Moment from “Pain of the Pearl”

It is said that “all is fair in love and war.”

True love does not need excuse.
True love does need honesty.

1955 Ed and Bev
North Vietnam’s Tet Offensive began in January 1968. It wrenched me away from my family and tossed me into a mangle of gore and brilliance – and love. It also bumped then-president Lyndon Banes Johnson out of politics. Jennie was my USNR lieutenant surgical nurse assistant and I was a USNR-drafted lieutenant commander surgeon. Being conscripted was so different: I had always been able to seek fulfillment through my own effective decisions, not through grappling with the constantly changing orders of others.


Jennie and I had both been shaken adrift, this to the Guam Naval Air-Evacuation Hospital, the first real triage station off the Vietnam battlefields. Yesterday, for both of us, it was all craziness. Eleven straight hours of repairing too many severely injured Marines.

I stepped out of my Quonset Hut quarters where I had yet to unpack since the emergency yank-away from my life in Boston. The hall floors were monumentally squeaky, always alerting the guard to the Hut’s comings and goings. The tropical sun was bright and warm as I looked toward the sound of my name being called. It was Jennie, from the top of the stained concrete stairs that adjoined the above parking lot. She was freshly scrubbed and wearing crisp shorts and blouse, waving mightily while lightly tripping down the stairs with the grace of the athlete I would come to know. It was the first time I had seen Jennie’s face in daylight. My heart raced.

She was coming to teach me that she was ready for a wartime moment of her own. Her moment needed to possess me, to hold and caress me, to absorb my skill and comfort. No thought of wives or past lovers.

Jennie reached the bottom of the stairs and smiled out a nifty salute, “What is your command, commander?”


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