"That's Parks. She's short!"
Back in Cu Chi a week later, I hopped off the chopper at the 12th Evac and stepped right into a mass casualty situation. I ran back to my hooch, dropped off my duffel, changed into jungle fatigues, and rushed to back the OR. I hung my shirt on a hook in our makeshift lounge, donned my scrubs, and started helping out with the surgeries.
When I came out of surgery and put my fatigue shirt back on, I reached into my pocket for a ring I had purchased in Thailand. It featured a central diamond, flanked by two rubies and two sapphires: red, white and blue. And it was gone!
I wondered if, in the confusion of the mass casualty, I had left the ring in my hooch. It was not there.
One of the men convinced me to call CID, the criminal investigation unit, to report a possible theft. Although I was not convinced that a theft had occurred, the investigator was certain that the ring had been stolen. He radioed the guards at the perimeter gate and told them to stop the locals who had just gotten off work. A woman popped the ring into her mouth when the guards approached her vehicle. They retrieved the chewed ring and three of the five gems. I still have them.
This happened in March, and it would be July before I could take another break.
One of the surgeons and I chose Penang, Malaysia, for our two-week leave. We had little interest in touring or shopping. We simply wanted to sleep, eat and soak up the sun. We found a veritable paradise at Batu Ferringhi, a strip of beaches on the island's north coast. The area was practically deserted, and a room right on the beach cost next to nothing.
Back at Cu Chi, it was war time once again. We stepped off the chopper and right back into mass casualties.
Cu Chi was about as far as you could get from the peaceful loveliness of Penang. While some dust still remained, a full round of monsoon rains quickly turned it to mud.
View from our outside dining table.
Monsoons hit again with full force, flooding everything.
Nurses were given one week of R&R (Rest and Recuperation) and two weeks of leave while in Vietnam. Possible locations were: Hawaii; Sydney, Australia; Bangkok, Thailand; Hong Kong; Penang, Malaysia; Manila, Philppines; Singapore; Kuala Lumpur; Taipei, Taiwan; and Tokyo, Japan.
I chose Bangkok for my R&R in March. My travel partner from Division Artillery was great at bargaining, so he arranged for a taxi driver to be at our beck and call 24 hours a day. The price? $20 and a carton of American cigarettes.
Perhaps the things we enjoyed the most on this trip were hot baths, clean sheets on real beds, great food, and swimming in a pool. We spent much of our time sightseeing and shopping for wonderful gifts for family and friends.
Just relaxing and enjoying good conversation.
By the time October arrived, I could hardly wait to leave Cu Chi. Nothing was the same. Many of the people I had known since my arrival had already gone home. Instead of having the freedom to fly by the seats of our pants, we were increasingly ham-stringed by rules and regulations. We had just been provided with flush toilets and sinks with running water, but the monsoons caused them to overflow and flood our brand-new hooch.
I was now a short-timer, with literally just days remaining until I could take the big silver bird back to the United States via Japan and Alaska. Finally, I boarded a chopper and headed up to Tan Son Nhut Air Base. As I looked out the open door past the machine gun, memories of the Cu Chi base camp disappeared behind a flood of tears.
Loading cargo along a branch of Chao Phraya river.
The 12th Evacuation Hospital opened on December 1, 1966. Over 37,000 patients were treated at the little facility before it closed its doors on November 10, 1970.
The 12th Evac was reincarnated as the 212th MASH on January 16, 1983. With its lineage dating back to WWI Evacuation Hospital No. 12 in 1917, it was now the most decorated tactical hospital in the active US Army.
The 212th MASH was the last MASH standing, and the very last of its kind. It was modernized and converted to the 212th Combat Hospital on October 16, 2006.
As for me, I went from Vietnam to Germany, where I was promoted to captain and served in the operating room at 2nd General Hospital. It was known then as the Landstuhl Army Medical Center (LAMC). It is now called the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LARMC), and it is the largest American hospital outside the United States. The medical center sits in the German state of Rheinland-Pfalz, 11 kilometers west of Kaiserslautern and five kilometers south of Ramstein Air Base.
I completed my duty as an Army Nurse Corps obligated volunteer in December, 1969, and remained at 2nd General as a civilian nurse until August 1970. I then moved to Florida to soak up some sun before leaving nursing, going back to college and embarking on new careers.
In November 1998 a friend told me that the 5th anniversary of the Vietnam Women's Memorial was being televised on C-Span. I didn't even know that the memorial existed, but I watched the program out of curiosity. To my amazement, one of the speakers was my old friend and colleague, Annie Cunningham. After some sleuthing, I found that Annie had been living in California and was now working in the operating room at the University of Virginia Medical Center. I called the OR. I could have heard her excited scream all the way to Maine without the phone.
Despite my reluctance to attend a 12th Evac reunion, Annie convinced me to go to one in San Antonio in 2000. I've been going ever since.
Annie died in 2007. Read more about this amazing woman on page 10.
As far as I know, the 12th Evac is the only Vietnam War Hospital that holds regular reunions. As we age and have begun to depart this life, we've shifted our reunions from every four years to every three.
Say what you want about the Vietnam War and its aftermath. I learned more about the world and myself in that one year than in any other period in my life. I wouldn't trade that experience for any other.
Other explorations took us on boat rides into tributaries of the great Chao Phraya river and on elephant rides into the countryside. Nightclubs provided superb entertainment with Thai dancers and martial artists. Dancers often performed the Ramakien story, the Thai version of the Indian literary epic called the Ramayana.
Banner photos above: A Visit from Santa, 12th Evacuation Hospital, Cu Chi, Vietnam, Christmas 1966 (left); Pat Wojdag (Coté), 7th Surgical Hospital (MASH), Cu Chi, Vietnam, 1966; Rocket's Red Glare, portion of the Vietnam Women's Memorial, Washington, DC, USA). All photographs © 2013 by Beth Parks, Ed.D. (All rights reserved.)
Cu Chi, out past the machine gun.
Fishermen prepare to land on the beach.
Batu Ferringhi and its peaceful surroundings were a far cry from the our grueling schedule and the grime of war. Penang was also a free port, so we purchased Minolta and Pentax cameras and professional Akai and Revox reel-to-reel tape recorders at a fraction of the normal PX price.
Ramakien dance. Demon king is same as statue above.
Still some dust, but not for long
Inside one of the temples. Note the black Buddha.
Giant demon guarding Grand Palace exit.
Long and peaceful walks, a far cry from the stress of war.