Most of you know I struggle with remembering “those bad days“. Today I had another revelation. It so happens that this is the anniversary of my injury date. As has happened the last three years on or around this date, memories jump out at me. Sometimes they come at me in droves. Sometimes just one. This year, so far, just the one today, but it’s a big one…and it’s early.
45 years ago, today (about right now, I think. I was either injured on the 18th at 0300 and transported to Saigon later that morning, or I was injured at 0300 on the 17th and managed to suffer through an additional day in Saigon before shipping out. I think that last is unlikely.
Welcome to U S Army 3rd Field Hospital. I read the sign sideways and realized I wasn’t on Bien Hoa anymore. I’m on a gurney entering 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon. I didn’t know it was Saigon at the time. I was still trying to sort out the ringing in my ears. I’ve been in and out of it since cracking my head on the Tarmac at the 11th Cav’s Heliport on Bien Hoa earlier this morning, so I don’t remember a lot, but I remember rolling past that sign.
I’m lying on my right side, holding my damaged left one. There’s a group of young Vietnamese women (girls, maybe) sitting under a large tree, in the shade, sipping tea no doubt. It seemed like they were inside the Hospital compound. I smiled when one caught my eye. She smiled back, drawing her hand across her throat, the smile turning into a death’s head grimace. I laugh and flip her off. She feigns disgust and turns away. An NCO is in my face screaming at me for messing with the locals. I laugh and flip him off too. Fuck it, I feel gooo-oood!
I think I spent at least two days here, though I can’t be sure. It could have been one overnight and then across the street to Tan Son Nhut and home. I just don’t know and there’s no fekkin records, of course. I lost the Army when I left the 34th in Bien Hoa and they didn’t find me again, it seemed, until they discharged me 2 months later. Things were so messed up, they paid me twice for my last 4 months, then took it all back before they discharged me…all that in about 45 minutes while processing out at Fort Devens, MA.
I do remember snippets at the hospital. I remember looking out my window, I think it was my window or a window near my bunk in the hospital, though I don’t think I was able to get up then. I was on the second floor. The view was of the roof of a portico that stuck out from the hospital below me. There was a sandbagged fighting position there. I was suddenly thrust back into reality and fear gripped me. I had neither Prince, nor any of my weapons.
I remember moaning. Mine perhaps until I wake, but often, it comes from the fellow next to me who has no feet. They must change the bandages every few hours. He’s out cold and he screams through the entire process anyway. I catch myself screaming with him more than once. He doesn’t realize it, he just reaches out. I reach out and grab his hand. It’s a mistake. He crushes my hand and there’s no getting it back until he finally gasps one last gasp and surrenders to what counts for his respite…an unconscious, raging, nightmare that never ends…and never will.
I look up from my bunk and someone is turning away from me, saying something about “sleepy heads”. I feel a weight on my chest. This man says something and my next-door neighbor moans, loudly.
“Hey! Can’t you keep this guy calm? I can’t hear myself think. Come on, now!”
“Yes, sir. He’s just very uncomfortable, sir. We keep him sedated but the pain still leaks through and his nightmares are horrendous, sir. He’s struggling.”
“I see, yes…”
My neighbor screams as his bunk is bumped with all the traffic. There’s people all around. WTF, over?
“Oh, hell. That’s it. I’m done with this. Let’s go.” The man turns from my neighbor to walk away.
“I said, I’M DONE! LET’S GO!”
I grab what’s on my chest and pitch it at the back of the jerk. It connects. The gent freezes. Starts to turn, then freezes again. He continues out of the ward with his entourage in tow. Questions flying. I’m disappointed the ass didn’t confront me. I’m still feeling great.
Someone’s in my face in a minute.
“You better hope we can get you out of here, NOW, you idiot? Do you know who that was?”
I’m not having any of it. This was fun. I laughed. Whoever it was turned and walked away muttering.
I turn on my right side. My neighbor is looking at me through drug crazed eyes.
“Fuck it, man. It don’t mean nuthin!” He was warning me. I didn’t hear him.
My next memory is of sometime after that incident in the hospital ward. It could have been hours and it could have been days. I’m back on a gurney being wheeled somewhere outside. It’s blistering hot and sunny, I can smell diesel and Jet fuel. I think I was headed for my Freedom Bird, a Medivac flight on Tan Son Nhut AFB.
I remember croaking something and trying to sit up. Someone plants me back down and says, “Easy PFC, easy. Don’t want another knock on the noggin, do you?”
“Where…” was all I could manage.
“Home, you lucky bastard, home that’s where. Now, sit still and let me…”
I seemed to fade out for a while again then. My next continuous spell of consciousness (lasting more than a few hours) occurred five days after I was injured, possibly 2 or 3 days after the incident in the hospital ward. I was on a C5A Galaxy headed for Guam. I had supposedly already been to Japan for a refuel and spent 2 days on Clark AFB in the Philippines. I don’t remember anything but snippets of those times, if anything, but when I woke on that jet to Guam and had no Prince and no weapons, again, I went nuts. I remember that because when the guy approached me with the needle to knock me out again, I begged. He did anyway.
This is a bit of a breakthrough for me. I hadn’t remembered much about the hospital until now. Tomorrow is the day I will have left Vietnam in 1972. On this day, back then, I am trying to help my neighbor whose name and fate, I never will know while condemning myself to a difficult path out. I wonder who that officer was and if he had awarded me some commendation???? No matter, I…ahem…promptly gave it back to him. Lol! The memory is worth twenty. He was a shit!