Welcome to War

Welcome to War

From Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul Second Dose

Welcome to War

War is a series of catastrophes that results in a victory.

Georges Clemenceau

I was twenty-two years old when, on a whim, I volunteered to go to Vietnam. It was the autumn of 1970 and, despite my age, I was considered an experienced pediatric nurse, to be assigned to the U.S. Army’s only children’s hospital in Quang Tri.

It was a long flight overseas with only a brief stop in Hawaii. Some soldier, barely old enough, offered to buy me a drink at the airport bar. I was so impressed with the fun, the camaraderie, and just plain courtesy I observed on that trip over. A naturally shy person, I was overwhelmed by how many men came over to meet me. They made me feel as if they were honored to be in my presence because I had volunteered to care for them. All throughout my weeks of basic training I had noticed the near reverence with which we nurses were treated.

I landed in Vietnam at night, at the Bien Hoa airstrip outside of Saigon. I’ll never forget that night, my first introduction to warfare. From the bus we heard thundering guns, saw the eerie lightning, and witnessed the extreme poverty of the war’s victims. They huddled in cardboard huts, their fragile homes advertising corporate giants like General Electric, Ford, and Westinghouse.

I wondered what was in store for me.

A few days later I was flown north, to within five miles of the demilitarized zone separating South Vietnam from our enemy, the Communist Republic of North Vietnam. The airport near the hospital where I was to work was a busy place; military jets were taking off all around me. I had never felt quite so alone. Then I heard someone call “Lieutenant Burghart?” I found myself surrounded by several young American soldiers from the 18th surgical hospital and the 237th Dust off unit. They had a tradition of greeting new nurses with a helicopter ride, carrying them across the street.

However, one man in the Dust off unit scoffed, “Flying across the street to pick up a nurse is a waste of time!”

Another whispered to me, “Private Geoffrey Morris’s unit just lost three helicopters and their crews.”

No wonder he didn’t have much room for frivolity in war.

It wasn’t long before I heard from Geoff Morris again. He was strolling down the hospital corridor soon after my arrival and heard me asking someone to donate blood for one of my young patients. When I was unsuccessful, he watched as I took blood from my own arm for the child.

Thirty-five years have gone by since then, and Geoff still likes to tell our four children that that was the moment he fell in love with me.

Emily Morris

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