BY CHARLIE BAKER
VIRGINIA BEACH — In 1966, I graduated high school in California. There was a draft going on at the time, and I did not care for the idea of jungles and foxholes. I wished to see the world.
So my best friend, Roger Flynn, and I joined the Navy on the buddy program. I was sent to boot camp in San Diego, and Roger was sent to boot camp in Great Lakes, Mich. I didn’t see Roger again until our time in the service was over.
After boot camp, I was enrolled in the electrician’s mate “A” school. Upon graduation, I got orders to USS Deliver, a rescue and salvage ship with the classification abbreviation and hull number ARS-23. No one I talked to had ever heard of an ARS and what it was or did. I left San Diego for Japan, then Vietnam to catch my ship, though that did not happen as planned.
In Da Nang, I was sent to Camp Tien Sha, and all different kinds of service personnel were there. I was put into a barrack and spent the next two weeks waiting for my ship to come to Da Nang harbor.
I helped clean barracks, picking up after soldiers and Marines coming off of patrols and getting ready to go on much needed R&R in different parts of the world. I met many different kinds of people in my two weeks there, but the big thing was an attack on the base by the Viet Cong, my first time experiencing actual fighting. I just hunkered down. I had no weapon. It was scary.
Shortly after that, I was sent to Japan to catch my ship. The second night in Japan, while waiting, I was tasked with a job at our military hospital. I was told to keep an eye on a room, and that pretty much was it. No more information.
These hospital rooms had a door leading into the room, and next to the door was a little window with a shelf that looked like you could put a tray of food on it, then pull the window closed. I couldn’t see through it.
After about four hours of zip, the window sprang open, and a voice proclaimed: “Hey!” I walked over and commenced to palaver with the kid, who was no older than I was then. It seemed he was in the Army and had been stationed at Camp Tien Sha as protection, and he was there when I was there. He said he was in a foxhole by the main gate when all hell broke loose during the attack.
He was in the foxhole with his buddies, and it was blown up. He woke up on the operating table, and the very first thing out of his mouth was, Where are my buddies?
The doctor, being a real jerk, told him they were all dead. The patient freaked out and went a little nuts, and that’s why I was watching his door.
He was better, very bummed out but seeming all right and recovering from his wounds. We talked a little while.
I was amazed a doctor could talk to his patient like he did, so unfeeling. That incident has stayed with me all these years.
When I think about it, I get very bummed out.
Charlie Baker is the post commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Back Bay Post 1211. He lives in Pungo.
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