by Chuck Keller
We’d moved to St. Louis, but the Veteran’s Administration (VA) said if I wanted to stay in queue, I’d better get myself to the appointment I’d made at the VA medical facility in Marion, Indiana. So after working Wednesday, May 30, 2007, I drove the five hours to Marion.
While I sat in the waiting room another man sat down beside me. We started talking. He said he was a Marine. He still looked strong at about 60, had sandy brown hair which was graying, and a quiet voice. His right eye was gone and the face and skull around it were deformed because of an obviously horrible injury. I didn’t ask how or what happened because some of us don’t like to talk about or remember some things.
What I did ask was if he was in Vietnam. He said he was.
I asked when. He said 18 months in 1967 and 1968. That’s when I was there so we began to talk about places and things. He was in recon, which is tough and dangerous work.
We talked about the troops in Iraq and the PTSD they will face. We talked about how loud noises still make us jump after 40 years. Recently in a store someone dropped an empty pallet behind me that hit the concrete floor with a very loud bang. My heart stopped — as it always does when I hear sounds like that. He nodded agreement.
We discussed a woman’s son, back from Iraq for July 4th, 2006. He formerly enjoyed fireworks immensely, but couldn’t stand them now. That will be a sad — and profound — fact of life for many people returning after service in this war.
I asked if he made it to Danang. He said that’s where they took him when he was hit and lost his eye. That was the third time he was wounded so it finally sent him home. I told him I might’ve carried him off the chopper and taken care of him before his surgery. I was a Navy Corpsman at Danang hospital, in the Receiving Unit.
We ran out to the choppers, took the wounded into our Quonset hut, and tried to save their lives. We stopped bleeding, started IV’s, stabilized them enough to give them a chance to live, and prepared them for surgery.
When it was my time to see the doctor, I told him Semper Fi and walked away.
After seeing the doctor I came out and the Marine and I happened to walk along side by side for a minute. He said, “Doc, if you ARE the one who carried me and saved my life… thanks.”
I just nodded and our paths parted. I hadn’t felt better than that in a long time.
That former Marine said something else very profound during our conversation. “You never know who the drunk sitting at the bar might be, or the homeless guy on the corner. He might have saved your life once.”
He was right.