I’m reading the book, “Chickenhawk,” by Robert Mason. It’s a memoir of the helicopter war in Vietnam. It harkens me back to 1962, standing on the bridge of a World War II destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin.
Every few minutes, Hueys flew overhead, headed for land. We guessed they were flying war supplies from ships we couldn’t see, preparing for the coming war.
“Chickenhawk” also reminded me of another time, another war. I was a combat medic in the army stationed in Germany. I was supposed to join my unit in Korea, but the fighting had stopped there, and everybody was getting sent home. My unit was broken down, reassembled and shipped lock, stock and blood pressure monitor to Germany. It was the 1950s.
I spent virtually all my time working in the ER division at the large military hospital there. We spent much of our time meeting helicopters bringing wounded to the hospital.
Unlike Korea, however, where the victims oozed blood from rifle or machine gun fire, or rockets, or Claymore land mines, our wounded got run over by taxicabs in Paris or tried to climb trees with hot German motorcycles after drinking their fourth or maybe fifth, bottle of potent German beer.
There was one notable patient.
I was working the night shift, and when I reported to work, the charge nurse guided me to an isolated room at the end of the ward. There was a man in an induced coma lying submerged to his neck in a rubber hammock filled with salt water. He was a navy pilot whose plane had crashed and burned with him in it. My job was to take his vitals every 15 minutes.
The next night, I came to work, and he was gone. I assumed he had died from his burns.
Fast forward to 1962, when I was a newly commissioned naval officer reporting for duty in San Diego. A woman with a heavy accent invited us to stop in for pizza after we had finished unpacking. Shortly after we arrived, a man came in whose face was heavily scarred. It was the same man I had recorded vitals for 10 years earlier. The woman was the girl who had pulled him from his burning plane.
Back in the 1950s, I wanted to become a helicopter pilot. I almost reenlisted and tried for it. Reading “Chickenhawk” made me realize I probably wouldn’t have made the grade; Too much math in the navigation.