Dee took the two grunt’s advice seriously. At the Long Binh briefing, the staff spoke several times of intense fighting near the Cambodian border. Her hosptial was near the Mekong Delta. The Viet Cong often used the huge river to ferry arms from Cambodia into the South of the country.
“How is the compound guarded?”
Buzz and Pete interrupted each other in an effort to supply information.
“Fenced in with concertina wire, watch towers and guarded gates,” said Pete
Buzz looked enthusiastically at Dee.
“It’s well patrolled. We’ve placed claymore mines around the perimeter.
If Charlie invades on foot, he’ll trip the claymores.”
“Yeah,” laughed Pete, “Boom! Goodbye Charlie.”
“And the hospital?” asked Dee.
“We guard it real good.” Pete’s voice was firm and convincing. ”But, out base commander doesn’t trust enlisted men with female officers.”
“I don’t understand” Dee replied.
“When there’s enemy fire, you nurses can’t come into our trenches.
He figures we’re not gentlemen because we’re not officers.”
“How are nurses supposed to stay safe?” Dee tried not to appear nervous.
Pete took over. “We’ve built sandbags around your hootches. When there’s incoming fire, you hide under your beds with your head next to the sandbags. Got it?”
The gunner pointed his finger in front of him. He hadn’t taken his eyes off the ground since they left Long Binh. He beckoned to Dee and she came forward and grabbed a bar above where he and his machine gun was located.
Dee squinted through bright sunshine. The hospital below was laid out in a T formation. The Quonset aluminum structures were built to be easily dismantled and moved. There were rows and rows of tents for the soldiers. As they dropped lower, sand bags, artillery guns and trenches were recognizable. Soldiers were obviously fortifying positions in case the TET New Year truce was broken.
Beside the airstrip were a variety of choppers and a couple of small planes. Heavy artillery was hidden behind camoflaged netting. Trenches were in evidence as were various terraine vehicles, tanks and jeeps. Rows and rows of tents for the men were separated from distinguishable hootches
They hovered a few feet without touching down. In the twirling red dust, the two grunts hopped out and helped Dee jump to the ground. They saluted her, wished her luck and promised not to end up in the hospital.
Pete’s voice was soft and reassuring.
“You’ll be safe here, Lieutenant.”
Through the swirling dust, a jeep approached Dee. The medic saluted.
“Antonio Francesco Luigi De Bartola, but call me Tony. We sure could use more nurses. I’ll assist you in every way. I’m happily married, so you won’t find me a problem!”
Dee instantly liked Tony. His eyes sparked and his smile was genuine.
“My first tour of duty, Tony. I’ll appreciate your help, trust me.”
As if reading her mind, Tony pointed. “That’s our own Cobras. They’re airborne inminutes. They’ll root out the Viet Cong and escort in-coming wounded. You’ll get the hang of it. Our hospital staff is a great crew.”
The hospital lay partially hidden in an area surrounded by lush vegetation. Dee took in every detail: newly dug bunkers, soldiers filling sand bags, a guard on one of the watch towers, strategically placed artillery.”
Tony took a dramatic sniff. “Jungle smells different today. Yesterday we had a heavy downfall. It ain’t even monsoon season, but we get lots of rain.’
Tony waved to a soldier and continued, “I arranged for the maids to mop up your hootch. The mud just oozed through the sandbags and in your front door.”
Dee thanked him.
“Tony, do you think TET will be broken?
“We’ll do just fine. The base commander ordered new claymore mines to be rigged outside the fence. The sensors will pick up any movement within 40 meters of the fence.
We have big guns, missiles, grenade launchers and machine guns to protect us.”
“Does the compound get a lot of enemy shelling?”
“Our fair share. This zone is known for heavy V.C movement and shelling is just part of living out here. We let the Cobras take out Charlie, but remember to wear youro pot and flak jacket at all times.”
“The Cobras will take Charlie out! Wear your pot and flak at all times.”
There was a small welcome staff to meet Dee. Major Pat, as Chief Nurse, extended her hand.
“Welcome aboard, Dee. I asked Long Binh to send me a surgical nurse. Your record proceeds you. Our team will be grateful for your help. We have specialized surgeons. When the battles take place, you’ll be doing procedures that nurses would never be asked to do in civilian life.”
Dee’s face showed enthusiasism.
“I’ll do my best, Major.”
“Call me Pat, unless of course, we get a visit from a General.”
The Major turned to Tony.
“Give Dee our best service. She’s in Hootch #4. Charge her Jungle Special rate.”