Hootch #4 had a wall that was five feet high, and then a screened section that extended up to the roof. The outside walls were protected with sandbags. A sign staked in the ground read, “In case of mortar attack, don’t panic, don’t run. Lie on the ground and cover your head with your hands.”
Dee knocked gently. It was early afternoon and already the sun was a burning furnace .In the communal room a large rotary fan battled listlessly against the hot, humid air. On one of the couches, a nurse slept soundly. Two empty beer cans had fallen onto the slab floor.
Three of the four rooms were occupied. Dee changed into shorts and a top. She lay on her army cot with her door open.
A flak jacket made of fiber -glass hung on the door. On her bedside table was an olive colored ‘pot’ or helmet. Through her window, a myriad of sounds could be heard. It was obvious that the troops were preparing fortifications in the event that the Tet truce might be broken. She switched on her small fan and its sound reminded her of a noisy fan during her training at Sam Houston Army base.
The course in Texas for Army Nurses had been reduced from eight weeks to six w due to the increased number of casualties in Vietnam. She remembered how she was taught to suture and debride burn wounds, and the performance of tracheotomies on anesthetized goats. Then there had been the weapons familiarization lectures, and walk though of a mock Vietnamese village. Dee wondered if she would ever have to defend the lives of vulnerable patients with a gun?
The front door opened and in walked two nurses in fatigues followed by another. They did not seem to notice the blood on their uniforms. Their eyes lit up when they saw Dee rising up to shake hands and give her name.
“Hey!” said the first nurse. “I’m Ruth.” She extended a hand. “Major Pat told us that we have extra hands in surgery. They put us all in the same hootch.”
“And I’m Helen. You are so welcome, Dee.”
Ruth spoke again, “We’ve been on duty,” she looked at her watch, “nearly fifteen hours, so we’ll catch up with you later, Dee.”
Ruth returned within seconds, “Did Pat tell you that it’s ‘all hands on deck’ tonight?”
Dee nodded. “Tet might be broken?”
Ruth nodded. “Actually, it’s practically “all hands on deck EVERY night!”
Dee was too wired to nap, she headed for the mess to grab a cold drink.
No sooner was she through the door when her eyes caught the sight of Tony sitting beside Skip.
“Join us, Lieutenant,” called Tony. “I was just telling the Captain about a little celebration the medical staff has before we ring in the Vietnamese New Year.”
Skip was grinning. She extended her hand and Dee felt forced to shake it.
How are you, Dee?” Skip’s voice was warm, and her eyes sought to break through Dee’s hostile stare.
“I didn’t know you knew one another?” Tony looked at Dee.
“Family,” replied Skip.
“Estranged-family,” Dee responded with deliberate coldness.
Tony got up. “Right, I’ll leave you two to fight it out!”