Put a little effort into being nice to folks and the favor is sometimes returned. It doesn't happen as often as it should, but there are surprises around every corner. These are the times I like to remember.
I worked out of an Army hospital in Pleiku briefly during my "visit" to Vietnam. The 67th Evacuation Hospital grounds were shared by the hospital group, my signal unit, the Military Police and a few other odds and ends.
We each had our own little worlds and our paths crossed mainly on the way to the chow hall. The hospital itself could go several days without an American "customer" as our involvement in the war was grinding to a halt during the summer of 1972.
Although the Americans were doing less, our South Vietnamese allies were still going at it day to day with the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese. The Vietnamese Air Force operated a large base at Pleiku. While we had little activity at the old hospital, the airfield was very active and was a constant target of enemy gunners.
Even though we were not the main target of the enemy shells, we were still concerned that one of these expended rounds might be what was commonly referred to as a "short round" and land inside our compound.
I had guard duty one rainy night during the monsoon season. It was cold and miserable. My shift lasted from dusk to about 10 pm. I wasn't due back in the tower until after midnight. I planned on using this opportunity to get some dry clothes on and take a nap. Someone else had other plans, however.
I always felt that the enemy took advantage of bad weather to restock their shelves while our aircraft sat on the ground during the monsoon rains. Their supplies replenished, our foes felt it necessary to remind us that we were still involved in a war.
I was walking back to my room when I heard the "crunch" of a mortar round impacting out in the valley between the air base and the hospital. Before I had time to react, I heard the "whump" of a round leaving the mortar tube. This caused the flow of some body fluids as I thought I was hearing the actual firing of the enemy mortars.
More rounds fell and they were getting closer. My first priority was getting under cover and then heading towards my defensive position during a lull. I dove into a bunker between a couple of hospital wards.
Once inside the bunker, I lit a cigarette and I realized that I wasn't alone. The glow of my cigarette outlined another nervous individual. I could see that I was sharing the bunker with one of the nurses.
I offered her one of my smokes and we anxiously kidded each other about the short rounds. I hastily finished my smoke as the explosions began to abate. I told the her that I had to get to my perimeter position. As I turned to leave the bunker, my smoking buddy told me with a shivering voice to be careful.
I looked back at her and noticed for the first time that she was wearing only a helmet, flak jacket and a towel. I offered her my fatigue jacket and she slipped it on over her flak jacket. It still went down to her knees and I thought about how funny she looked standing there in the glow of the cigarette. Her face peered out from beneath the helmet as the rest of her disappeared except for two bare legs.
It seemed to take forever to get to my assigned position and the all-clear siren sounded just as I got there. I had to return to the other end of the compound for some dry clothes. I got dried out in time to go back out in the rain and get wet again at midnight.
It was quiet the rest of the night and for some weeks to come. I never saw my bunker mate after that night. The glow from the cigarettes left only a fuzzy memory.
A week or so after the attack, I was told to pick up a package in the orderly room. The clerk said that one of the guys from the 67th Evac left it. The only writing on the parcel was my last name.
I wasn't sure what to make of it until I opened the package and found a cleaned and starched fatigue jacket with a short thank you note. My bunker buddy was going back to the states. In her parting note, she thanked me for the use of the jacket. The message ended, "You be careful!"
There was no name at the end, but I could smell the faint scent of perfume. I swear that I could still smell that perfume on the piece of paper that I kept in my billfold when I was sent to Thailand a few months later and I would remember the face and those two bare legs that seemed to stick out from beneath that helment.
Yeah, these are the times I like to remember.
Copyright © 1997 W H "Mac" McKinzie All Rights Reserved