A blinding flash of light, darkness, pain and confusion. Shouts of “Medic!”, “Incoming!”, “Dust Off! Dust Off!” Gut wrenching terror, sightless, cold and afraid, dumped into a poncho and thrown aboard a chopper… borne away by the Valkyrie.
The organised chaos of triage, the smell of blood, fear and disinfectant. Head wound, burnt hands “You’ll be OK Kiwi, we’ll put you back together again son.” Feel the jab – curtained within the void. Drifting in and out of confusion, day becomes night, becomes day. Sightless and alone, the voice of a woman, the smell of flowers, soft fingers on my pulse. Thermometer in my mouth.
Days and nights and more days, head bandages removed, blurred shapes and movement, I see her white uniform, lipstick and smile. Mind clears as my body heals, my world is a small and lonely room; she comes every hour between midnight and dawn. Soft fingers, beautiful smile, thermometer in my mouth.
Mind of a warrior and still the hands of an invalid, body heals but ever so slowly. Chart corrected each hour, she appears hesitant to leave and I learn her name is Fiona. As I heal and yet remain infirm, my young man’s body responds to the touch of warm hands and the cold brush of the sponge. She smiles and I smile, but the embarrassment of my desire remains.
Walking now, staggering with assistance, a first bath, relax and forget. But still my hands and head are sutured. Dark nights take me back into the noise, danger and confusion. Another long night, another sponge, and yet another damned embarrassing moment. She smiles and I smile, and yet the embarrassment remains unchecked.
My first visitors from the bush, covered in sweat and mud gather about my bed in rotting and torn camouflage. Young mates with old men’s eyes and weariness. In the darkness of night the fear returns, she touches my face and comforts me, bandaged hands and a mind full of scars. One more long and lonely night, she tells me that her papers have come through, she’s going home. Posted back to Australia.
Her last night on duty, and my last sponge. Yet again I stir and the embarrassment returns. Our eyes meet and lock her index finger on my lips, a furtive glance; she closes and locks the door. Crisp white uniform, the smell of flowers, lipstick and raven hair, she straddles me. Skirt raised, gusset drawn to one side. Index finger on my lips is replaced with her lips, a single moment of tenderness in this whole frightening conflict. No passion, just release… and tears.
They wheel me out to the chopper pad and I watch as the door gunner lifts her aboard, crisp white uniform now replaced with starched crisp camouflage. Our eyes meet, she mouths “Goodbye”. I watch as the Valkyrie bears her up and away from her battlefield, she is flying home to husband, house and kids… and I am bound once more for the jungle and chance.
©Copyright 1994 by Mike Subritzky
Author’s Note: A Kiwi soldier’s disclosure during an interview for my book, “The Vietnam Scrapbook – The Second ANZAC Adventure”