Episode 25 - For words left unsaid and deeds left undone: I shed no tears

Ben's condition worsened by the beginning of this week. High fever along with nausea and vomiting had taken over the sneezes and runny nose. Ben lost his ability to walk on Monday and has been confined to his tent for days now. We've been keeping him hydrated but all our attempts to reduce his fever were in vain. - He needs medical treatment. There's nothing we can do here. - said Doctor Johnson after inspecting Ben's wound and his 103o F fever. Ben had to be taken to the San Francisco VA Medical Center immediately. Sergeant Palmer spent most of Tuesday afternoon making arrangements and detailing the situation to Major Munsch. The next day, I drove Ben along with Dr. Johnson and Roy up into the Valley. The blue chartered helicopter was already hovering by the watchtowers when we passed the cinquefoil bushes. I was nervous. My gloves were soaked with sweat. Ben's health was at risk. To top that off, I was going to see Captain Schneider for the first time after I sent her the Valentine's letter. It's not that I was scared of rejection (ha!) but it was probably more that I was scared of being swayed away from one of the things I really enjoy in this mission: friendship. Jill had landed the helicopter at the bottom of the trail to Wolf Rock. We got out of the Jeep and Roy secured the perimeter with his M60 Machine Gun. Jill had a smile on her face, the kind of smile that shows support. Apparently she had already paid a visit to Twentynine Palms Base before her arrival, picking up another jarhead to replace Ben in this mission. The sarge's first option for Ben's replacement was Albert Grisham, who already had been here during the sarge's last leave. But Grisham had been deployed to Afghanistan a few weeks ago. So, taking Ben's place was PFC Brian Harvey, a Scout Marksman from Edgefield SC, a Marine with Emergency Medical Treatment training. Dr. Johnson and I managed to put Ben on a stretcher and we carried him to the helicopter. At 210 pounds, Ben was a little heavy to lift. Especially having my gun strapped to my back and a grenade vest on. But it had to move him and it had to be done nicely. I could see the Doctor wasn't having an easy time either. Private Harvey gave us a hand and we successfully set the stretcher by the helicopters backdoor. I made sure Ben was comfortable and I reassured him that things were going to be ok soon. Dr. Johnson grabbed a bottle of oxygen from the cockpit and gave it to Ben to use during the trip. While the Doctor was helping Ben inside the helicopter I decided to go talk to Jill. I was just about to say "hey", when she put her finger tip on my mouth, came close and gave me a peck on my lips. - John, that was the nicest thing someone ever wrote to me. - said Jillian with an angel's voice. We stood there for a minute, glancing at each others eyes in silence. - I have feelings for you too John but you have a job to do and spending time together is almost impossible. - she said calmingly. I felt my chest tightening up. - You've been a great friend. Why don't we keep things like that for a while, ah? - she continued. I felt like Hoover Dam had exploded. The feelings of regret and excitement at the same time were awful. But I kept a straight face, nodded in agreement and winked at her. Dr. Johnson signaled me that Ben was strapped in, ready for take off. - Alright Captain, make sure this boy gets to San Francisco safe and sound! - I said to Jill, like nothing else mattered. While Roy and Brian were getting acquainted, I took my machine gun off my back, then I got close to Jill's face, looked her in the eyes and returned her kiss but this time on her right cheek. She got in the helicopter and I waved goodbye. And soon, the helicopter disappeared through the silhouette of McMillan's Cliff. I let the professor drive the jeep back to Base Camp. I sat in the back with Brian. But I really wanted to be alone right then.

by Corporal John Harris, March 02, 2006