I wasn''t feeling all that bad, considering where I was and why I was there. Of course I was hungry—the IV in my arm didn''t help much. Neither did the post-op throbbing. Still, it had been three days since the chopper pulled me out of Khe Sanh, in the northern corner of South Vietnam, and two since I came out of surgery.
I was feeling a bit lonely, as no one was close to me that night in the Da Nang Navy hospital, so I was glad to see a chaplain approaching. His eyes swept my blanket-clad body from my pained smile to where the blanket dropped flat just below my knees. He sat.
"How are you feeling, son?"
What does a hard-corps, twenty-year-old Marine say? "Fine, Padre. I''ll be back in the field with my outfit in two weeks!"
He passed over that bit of bravado to ask what unit I was with.
"I''m a Marine. I''m with Headquarters, 26th Marines, up at Khe Sanh."
There followed the usual chitchat: my name, where I was from, family and so on. We were discussing my younger brothers when, growing restless, I stretched out my legs from the lotus position I sometimes rest in.
The Chaplain''s face lit up. "Thank God," he cried, clasping his hands together and casting his eyes toward heaven. "I thought you''d lost both legs!"
"Come on Padre. How could I go to the field without my legs? I''m in here because they took my appendix out."
The sequel came several years later. I was safely home and a State Senator, out with a young woman I''d been dating. In a cuddly mood, she was gently rubbing my stomach. Suddenly she stopped. "You''ve got a welt," she cried.
"Scar," I responded, trying to sound like James Cagney.
"My God, where''d you get that?"
"What the hell happened?"
"Took my appendix out."
She beat me about the head and shoulders with a pillow. I should have said, “I don’t want to talk about it!” She’d still think I was a hero.
A few hours after the Chaplin left, they came in and loaded us on a C-141 Starlifter, and flew us to a hospital at Clark airbase in the Philippines. Apparently the intelligence guys had picked up a rumor the VC were going to rocket the hospital that night. I don’t know if they did.
I was supposed to stay in Vietnam, but ended up recuperating first in Japan, then on Okinawa. I was at Clark one night. I spent the morning helping feed guys a lot worse off than me, including an officer who had so many strings of stitches on his body, it looked like his skin zipped on. I felt guilty about why I was there, like I was malingering.
My parents were delighted to learn I was in the hospital in Japan—and out of Vietnam for a bit. Within a week I was going on liberty, hitting the bars in Yokosuka, a patch over the hole in my side.
Getting to the hospital from Khe Sanh was interesting. I started having stomach pains in the afternoon. I assumed it was the warm Goofy Grape Fu