Oct. 2, 1952: 0800 hours
A military truck sped along a rocky trail. Dust billowing behind the vehicle drifted onto the brush and scrub trees that lined the road. Nothing else was moving in the area. The sky was blue and the weather was cool. The gently rolling hills seemed untouched by the war.
If one could ignore the artillery shell craters and the burned out villages that were everywhere along this route.
Eleven members of the U. N. peace keeping forces were in the truck. The ten Australians were being sent to reinforce another outfit. They were experienced soldiers. Their weapons were never far from their hands. And they never completely relaxed.
The American---an Army nurse picked up along the way---was headed for the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital Unit # 4077. This was her first day in Korea.
The vehicle lurched and bounced as the driver, Corporal Tom Buchanan, struggled to keep it out of the ruts. "Bloody hell!" He cursed loudly and then offered an apology to his female passenger. "Sorry, lady. Roads don't last long around here. Hope this isn't hurting your shoulder too much."
"It's fine." The woman grimaced slightly and then retorted, "Since when has this ever been a road?" One slender arm was braced against the dashboard while the other was firmly gripping the truck seat.
"Truth be told," Mitch Cochlan, the lieutenant sitting on the other side of her, replied, "this is one of the better roads."
"It figures." Sarabeth MacAllister answered with a laugh. Tired, thirsty and aching from the constant jarring, she was, nonetheless, enjoying herself. She had always made friends easily. And these men, glad for the chance of female companionship, had made her feel welcome.
A sudden icy shiver made her gasp. Instinctively, she flung her arm up to protect her face and shouted, "Ambush!! Down! Get down!" as the windshield shattered.
Even before the transport shuddered to a stop, Cochlan was forcing open the door. "Out! Behind those rocks!" He picked up his rifle and grabbed the woman by the arm. The two of them raced to shelter.
"Keep your head down." He ordered as they stretched flat on the ground.
The men in the back of the truck were also scrambling for cover. Some of them were already returning the enemy's fire.
Wide-eyed and frightened, MacAllister looked at the soldier for guidance. Seeing the blood on his face, the young woman reached for the medical kit slung over her shoulder. "You're going to need a couple of stitches over that eye." She noted. Her expression was calmer.
"It will keep." He told her impatiently.
"Some tape across that gash will do for now." Despite his protests, the nurse placed small bandage strips on his wound. "All right. Now, what do we do?" She asked.
The Australian surveyed the terrain. "It's a small patrol. Maybe seven or eight of them. If they had anything heavier than rifles, they would have hit us with them, already."
"They'll be moving around---trying to catch us in a crossfire. As the fighting shifts, find cover to match." He instructed. "That tree over there...or under the lorry...whatever offers the best shelter. The most important thing to remember is to stay down!"
Lieutenant Cochlan was removing his gun belt as he talked. He handed the pistol to the woman. "You can shoot?"
"I can shoot." MacAllister accepted the weapon and fastened the belt around her waist.
He had a somber smile. "I bet you can, Texas. But do you think you can tell the difference between us diggers and the Chinese?" He tried to make light of their situation. Cochlan knew, however, he was not fooling her.
Sarabeth looked at him with a level expression. Her glance went up and down his tall, lanky, tanned frame. And she smiled. The laughter was back in her eyes. "I reckon I can, Outback."
"Hell of a welcome to Korea, isn't it?" He asked. With a reassuring squeeze to her arm, Cochlan issued orders to his men and moved away.
"Hell of a welcome, indeed." Lieutenant MacAllister whispered to herself. Only minutes before, they had been trading jokes and laughing at each other's accents. They were now in the middle of a battle.
From her position behind the rocks, she watched, and listened, in fascinated horror, to that battle. She quickly learned that bullets made different sounds when they were striking flesh than when they were hitting metal or dirt. She also learned that grenades had their own kind of scream. And so did the injured men.
Beyond the front wheels of the truck, she could see a pair of combat boots. Their owner was trying to crawl further into the brush. Over the sounds of the rifles, she could hear his moans of pain. Was that Corporal Buchanan?
She couldn't tell. Whoever it was, he was hurt. And she was a nurse.
MacAllister firmly grasped her medical bag. She took a deep breath. She had worked in emergency situations before. But she had never had to treat a patient while someone was shooting at her. Another deep breath and she was as ready as she was ever going to be. She gauged the distance she had to cover and sprinted across.
Bullets seemed to follow her steps.
Once, she slid on the gravel, twisting her ankle. With a whispered oath of pain, MacAllister rapidly limped towards the vehicle.
Somehow, she managed to reach the injured man. As she dropped to the ground beside him, her movements startled the soldier. Trying to defend himself, he swung his rifle at her. The woman dodged his weak blow.
"Tom! It's me, Sarabeth."
"Get down, lady!" The corporal commanded with a liquid gurgle that didn't belong in his voice. A swift barrage of gunfire emphasized his words. "They've spotted us! Take cover!" His body suddenly jerked from the impact of a bullet. "Go! Get out of here!" He ordered.
"We're both getting out of here." MacAllister shouted over the noise.
She grabbed the Australian, and, with effort, dragged him towards the transport. He tried to help by pushing himself along with his legs and the stock of his weapon. More rifle shots came their way. The woman felt a strange, breezy tugging on her sleeve. Sweating, despite the chilly air, she pulled harder.
Moments later, they were sharing the dubious safety of the truck's undercarriage. It smelled of oil and diesel. It did provide a measure of protection, however.
"Are you all right?" Buchanan asked.
Her hands were shaking. Her heart was pounding. Her head and her ankle were throbbing. Her stomach was rolling. And she had a very strong urge to cry. Sarabeth MacAllister took a deep breath and smiled, instead. "Fine and dandy. Let me look at your injuries."
Lying on her side, propped on one elbow, the nurse gently examined the soldier. A large piece of glass was lodged near his right eye. Other bloody slivers were embedded in his throat and chest. More blood seeped from the hole in his leg.
"My eye? Is it going to be all right?" He asked worriedly.
"It's going to be OK." She reassured him. "Be still now and don't talk."
Sarabeth opened her medical bag, rubbed alcohol over her hands and set to work. Her dedicated, skillful fingers were no longer trembling.