, climbing down the bus's steep steps with his compact suitcase held high, modeling the latest in Iowan casual wear. He looked much the same, only browner and a little leaner. The boyish look had been trimmed away, to reveal the man that Hawkeye had always known was underneath.

    Hawkeye raised his hand. “Radar!”

    The young man halted at the base of the steps. Hawkeye could see the top of his curly head turning from side to side in a vain attempt to see through the crowd. One thing that hadn't changed: Radar's height.

    Hawkeye plunged into the chaos at the side of the bus, where disembarking passengers struggled to reclaim their bags amid the barriers of luggage that the new arrivals had piled up for loading. Hawkeye edged his way through the crowd, keeping his eyes on the familiar, tousled head whose hairline had prematurely begun to recede.

    A family of six cousins and as many children (or so it seemed) stepped aside, and suddenly Hawkeye and Radar were face to face. The peculiarity of seeing Radar in civilian dress, not to mention at a bus stop in Portland, Maine, was offset by Hawkeye's honest delight in seeing him. Hawkeye collected him in a hug and pounded his back.

    “Radar, good to see you!”

    Radar's return hug was not as boisterous as Hawkeye's, in keeping with his character, but was certainly as sincere. “It's good to see you too, Hawkeye. Are you feeling okay?”

    “I'm in fine fettle. Come on, let's get out of here.”

    Hawkeye had left his dad's old sedan parked by the curb outside. He guided Radar toward it and popped open the trunk. When he reached for Radar's bag, Radar said, “I've got it, sir,” and lifted it in himself.

    “Radar, you're not company clerk anymore. You don't have to schlep bags for anybody.”

    Radar looked embarrassed. “It's my own bag, Hawkeye.”

    “Remember that name, Radar.” At Radar's puzzled look, Hawkeye added, “I'm not a `sir' now, to you or anyone. And I hope I never end up being a `sir' again.”

    Radar looked surprised. “Did I call you `sir?'”

    Hawkeye grinned and slapped Radar on the shoulder. “Let's go.”

    He walked around to the driver's side and pulled the door open. Radar walked more slowly toward the passenger side, looking at the car. Hawkeye frowned. “What is it?”

    “Your car.”

    “It's my dad's car. What about it?”

    Radar shrugged. “It's green.”

    Hawkeye took another look at the Chevy's faded aqua finish, then broke into a wry chuckle.

    Before long they were out of the city, heading up the wooded, winding roads toward Crabapple Cove. Hawkeye said, “Don't get me wrong, Radar. It's great to see you, and big-hearted of you to visit. I'm just surprised that you wanted to make the trip.”

    “Gee whillickers, sir. How could I not see you, after ... you know.”

    Hawkeye smiled softly. “I know, Radar, and I appreciate your concern. I'm just surprised you were able to tear yourself away from home. It is only three months since the wedding. Not that you bothered to tell us about your wedding until after the fact. Were you afraid that we'd try to talk you out of it, as if you were contemplating getting another tattoo?”

    Radar colored at Hawkeye's remarks, but quickly protested. “No, sir -- Hawkeye, I mean. Colonel Potter had told me to find a nice girl and Patty's the swellest. The truth is things started moving really fast with me and her and by the time I got around to writing the colonel about it, that's when I found out that you had been missing all that time. It just didn't seem worth making a big to-do when everyone was so upset and all. I mean it was a big deal to me and to folks in Iowa and in Missouri, but over there everyone was still fighting the war.”

    Radar's words carried Hawkeye's thoughts back to Korea. They were still fighting the war over there right now. Potter, BJ, Margaret, Father Mulcahy -- all of them. Hawkeye clenched his jaw.

    Radar asked, “What is it?”

    Hawkeye shook his head. “I was just remembering your letter, the first one you'd sent after you'd been home a couple of months. You said sometimes you forgot to think about us, then when you did, you'd miss us twice as much.”

    “I still feel that way.”

    Hawkeye smiled at him. “I know. Now I feel that way, too.”

    “I think that's why Patty said I should come visit you. She knows sometimes ...”

    Radar's voice trailed off. Hawkeye shot him a glance. “What?”

    Radar gazed fixedly through the windshield, but he didn't seem to be taking in any of the scenery. He said shyly, “Do you ever remember things sometimes? Things from over there?”

    Hawkeye's heart rate picked up. He forced a normal tone to his voice. “Sure I do.”

    “Sometimes it bothers me,” Radar said. “I'll be asleep and not worried about anything, not consciously anyway and then all of a sudden I'll remember something. Sometimes I don't even know I'm dreaming it, and then Patty wakes me up and I realize that I was back there, remembering things.”

    Hawkeye's hands tightened on the wheel. Mentally he replayed a scene that had already happened too many times since his return. The darkness of his room would bring to mind the cramped space and dead air of the bench seat on the sampan. The stink of mold and the skittering of insects would give way to the sickly patter of cool rat feet, their tiny nails sharp as they swarmed over him on the chill dungeon floor. Sometimes he'd be bound, struggling to burst his chains while anguished screams split the night -- only to startle awake to his father's touch and worried eyes. What is it, son? Another nightmare?

    Radar spoke into the silence. “Hawkeye? Are you okay?”

    Hawkeye became aware of his trembling hands. “It's okay, Radar,” he said tightly. He had to stop the car. His limbs felt shaky, and that was no way to navigate these narrow roads. Nature rewarded him with a break in the trees. To his right, distant whitecaps churned against a rocky beach far below. Hawkeye pulled off the road onto the little overlook. He stopped the car and closed his eyes.

    Radar sounded worried. “I'm sorry, Hawkeye. I didn't ought to have said anything.”

    “No, it's all right,” Hawkeye managed. He drew in a steadying breath, then lifted his head. Radar had turned in his seat to face him. He looked like himself and yet not like himself. He was a man, a civilian man with a farm and a wife and mother under his care, a veteran of a war that still deviled his dreams after months of being stateside.

    Hawkeye said, “Want to walk a bit?”

    Radar nodded solemnly.

    Hawkeye popped open his door and stepped out onto the gravel. He took in the fresh air and sunshine with relief. Radar fell in at his side as he walked to the edge of the promontory. The grass grew long just before the cliff dropped away in a rocky tumble to the barren shoreline below. Hawkeye sat in the grass and looked out over the sea. Radar sat silently at his side. For a while neither said anything.

    “Maybe I shouldn't have come,” Radar said at last.

    Hawkeye shook his head, then put a companionable arm around his young friend's shoulders. “You're a lot wiser than anyone gives you credit for, Radar. Myself included. I won't underestimate you again.”

    Radar looked troubled. “I'm not sure what you mean. I only wanted to tell you what Patty thought. She knew I kept having these dreams, and I just wondered ...”

    “If I have nightmares too?” Hawkeye chuckled humorlessly. “All the time. Sometimes not for a day or two, and other times every night.”

    Radar hesitated. “Do you ... see anyone about it?”

    Hawkeye shook his head.

    “Me neither. Usually it's not so bad. Then sometimes I think about the wounded -- you know, all those people we tried to help. It's like I can still see their faces.”

    “Me, too, Radar.”

    “It's strange. It's like, while I was in it, I just did what I had to do. I didn't think about it. Well, sometimes I did. I guess that's why I went a little goofy. You know, with the ... teddy bear.” Radar mumbled the last two words. “Dr. Freedman said I wouldn't need him after I left. I guess he was right. I mean, I'm not sorry I left him behind. It's just that I think, some of this stuff I will never leave behind me.”

    “None of us will.” Hawkeye plucked up a seed-heavy piece of grass and popped the end into his mouth. He chewed the sweet end of the stem. “I thought my memories were starting to fade. I guess they can't be, if one short conversation with you can so quickly bring them to the surface again.”

    “Gosh, Hawkeye, I didn't mean to.”

    “Stop apologizing! It's good to see you. As a matter of fact, it's starting to put a lot of things into focus.”

    “What things?”

    Hawkeye threw away the grass stem. “After I came home, I started hanging out with my old friends. I tried to put everything about the war behind me. But there's a part of me that's still plugged into it. That's the part that writes to BJ and listens to the news and hopes that the negotiations will finally get somewhere this time. It's as if the war has divided me into two people. There's the Hawkeye Pierce that went to war, and there's the Hawkeye Pierce that's desperately trying to become a civilian again, and failing.”

    “I know what you mean. That's why I'm so glad Patty was a nurse in Korea. It makes it easy to talk to her.”

    Hawkeye found his interest raised. “Do you talk about the war?”

    “Sometimes. It's not like we talk about it a whole lot. We have so much else to do, what with running the farm, and Patty's job at the doctor's office and everything. She works there during the day, but before she goes she helps with the chores and she does it again when she comes home. Mom is real glad she's there because she pitches in and really gets things done. And then when I wanted to take this trip her brother came up for a few days to help out, so it's worked out really good for me in a lot of ways.”

    Hawkeye mulled what Radar had said. “Did you tell Patty much about your time at the MASH?”

    “Oh, sure,” said Radar. Hawkeye envied him the ease with which he spoke about it. “I mean, I told her about our work and the people and all, you and Colonel Potter and Major Houlihan and everybody. It really helps knowing she knows some of the stuff we all went through.” He smiled shyly. “She's a whole lot better than my teddy bear.”

    Hawkeye chuckled. “My dad's a lot better than the still.”

    Radar barked a laugh. “The still! That's not the same.”

    “A crutch is a crutch, Radar. In every way that matters, the still was exactly the same as your teddy bear. I left it behind in Korea. That's where it belongs.”

    Radar's smile faded. He returned to the topic that by now Hawkeye understood was the real reason behind his visit. “So you talk to your dad when you remember things?”

    Hawkeye leaned back on an elbow. The salt-laden breeze was a perfect counterpoint to the July sun. “I write to BJ a lot.”

    “I'm glad you and Captain Hunnicutt are still friends. There's nothing like talking to someone who was there, who knows what you've been through.”

    “You said it,” said Hawkeye, but he wasn't thinking of BJ. He was thinking about Margaret. His correspondence with her was sporadic and unsatisfying -- all surface trivialities and little of the heart. He didn't know why his thoughts kept turning back to her. Maybe it was because, like Patty, she had been there. She would be capable of understanding the painful aftermath of war that Hawkeye found so difficult to assimilate into a civilian culture. The ladies in the environs of Crabapple Cove, however well meaning, simply couldn't. There was a gulf between them and his soul that made any kind of lasting relationship impossible.

    Hawkeye got to his feet and brushed the grass from his clothes. Radar followed suit. “Well, Radar, I'm sorry about the side trip, but I know how infrequently you folks from the heartland get to see our beautiful coastline.”

    Radar laughed his peculiar giggle, and walked with Hawkeye to the car. Hawkeye felt increased respect for the young man beside him. Despite his cares, Radar had a look of contentment about him. No matter what had happened to him in Korea -- the wounding and terror that he had experienced firsthand or through others -- Radar was complete. His dreams might occasionally interrupt his peace of mind, but he had built a home and a life for himself in spite of all that. He had weathered his personal storms very well.

    Radar had found his way out. Maybe, with his example, so would Hawkeye.

* * *

    July 28

    Beej, thank God!

    I can't believe it's finally over. My dad and I listened to the broadcast during those final moments when the guns went silent. We had some people over and they popped a champagne cork, but I had to go outside and sit quietly for a bit. At long last, you're going home. I wish I could be there, and give everyone the fond farewell that I should have given them back when I left Korea all those weeks before, had I felt up to it at the time.

    Don't forget me once you're safely back in California. That is, you're allowed to forget me for one full month, but you'd better remember me sometime after that or I'm likely to be insulted.

    Give my best to Colonel Potter, and to Father Mulcahy and Klinger and the rest. If Charles comes back to Boston I may even see him sometime. I'm officially rehabilitated now and thinking about looking for a job. I doubt it will be at Boston Mercy, but I'm hoping for some sort of hospital situation. My father's family practice is starting to look a little too quiet for the likes of me. I can't believe I'm saying that after only two months back in the States. I guess surgery is in my blood.

    Listen, do you know anything about Margaret's plans after the unit breaks up? You mentioned once that she was thinking about quitting the military, but I wondered if she'd said anything about that lately. I have this suspicion that she'll disappear into the khaki bureaucracy and I'll never hear from her again. I'm hoping that you'll run into some folks from the 4077th before you go. If you can find out anything about her plans, I'd appreciate hearing it.

    Well, I'd better get this into the mail quick, or it's likely to miss you. In fact, it's likely to miss you anyway, but I guess I've learned to have a little more faith in the Korean postal system than I formerly did.

    Take care of yourself, Beej. Have a safe journey back. Please give my best warm wishes to Peg and Erin. You can add as much to that as you want to when you see them.

    I hope it won't be too many months before I see you again. In the mean time, Beej, welcome home.


* * *

    Dear Margaret,

    I expect that it's pretty chaotic over there, with all the units mustering out and being reconsolidated. I know you probably have your hands full, but I couldn't let you fade into the sunset (as I'm afraid you might) without trying to get one last letter through. I've been meaning to tell you a few things for a while now, but the time never seemed right. Now I've run out of time, so here goes.

    I suppose it will come as no surprise that I didn't always fully appreciate you. But, to be fair, I think that an objective observer might conclude that you didn't always appreciate me either. But wherever we started out, I want you to know that you are now one of the dearest people in the world to me. When you came to meet me at the 121st, that's when I finally felt like I was home. It was your smile and your welcoming embrace that rooted me to the ground and made me feel that I was free. I'll never forget that, or the care and friendship you showed me during those disorienting couple of days. We've taken a long road to get to know and trust each other. I'm just sorry that it didn't happen sooner.

    It was the war that brought us together. Now that it's over, I have the feeling that our changed circumstances will cause us to drift apart. I hope that doesn't happen. I'm looking for a job in one of the major hospitals, probably in Portland. Even if I end up relocating, I'll always be reachable through Crabapple Cove. Drop me a line any time. Or better yet, come by in person. I don't expect I'll be making a move for a few weeks at least. Still, I have no idea how long it will take you to wrap up your work there. Come when you can, if you'd like to.

    Even if you don't find your way to my doorstep someday, please know how important you've been me. Wherever you go, wherever your travels lead you, my thoughts go with you.

    With fondest wishes for a happy life,


* * *

    Fishing gear in hand, Hawkeye stepped out onto his front porch, and stopped dead.

    Margaret Houlihan was standing on his doorstep.

    Hawkeye stared in absolute amazement. She was wearing a peach summer dress and pumps. Her hair was pulled up off her neck in deference to the late August weather, but stylishly, not in that severe fashion favored by nurses in the military. Her clear blue eyes gazed up at him with just a hint of trepidation.


    “Hello, Hawkeye,” she said hesitantly.

    He did the only thing he could. He set down his rod and tackle box, took one step forward, and pulled her into his arms. As she melted into his embrace, Hawkeye felt a knot of tension ease inside himself that he hadn't even known was there. He closed his eyes with relief. “God, you feel good,” he murmured into her hair.

    “So do you,” she answered. Her hands felt wonderful against his back.

    He stood away to look at her. Her eyes were sparkling, all nervousness driven away. “You look good,” she said. “Really.”

    “You look great!” And she did. She was like a last golden drop of summer that had crystallized on his front porch. In the light material she looked much smaller than she had as a major. Less formidable. More womanly.

    Hawkeye realized he was staring. He stood back and reached for the door. “Would you like to come in?”

    “I thought you'd never ask.”

    Hawkeye held the door for her, and she walked by. She had changed her perfume again. He didn't know what it was, but he liked it. Something rich. He followed her in.

    It should have been strange seeing Margaret in his childhood home. The living room was small, with the two armchairs and sofa huddled around the fireplace, dormant but still fragrant with a hint of wood smoke in the summer. All of their comfortable knickknacks stood about on the natural wood furniture, slightly dusty in the rays of morning sun slanting through the open window. Margaret stood a couple of steps into the room -- all the farther she could go before hitting either an end table, chair, or sofa. Her eyes were drawn toward the array of family photographs lining the mantelpiece. Absently she set aside her purse and traveling gloves on the small table, not looking or noticing what she did, almost as if she already belonged there and had repeated the same action many times before.

    “My father will be back in a couple of hours,” Hawkeye said.

    Margaret shot him a puzzled glance. “He works on Saturdays?”

    Hawkeye shook his head. “Emergency. One of the neighborhood kids broke his arm.”

    “Is the boy all right?”

    “Fine. Dad told me not to wait for him. Although, if we hadn't had that little excitement this morning, we would have been long gone by now.”

    Margaret looked abashed. “I should have called first.”

    “Not at all. I just hate to think that I might have missed you.”

    Margaret raised her eyes to his. They were so blue. The remembered intensity of them caused his heart to beat a little faster. “Did you?” she asked. “Miss me?”

    Hawkeye took her hand, and guided her around the furniture to sit on the sofa. He paused to collect his thoughts.

    “I used to have this idea,” he began, “back when I first went to Korea. I thought that, when I finally came home, I could forget everything that ever happened there. Just, blot it from my mind. Then, later, I began to realize that that would never happen. I knew that those experiences had made a lasting impression on me. I thought that, if I knew and accepted that as the case, then I could still go on with my life somewhat normally.”

    Margaret stroked his hand, which he still held. “And did that happen?”

    “Surprisingly it did, to an extent. I started work three weeks ago down in Portland, at the trauma department of Maine Medical.”

    “How's it going?”

    “I think it will work out. I've started looking for a place down there.”

    “I never pictured you leaving Crabapple Cove so soon.”

    “I've been here almost three months. Don't get me wrong -- I could stay with my dad forever. It's just that this town feels too small for me now. I've got wanderlust or something. I've got to move on.” He tickled her fingers. “How about you?”

    “Well, I've been interested in a posting at a stateside hospital, as you know.”

    “Posting.” Hawkeye reassessed. “So you're still in the Army.”

    Margaret evaded his eyes. “For now. Anyway, Portland was the logical place to start. It's the biggest city in Maine.”

    Hawkeye tried to catch her eye. “There's nothing `logical' about starting in Portland, out of all the cities in the United States, except that it happens to be in Maine.” Margaret continued to look at the floor. “Margaret, did you want to be near me?”

    Margaret said dully, “I wasn't sure how you'd feel about that. After all, seeing me must bring up memories that I'm sure you'd rather forget. I understand if that's the case.”

    Hawkeye put a finger under her chin, and gently tilted up her head to face him. “The memories are there. They'll never go away, whether you're here or not.”

    “Hawkeye, I'm sorry it was so horrible for you. I didn't want --”

    Hawkeye kissed her hand, the flow of words stopping with her surprise. “Don't worry about it. I think I've got a better handle on how to deal with all this since I talked to Radar.”

    “Radar!” Margaret cried. “What could he have to say?”

    “It's more something that he did, something very wise.” Hawkeye shrugged in humorous self deprecation. “I think a lot. Maybe too much. Sometimes you just have to act. That's what Radar did. He found a wife who had served in Korea, who understands what it was like over there. It made a bridge for him into civilian life.”

    “That's what I need,” said Margaret thoughtfully. “A bridge into civilian life. The Army is all I've ever known. I'm not sure how to be a civilian.”

    Hawkeye caressed her fingers. “How would you like your personal civilian instructor? Someone who was the rottenest soldier in the whole world?”

    Margaret ducked her head. “I think I'd like that very much.”

    And then, because he felt he ought to take his own advice, Hawkeye leaned forward and kissed her.

    It was electric between them, the way it always was, the way he suspected it always would be. Despite all their seeming differences, they were common creatures under the skin. Certainly his skin was on fire now. It was like sparks all over him at the consuming touch of her.

    They dissolved into a tangle of limbs. Eventually they broke off the kiss to come up for air. Margaret's arms were about his neck, her breath coming short with excitement. “Hawkeye,” she murmured, “we started out hating each other.”

    He stroked her beautiful face. “I'm glad that's not where we ended up.”

    They needed no more words after that. Their reunion was even more magnificent than he'd imagined it would be.

* * *

    Dear Beej,

    That's fantastic! I'm so glad you can do it. I can't wait to see you all. Dad is dying to meet you as well. So far we have the Potters and O'Reillys caravanning in from the West, and Father Mulcahy is bringing his sister. The Winchesters are definitely coming, and we've heard rumors that they've persuaded Charles to tear himself away from Boston Mercy for one weekend. I even tracked down Trapper John -- that was a memorable call. He's promised to come, even though he's still half convinced that it's all a practical joke.

    The only one from the old gang who'll be missing is Klinger -- that crazy Toledo scrounger. Well, I can hardly argue with his reason. We plan to send him and Soon-Lee a Care package that includes a piece of the cake.

    Let me know your flight arrangements, and we'll be happy to pick you up. I want to see Erin's face after her first plane ride. This is so strange, how everything worked out. But I guess we never know what kind of curve life is going to throw us. All I can say, Beej, is I'm glad that it threw you into the mix.

    Margaret says to send you a kiss, but I think she'd better deliver it in person. I feel silly kissing an envelope. Make whatever plans you need to, and let me know soonest.

    Love from both of us,


The End

This segment concludes the “Missing Hawk” storyline. Please send any comments to mdes@fgn.net

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