Army uniform in a war zone.
Viet Nam and the Evacuation Hospital. 85th Evac. The hat and the mustache. 1968. Tet. Med Evac NCO. Him. Me. Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. First Sergeant. All right you fist fuckers get out of bed. Top. Too many stereotypes. Beer belly, beer belly. Clichés. Did First Sergeant ever have a real age? Was he real? And where had that hat come from? The non-issue hat. Where did I get that? It had appeared in his duffel bag?? Appeared? Like a conductor’s cap on the railroad. Aonngside the baseball cap. Like he was being directed. Rolling up the sleeves on the uniform. Only one stripe visible. I did this on my own. How did I do that? You’re out of uniform Sgt. Bodeen. Even then they knew. The psychedelic SP4 taking the hat and painting it competition orange in multiple layers, turning it into a sculpture, freezing it, as he’d worn it on his head. An attitude. And the accompanying sign painted in the multiple colors and style as the lettering on the Beetles Sergeant Pepper album, hung psychedelically, orange hat over the top, sign reading: Sgt. Bodeen, Medevac/This Way Home. How he loved that sign, that hat. The redemption of me in all of it. It turns up in a box as I pull things from the crawl space in the basement during our move. The orange hat. Part of my uniform. That and the mustache. The Fu Man Chu mustache growing down both sides of the chin. Two full bird colonels running the hospital. One, an administrator, the other, chief of orthopedics. A doctor. In a hospital full of shot-up bones. After Tet the uniform changed for everybody. The hospital overrun with wounded bodies. From all sides. Did we call them sides? In a hospital? There were wards. The NVA were separated from our soldiers and civilians. NVA soldiers hit by so many B52 bombs they disappeared under yards and yards of gauze. 18-year old kids in and out of the country in less than two weeks. I was 22, belonging already to literature. Two days of orientation and dropped from helicopters into Phu Bai, Hue, the next day. Familiarization of the DMZ. Picked up as soon as a medevac chopper could get them out. Short of choppers, they started coming in on C-130s. Out of our place and to Japan or the States as soon as we could locate beds. My job. Get the right diagnosis to the right hospital. Tell the soldier what was happening. If he was conscious. Around the clock. Get the right soldier to the right place. The administrative colonel stopping by the sign, This Way Home, looking at it.We’re trying to get a plane loaded with wounded GIs. Sergeant Bodeen, that mustache is out of uniform. Not to be below the chin. New travels fast even when you’re trying to catch a plane. Colonel of orthopedics running interference. Bodeen, you will not cut that mustache. This is bone wax. What we use to stop the bleeding in bones. It will stand that mustache to your eyeballs until you drop from exhaustion. You will not cut that mustache. You will wear it. Indeed, it did. Curled right around the eyes. Bone wax validating the uniform. Get it from your local orthopedic surgeon.
December, 2013—23 April 2014