by Beth Mott
***With great excitement Peg ripped open the envelop and pulled out BJ's letter. It was the first time she'd heard from him since he'd reached his unit in Korea. Anxiously she devoured each word.***
My dearest Peg,
Well it's hard to believe that I've been over here for a week already, though I must admit in some ways it feels like I've been here a lot longer! I can't tell you how desperately I miss you and Erin. Every morning I wake up hoping that this is all a bad dream and that I'm really back home with you. I love you both very, very much.
Everyone here has been very good about making me feel at home, one of my tentmates especially. He's gone out of his way to help me settle in. The rest of the staff is, for the most part, friendly and outgoing. It's almost as if they've all come together and become a close knit family. Support and understanding just eminate from these people, though a lot of them have been here for a long time. But I must say that it is comforting to know that there are other people who understand how I feel, how much I miss home.
Of course, there are a few exceptions to the rule. One of those being Major Frank Burns who up until yesterday was our Commanding Officer. Apparently he's new to the job, having taken over only a couple weeks ago when the former CO was discharged and sent home. Sadly, the poor guy didn't make it home. Apparently his plane was shot down over the Sea of Japan, there were no survivors. I've heard him mentioned a few times in the endless week that I've been here. Usually it was with a voice full of emotion. He was a well liked man and is greatly missed by his comrades and friends, except his replacement, Major Burns. But I guess that's only fair since Burns isn't like by anybody, except the Head Nurse, Major Margaret Houlihan, who is Burns' so-called 'secret' girlfriend. Though I don't know who they think that they're fooling since everyone in camp and out knows of their little romance. I really don't know what she sees in him. Margaret seems to be a smart, warm, caring person despite the harsh military front she likes to put on. Frank on the other hand is a rather annoying creature with beady little eyes and no chin. Due to his appearance he has been bestowed with the fitting nickname of 'Ferret Face', though I've also heard Hawkeye refer to him as a 'boil on the butt of humanity'. And according to Hawkeye he is as inept a surgeon as he is a commanding officer. Due to that he takes care of the fairly basic injuries here. Hawk says that's so he can follow the illustrated surgical guide book as he goes along. He has absolutely no use for the man, and neither have I for that matter. I tried to avoid him as much as possible, it's hard to be polite and respectful for a man you have no respect for. Hawkeye's found a way around that, he treats him with no respect at all, a method that he says has kept him from killing him over the last year. I may be in the same boat soon since Frank, having been ousted from the CO's office is now my other tentmate. Hawk's glad that he's out of the command chair, but I don't know. It was much easier to avoid the annoying little man when he wasn't sharing the same tent. But his moving in has offered a positive aspect. He is closer to be able to torture, and Hawk loves nothing more than to irritate the life out of Frank. But he is just such a willing target, I've even taken a few shots at him myself once or twice. He is just so dense!
Our new CO seems like a good sort. His name is Colonel Sherman T. Potter and he's regular army. But despite that I really like him. He's a fairly good-natured sort and a good doctor as well. He had Hawk and I worried at first though. During our first meeting with him he came down hard on Hawkeye, and myself for that matter because of a few comments that Frank had put in our service records. But last night we invited him over for a drink after a long OR session (my first) and won him over. He eased up a bit and I think is going to fit into our little unit very well.
I just looked back over this letter and realized that I've been mentioning Hawkeye a lot but haven't formally introduced him yet. In case you're wondering who he is allow me to introduce you, so to speak. His real name is Dr. Benjamin Franklin Pierce, but he goes by 'Hawkeye'. Apparently it's from the "Last of the Mohicans", it's his dad's favorite book, so he nicknamed him Hawkeye. He's my other tent mate, and a good egg. I've taken quite a liking to him. He has a crazy sense of humor, is smart, funny and is one of the best surgeons I have ever seen. He's the Chief Surgeon here, having been appointed so by the previous CO. Apparently Frank thought that he should get the position since he's a Major and Hawk's only a Captain, but fortunately Colonel Blake had more sense then to go by military rank. Hawk's surgical skill and expertise far outweigh Frank's clusters any day. It's a good job that military rank wasn't an issue because there is absolutely nothing military about our beloved Hawkeye. He is one of the biggest clowns around. No, let me rephrase that - he is the biggest clown around. Oh, he's not as bad a joker as Leo Bartinaro, but I tell you, somedays he get pretty close. For example: a few days ago he managed to scrounge up a package of hotdogs and decided to have a little weaning roast. However, since we're not suppose to cook in our tents he suggested that we hold our little party in the latrine! I know, sounds very appetizing doesn't it! Anyway, just as we were about to start enjoying our little meal, doesn't the latrine suddenly catch on fire! I have never seen two people scramble as fast as we did trying to get out of there! Was Burns ever mad! He tore a strip out of both of us. I felt horrible, afterall I was still very new and here I had angered the CO in less than a week. I didn't know at the time what a moronic idiot our CO was, which explains now why Hawkeye wasn't the least bit affected by Frank's annoyed outburst. In fact he had a few choice words of his own for the Major. Most of which I will not repeat.
Frank has warned me repeatedly since I got here not to let Hawkeye corrupt me, but I have a strong feeling that Hawkeye's 'corruption' is what's going to keep me sane over here, Peg. In fact, I think he's the one that's going to keep most of us sane over here! I just hope that he doesn't go crazy doing it!
My accommodations are fairly roomy, considering I live in a tent with two other men. There are four cots (apparently at one time there was a fourth doctor sharing this tent, but he left and was never replaced. The army must have decided that we didn't need a fifth doctor, I guess.), a stove, and most importantly, a still. That's right, honey, a still. Hawk and his former roommate, the fellow I replaced, built it when they first arrived in camp over a year ago. They've also dubbed the tent the 'Swamp', which, if you could see it, is very fitting.
I would definitely have to say that this camp is not your typical army post, no matter how 'by-the-book' Frank tries to be. I would have to say that Hawkeye's 'deviant' influence is greater than Frank's staunch influence, for which I am very, very grateful. Everyone in camp likes Hawkeye, but detests Frank, except for Major Houlihan. She likes Frank, but I'm not too sure just how she feels about Hawk. On a professional level they work very well together and seem to have a mutual respect for each other's talents and abilities, but on a personal level they seem to fight like cats and dogs, but I still have a feeling that there is an attraction there, though I don't think either one of them cares to admit it. It's a shame, I think they'd make a good couple if they could only get past the hostilities. Neither one of them have ever been married so they don't realize what a wonderful thing they are missing out on. Have I told you how much I love you, Peg. I love you with all my heart and soul and I miss you so much that I ache inside. I don't know how I'm ever going to make it through the next few months without you.
On a cheerier note, I just remembered something funny that Frank did the other day. This was the day that I truly realized how loony this man is. As I mentioned before, Frank loves military rules and regulations, so one of his favorite things is snap inspections (he does his best to turn this place into a military installation, but so far no luck.) Anyway, the other day he was doing an inspection, so he rigged the toilet seats to rise to attention. I'll tell you, I've never seen anyone laugh so hard as Hawkeye did when he saw that. He was almost rolling on the ground, there were tears running down his cheeks and everything. Hawkeye has this really boisterous laugh when he finds something particularly funny, it alone can send you into spasms of laughter! Anyway since that day I've stop being 'in fear' you could say of Frank Burns. There's just absolutely nothing about him to fear!
There are many other interesting people in this unit. I already mentioned Major Margaret Houlihan. She's a tough one to get to know. She's regular army, grew up in the army in fact. Her dad is a Colonel I think. She always sides with Frank on everything, especially when it comes to army protocol. That is unless they're having a tiff or something, but they seem to make up very fast. Actually the two of them make a rather interesting pair. Hawkeye loves tormenting the life out of them. He told me one story about how he and his former bunkmate, 'Trapper' John McIntyre, tried to break up the little Burns-Houlihan duo when they wouldn't get off their previous CO's back because Radar, the company clerk, was making friends with a new nurse. As far as the two Majors are concerned, enlisted men are to have nothing to do socially with officers. Hawkeye on the other hand treats everybody equal. In fact he and Radar are great buddies. Anyway, to get even Hawkeye and Trapper kept interfering with Frank and Margaret's dates. One time they even sent Margaret on a wild goose chase to Post-Op and snuck into her bed awaiting Frank's arrival and her subsequent return. Hawkeye had me in stitches as he told me the story. He said that Margaret's eyes almost bugged out of her head when she came stomping into her tent and found him and Trapper in her bed. I can imagine it was a priceless sight!
Another interesting member of our unit is Corporal Maxwell Q. Klinger. He's a corpsman who hates the army even more than Hawkeye does, which I didn't think was humanly possible. Klinger does everything that he can to try to prove that he's crazy, hoping to get a Section Eight discharge. His main gag is dressing like a woman - dresses, nylons, earrings, high heel shoes, the works. I've even heard he wears woman's underwear! He's really very harmless, but I must say that he's quite the amusing sight! I tell you, Peg, when I first saw him I couldn't believe my eyes! At first I thought he was one of the nurses and was amazed that it was possible for a woman to be that ugly! You see he's Lebanese and very, very hairy, everywhere - back, arms, legs - So you can imagine how 'attractive' he looks when he wears short shirts and backless dresses! Despite the fact that he's trying to pretend he's crazy he's a good corpsman and a fine person. He adds a little color and brightness to this dull, olive drab place.
Radar O'Reilly is another one of our local inmates. As I mentioned before he's the company clerk here. He's an interesting young chap who seems to be the real one in charge of this unit. He keeps all the paperwork done perfectly and everything running smoothly. Yet despite his skill as a clerk there is still an innocence about him that is hard to find in this God forsaken hellhole. He almost worships Hawkeye. He comes to him with any problem that he has and good old Hawk is very good with him. He acts like Radar's big brother, which is very nice for both of them, Radar being so young and so far from home and Hawkeye being an only child. They almost seem to cling to each other at times, but then we all tend to cling together here.
Speaking of them, I have to tell you about the day that I arrived in Korea. Peg you are not going to believe the things that happened to me on my way to the 4077th. It was like a bad movie where everything just keeps happening at once. When I arrived at Kimpo, Radar came running over to greet me. Then he took me to where he'd parked to jeep and introduced me to Hawkeye, who had tagged along with Radar in an attempt to say 'goodbye' to his buddy Trapper. Apparently Trapper got his orders to go home while Hawkeye was away on R&R, so he didn't know that Trapper was leaving until he got back, and by that time Trapper was already on his way to Kimpo to catch his plane. Poor Hawk was so disappointed, he'd missed Trapper by ten minutes. Anyway, the first thing that happened was that our jeep was stolen. Poor Radar nearly had a stroke when he realized it was gone. He was positive that the army was going to make him pay for it. With no way of getting back to camp, we decided to get a drink in the Officer's Club. Oh, this was cute. This was where I first got a dose of Hawkeye's incredibly insane sense of humor. Since it was an Officer's Club, enlisted men weren't allowed. Since Radar is only a Corporal that meant he couldn't join us. To solve that problem Hawkeye borrowed some of my newly acquired costume jewelry and made Radar a 'Corporal-Captain' so that he could go in. While we had our drinks Hawkeye filled me in about the 4077th and what some of the people were like. That was when I first heard about Henry Blake, their former CO leaving and not making it home and how Hawk's old roommate had just left too. During our little discussion, a nosy Colonel came over to question Radar's conflicting ranks - Corporal's strips and Captain's bars. Hawkeye calmly and coolly told him that it was a new directive from the Pentagon and that they were thinking of instituting a new rank. We were suppose to be in Seoul to do a survey to see what people thought of it. I couldn't believe how calmly Hawkeye lied through his teeth, and I was even more surprised when the Colonel bought it!
After we left the club there was another jeep parked where Radar had left our jeep. Apparently it belonged to a General, who we met coming into the club as we were leaving. Hawkeye claimed that it was our jeep, despite the fact that Radar argued that it was a General's jeep. Hawkeye said that they had just put a General's flag on our jeep so that they could get into the Officer's Club. Anyway, to make a long discussion short, we took the jeep and headed to camp. But that wasn't the end to our fun.
On the way to camp we came across a Korean family who had their daughters checking a field for land mines. Hawkeye got very upset at this and made Radar pull over so that he could try to stop them. Apparently they have the girls check the fields for land mines and if its safe then they'll use if for their livestock. Hawkeye was absolutely lived about it! He is a person who takes life very seriously, he won't even carry a gun, even though every soldier is suppose to carry a sidearm. Anyway, one of the girls found a live mine, so we rushed her to the local hospital, which I must tell you was a nightmare. It was so primitive, I've never seen anything like it.
The next thing that happened was a flat tire. No big deal, right? Wrong! While we are changing said tire, along comes a group of Guerilla soldiers who duck into the woods and begin shooting at us. I tell you we got out of there in a flash. Next we get caught in mortar fire. Fortunately neither one of us were hurt, but there were plenty of other soldiers wounded, so I got my first taste of combat injuries. Not a pleasant taste I must say. In fact I ended up loosing my lunch…and my breakfast! Hawkeye was great though. He held my head while I was throwing up and then helped me keep going. I tell you Peg, I don't think I will ever forget the sight of that twelve year old kid with his stomach blown away.
After making another pitstop at a bar across from camp I finally made it to the 4077th. I understand I made quite a first impression on Frank and Margaret. Hawkeye was laughing hysterically, though neither Frank nor Margaret were terribly impressed I must say. Hawkeye and I had gotten a little drunk at Rosie's, the bar across from camp, so when we get to camp I climb out of the jeep, stand up tall and salute the two Majors, then laughing heartily I apparently said, 'How's it going, Ferret Face.' And fall at Margaret's feet. I don't really remember it, but I understand it didn't go over well with them, though the rest of the camp loved it!
Life here seems to be settling in to a sort of routine, as gruesome as it is. Actually, I guess I came during a lull. My first day in surgery was only yesterday, and I tell you it is something that I would very gladly give up. The wounds these kids come in here with, Peggy is sickening. And the ages of these kids! They're just babies! I don't know, Peg, I don't know if I can do this! I don't know if I can take it!
I'm back, sweetheart. I had to leave you for a bit, I was getting too worked up. Besides Hawkeye came in looking to play a game of golf. So, I went and swung a club for a while, it helped me vent some of my frustration. After that Hawkeye got an idea for something to do to Frank, which was the perfect cure for my dismal mood. I told you he was a wonder!
As much as I hate to, I have to end this letter darling. I hope that this little 'police action' of there's will be over soon and I'll be coming home. Give Erin a big kiss and hug for me. I love you, Peg. I love you both very much.
With all my love,
***Tucked into the envelop was a separate scrap of paper. On it was scribbled the following message:***
Don't worry about B.J. he's going to be just fine. He's a very strong person, he'll get through this all right. I'll keep a close eye on him for you.