The three nurses followed the orderly out to awaiting the incoming chopper.Medics and soldiers emerged. They placed each bag on a hospital trolley and moved the remains inside the hospital. The orderly spoke, “Just follow after the last soldier is unloaded. They’re headed for the holding morgue.”
Dee responded out of nervousness. “We just saw coffins being taken to the plane.” She visualized what she had earlier witnessed.
Yes, Ma’am. These guys need your tagging and we’ll take care of them. We usually do the loading at midnight. It’s easier for the living that way. But, we got overwhelmed and we had to do some of the loading during day light.”
The mortuary had numerous steel tables. The three nurses stared at the first four body bags.
“It will go quickly,” said the orderly. “A soldier will unzip the bag for you. Once you identify cause of death, write it on the tag. The soldier will close and remove the bag. Then, you get the next fallen hero. We owe it to their families to do this type of duty.”
Dee breathed deeply as the first bag was unzipped. She gasped and instantly put the back of her hand to cover her nose. The smell was overpowering, but the sight of maggots crawling out of a skull brought numbness. She watched unable to move.
She knew that in the tropics, maggots quickly invaded a dead carcass. The solider accompanying Dee coughed to get her attention. She spoke aloud as she wrote, ‘Gun shot wound to left temple. The sound of her voice gave her confidence, and the quick zipping of the bag, assured her that the soldier felt confident in her diagnosis.
As Dee waited for the second bag, Sue Montgomery vomited.
“Jesus, have mercy.” She prayed as she recovered her composure.
The second bag was unzipped for Dee.
“A pair of light blue eyes stared upwards. She had paid attention to the young soldier’s face without signs of injury. In the corner of her eye, she saw a massive pool of semi- congealed blood, some of it still seeping into the lining of the bag.
In place of a heart was a hole attached to a few ribs. She stumbled for words.
Aloud she said, “Cause of death…..”
The soldier whispered, “Heart trauma, Ma’am.”
“Thank you.” Dee whispered back. She noticed the red cross on his shoulder.
“Medic, Ma’am.” He added by way of explanation.
A ‘Doughnut Sally’ served the nurses cold drinks, a plate of sandwiches, and donuts.Like their predessors in other wars, these were volunteer women. In Vietnam, they entertained the troops, put on craft workshops, and wrote letters home for wounded soldiers. It was in World War II, that they received the nickname, ‘Donut Sally,’ because nearly every coffee was served with a donut.
Lieutenant Sophia Wong spoke her thoughts aloud.
“What if one of those dead soldiers had been someone we knew?”
No one answered.
Dee turned to Susan.
“Sue, you must have seen something awful. I’ve worked with you and you’ve got the constitution of an ox.”
“Sweet Jesus, that child was burn to a crisp. Must have got hit by flame throwers or napalm. I prayed and then I wrote, “died from multiple wounds. What else could I have written?”
“Nothing,” said Dee. As she placed a hand on Sue’s shoulders, she noticed that her friend’s hands were trembling.
The MEDAL OF HONOR, VIETNAM – Awarded to fallen heroes.