William C. Daniels, Jr., Vietnam veteran
Minneapolis, Minnesota, Hennepin
The day sarted out OK. The night before was even kind of neat. At midnight all the SP's around the perimeter shot off parachute flares. Hundreds of them floated down in long snaky lines around the edge of the mother huge base at Cam Ranh glowing white orange off the low clouds.
It was supposed to be a day off. A bunch of us went to the beach down by the rock quarry. The monsoon was blowing the waves up on that side of the peninsula. The waves and all the rain runoff lowered the visibility in the water so much it didn't make any sense to even think about going diving. And it almost felt cold. We got ripped.
The war was winding down and two thirds of the hospital got early orders and DEROSed five days before. We sat around wondering out loud about how the Russian troops were going to have thier minds completely blown when they found all the psychedelic grafitti painted inside the caves and on the rocks when they finally took.
But, after a while, being critical to the mission started getting to us. We ended up straggling back to the hospital area one by one.
I got back early in the afternoon, I stopped by the lab to check on specimans processing. This guy from AID came in wearing Hushpuppies and carrying a handful of flimsy papers.
He stared at all the tinsel and bulbs hanging from the lights and the autopsy table. I tried to explain to him that we couldn't find a tree to decorate so we decided the morgue would do just as well. He didn't understand.
He was with some Vietnames civilians. He needed me to open up the cooler so they could get a body. Some drunk lifer beat up a whore last night. She was dead when they got her to the ER. Now the family wanted to take her back.
I can still remember the combination on the padlock. 1-2-2-4. Kind of ironic, when I think about it now.
I opened the cooler and braced myself for that sick sweet smell left over from the thousands of deaths it had held.
She was wrapped tight in white plastic. She was small and harder and colder than anything I have ever touched. I could have picked her up by myself, easily.
The AID guy and I moved the stretcher with her on it out of the cooler next to the little three wheel truck they brought to carry her.
The old woman there in black silk pants and pointed straw hat let out a screem and collapsed to the ground. Whatever held her up for thirty or forty or fifty hard years just couldn't do it any more. The woman curled up on the hard sand and wailed. She clutched wildly at the only living, human thing nearby. I thought for a moment that it was exactly as if the woman had a need to be so close to the earth in a way so elemental that she had just about become part of the ground and was squeezing my legs so hard she was pulling me down into it with her.
The woman looked up at me. I looked down at her. I don't know what she saw. I don't think she liked it. I saw almost all the sorrow in the whole world.
....mother and child.....sleep in heavenly peace....
sleep in heavenly peace.....