Part 5 - Potter’s Turn
“Enter.” Colonel Potter said as he tidied up his room.
“I just thought I might find you here.” Smiled the psychiatrist. “I hope I’m not disturbing you. I got your message saying that you wanted to see me.”
“Come on in. Yes, I called for you. Padre’s doing a wonderful job, but he’s only one person. Morale’s mighty low around here as you can imagine.”
Sidney nodded as he took a seat.
“Can I offer you a drink? I managed to round up a bottle of scotch. I was planning to save it for a special occasion but….” Sherman stared off into space for a minute while Sidney observed him.
“Anyways can I get you that drink?” he cleared his throat.
Potter poured the drinks, and then sat at the side of his bed.
“Anyways, I thought maybe you could give the good Father a hand with the troops.”
“You asked me that already.”
“Oh. So I did.” Potter said, a bit uncomfortably. He was used to joking around with the shrink, not talking shop with him.
“How is he holding up?”
“He’s taking it rather hard, I’m afraid. Maybe you could talk with him. Radar’s d…Radar is quite a guy, you know. “
“Klinger’s taking over, but he’s no Radar. I’m afraid everyone’s taking it out on the poor guy. It doesn’t help that he’s not what you’d call a natural. Desk’s a mess, to say the least. His organizational skills leave something to be desired. He tries hard, bless his soul. His filing system seems to be urgent and non-urgent. Unfortunately, he has no sense of urgency. You should see what he’s done to the office. Papers everywhere. You have to take a shovel to find the phone. If he put as much thought into the files as he did his wardrobe we’d be alright. I have to keep reminding myself we are all new at some point. Crazy kid. Not section 8 crazy. But crazy nonetheless.”
“Is that why you called me here? To talk about Klinger?”
“Why not? He’s one of my boys, isn’t he?”
“Yes, he is one of your boys. How many boys do you have?”
Potter finished his drink. “They are all my boys and girls. Every one of them. Can’t find a finer group of people anywhere in my opinion.”
“It must be difficult raising such a large family.”
Potter opened his mouth to speak, but quickly shut it.
“Sherman, how are your kids doing? About Radar’s death?”
“No one’s handling it well at all. We all love him. Like I said he’s a member of our family.”
Sidney was busy taking mental notes of every word.
“The O.R. is so quiet you can hear a pin drop. Which if you know Hawkeye, you know that’s unfathomable. He’s one big reason I asked you to come here. I’d like you to talk with him.”
“I’ll do that.”
“B.J.’s on edge, although he’ll deny it. Klinger, bless his heart, is on the receiving end of everyone’s short fuses. He’s been a real trooper as usual. Margaret’s carrying on as always. You’d never know professionally that anything’s wrong. That’s why I’m so darn proud of them. But personally, well, I’d never stick my nose where it doesn’t belong. That’s why…”
“That’s why you called me.” Sidney chuckled.
“Your words, not mine.” Potter set his glass down. “Ready for another?”
“No, thanks.” Sidney got up to set his glass down. “Do you know what I find interesting?”
“The few times you’ve mentioned Radar’s name, you talked about him in the present tense.”
Potter looked down at the floor, as if just the sound of Radar’s name was too painful to hear. Truth be told, it was.
“It bothers you, doesn’t it? When people talk about him.”
“Of course not.” Potter huffed defensively. “Besides I didn’t call you here to talk about me.”
The room grew quiet for a few minutes.
The colonel’s voice cracked as he finally spoke up. “He is..he was.. like a son to me. He was the first person I met when I arrived here. You should have seen him, he was the darnedest sight I’d ever seen for a soldier. He was shirtless and suntanning if you can imagine.” He chuckled.
“Anyhow he set my bags inside and helped me settle in, like a corporal should. He tried to tell me how to set my files but of course I wouldn’t listen to him. But he asked me about my beloved Mildred when I set up my picture on my desk. When I told him I saluted her picture every morning, well, wouldn’t you know it the kid saluted her. That’s when I knew we’d get along just fine.”
He looked over at his picture of Mildred, smiling at the memory of both Radar and his wife.
“He made my days here smooth as molasses. I asked him about why they called him Radar. He told me it was because he saw things before they happened. Wouldn’t you know it but it was the truth. I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it with my own eyes. How would you explain that? Maybe you’ll tell me I’m section 8.”
“I believe you. Some people are quite perceptive. And some people are just special. Radar was one of those people.”
“Donkey dollar he was. Why, I was feeling mighty lonesome for my ranch back home. It was my anniversary, and the gang decided to through a party for me. In walks Radar. Wouldn’t you know it he walks in with a mare! A beautiful real life mare! In all my army days I’ve never seen anything like that.”
“Sounds like he really knew you.”
“Yeah. I guess he did.” He cleared his throat. “I think I’m ready for another drink.”
“Would you like to know what else I noticed about you?”
“Something tells me I’m going to hear it anyways.” Potter said as he sat down and sipped his scotch.
“You started to say the word death.. but then you changed the subject.”
“I stuttered. That doesn’t mean anything.”
“Let me do the analyzing. You say the word death all the time. But you were talking about someone you say was like a son to you and yet you can’t bring yourself to say the word death. Why do you think that is?”
“I think I’m going to need the whole bottle when I’m talking to you.”
He was met with silence. Sidney placed his knuckles on his mouth as he actively listened to his friend.
“I don’t know, Sidney. I know he’s d..gone. I know..I was there. I worked on him…I tried everything I could and there was nothing I could do. Nothing.” He looked away. “Not a darn thing I could do.”
Sidney could sense the helplessness that Potter must have felt on that terrible day. He could see that he still couldn’t bring himself to admit that Radar was dead. Clearly, he was in the denial stage of the grief process. He knew there was no way to rush things. Everyone must grieve in their own way. If he could get him to say the “d” word then perhaps Potter might take a step in the right direction.
“What is it about the word death that bothers you, Sherman?”
“I don’t know! I use it all the time. I say it in my sleep. I eat, breathe, live, sleep it. I don’t know why I can’t bring myself to say it. I guess I never really thought about it.”
Sidney paused for a minute, as he was apt to do when a patient revealed something important about himself.
“I guess I’m just not ready. That’s all there is to it.”
“Is it, now?”
“I don’t know where you’re going with this, but I think I’ve said enough. Now if you don’t mind, Sidney, I think I’d like to hit the hay. We’ve been suspiciously quiet lately and I don’t know how long our luck will last. Hopefully you can talk to some of the boys tomorrow.” Potter changed the subject.
He’d covered a lot more than he’d meant to. Actually he hadn’t really meant to talk about himself at all. Psychiatrists could be so tricky.
“Well, Sherman,” Sidney said as he stood up.” I’ll certainly do my best.”
He knew that was as far as he would get with his friend, but he was satisfied that he’d made some real progress. Sherman had shared some memories of Radar. He just wasn’t ready to let go of his friend, which was perfectly natural. The important thing was that he had opened up. Even colonels needed to get things out in the open. Perhaps, even, especially colonels.
Part 6 - B.J.'s Turn
Blessed are those who morn, for they shall be comforted.
“Father, can you spare a moment?” B.J. knocked on the door of Father Mulcahy’s tent. He entered the room.
“Of course.” He said, setting down the pen on the desk. “I was just taking some time to write..to prepare..well, I’m sure you know. It’s a mighty heavy cross to bear when I must prepare for occasions such as these. I confess that I don’t really know where to begin. This is a most difficult and grievous ceremony to prepare for. I’m so sorry, B.J. I shouldn’t be laying my burden on you. Most certainly that’s not why you came to me.”
“It’s okay, Father. Everybody’s doing the best they can right now. I’m sure you’re having just as difficult a time as the rest of us. I can’t believe this is happening.” B.J. said sadly as he leaned against the desk.
“How are you doing? I know how fond of Radar you were. We all were. He was an extraordinary young man.”
“That he was. I can’t even begin to comprehend what’s happened. This is just …I can’t explain it. I deal with death on a weekly basis.. Not that it’s okay. It’s not okay. It’s inexcusable. Every time it happens you think there’s something more you could have done to save them. You replay it over and over in your head until you think you’re going crazy. You’ve can’t take anymore and than you realize you don’t have time to think. It’s time to take care of the next guy. You start to wonder when you’ve become so hard that you can keep going even when you just felt a guy’s heart stop beating. You almost wonder who you’ve become when you can just call the death and move on to the next guy.” Said B.J., his voice fading at the end of his speech.
“You have quite a heavy burden. I see what you do day in and day out and I must say that you have the most difficult job in the world. I don’t envy you. Try to keep in mind all the lives you save. I know that it’s easy for me to tell you that but it’s something to bear in mind.”
“I wish there were more that I could say to encourage you.” Father Mulcahy offered as he watched B.J. shake his head in despair.
B.J. rubbed the elbow of his pink shirt out of nervousness. “It’s not you, Father. I just..I can’t explain how I’m feeling right now. I don’t even know if I know how I’m feeling. I haven’t felt like this since I’ve been here. It’s different than anything I’ve ever felt. I’ve lost an aunt once. I saw her at Thanksgiving before I came here. She was seventy-seven. Sure, I felt sad. My grandparents are dead. I missed them more than anything in my life. I still miss them. But I knew they lived their lives. This is different. Radar was nineteen.”
B.J. moved over to the chair across from the priest. “Ninteen! How can God explain that to me? I’m so angry I could kick something- don’t worry, I’ll try to contain myself. But I’m angry. He was cut down at the prime of his life. How can I not be angry? How can any of us not be angry? Radar was one of us. He was my friend. A real good kid if I ever met one. Tell me, what did he do to deserve this?”
It was difficult to see his friend this upset. “I…”
“No, I want to know! I want to know how God can justify allowing this to happen! He didn’t have to die. Why did this have to happen!” he stood up.
“I..” Father Mulcahy started, nervously. “This is difficult for everyone. He was loved by everyone. There are no answers…we will never know why this happened. I wish I could give you a better answer than that. The truth is I’m still searching for an answer myself. I’m so sorry.”
B.J. nodded. “I’m sorry, Father. I didn’t mean to lose my cool.”
The priest smiled. “It’s no problem, son. That’s what I’m here for.”
The truth was, B.J. wasn’t the only one who was angry. Father Mulcahy was angry, too. He hadn’t had any free time in between counsel and preparing for the service. At night time he had prayed, of course, but he’d been too exhausted to think. But tonight B.J. had summed up what he himself had been feeling. Of course, he couldn’t allow himself to be angry, At least that’s what he told himself.
They that sow in tears shall reap in joy
He that goeth fourth and weepeth, bearing
Precious seed, shall doubtless come again
With rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him
Psalms 126: 5-6
The words he could copy, but his thoughts refused to flow. This was one of the most difficult services he had ever had to prepare. He took off his glasses, set them beside his Bible, and wiped the tears from his eyes. The priest had heard Sidney was in camp; perhaps it was time to pay him a visit.