After their first meeting at Fort Campbell, Matt and Ryan became instantly close. Their military service had followed similar paths. They performed the same duties in the Army and served as lab techs in Vietnam after six months fighting the VC in the boonies. Stateside, Matt was assigned to Walter Reed and had identified the abnormal vesicle-filled white cell in Private Burrows’ blood just before he died. They were astounded to discover that almost simultaneously, within six months, they both had identified that same abnormal macrophage in two separate patients and were told it was a meaningless finding.
Over lunch, Ryan related his story to Matt. Ryan remembered exclaiming in early 1972, “What the hell is this thing?” as he was startled to observe the profound abnormality of a specialized white blood cell, the macrophage, in a wounded patient’s blood smear.
Ryan was serving as a laboratory technician at the 85th Evacuation Hospital in Vietnam.
He told Matt, “I had never seen this unique irregular outline, the deep discoloration, the distorted central nucleus, and the mysterious distended vesicles floating within the macrophage.” Ryan continued, “I then informed the pathologist of my observation.”
Major Douglas Sharp dismissed the finding after he inquired about the patient’s status and was told by the attending surgeon that Jameson was doing well following his bilateral above-the-knee amputations and due for evacuation to the Japan military medical facility in the morning. He then advised Specialist Larkin, “Not to worry; the patient’s doing fine.” Major Sharp had decided, “no harm, no foul.” He felt that probably the abnormal white cells were due to a blood smear staining arbitration.
Ryan had replied, “I’m not so sure.”
In the following days, the aberrant white cells were not observed again in the blood smears of new patients. Lab tech Larkin’s observation disappeared from everyone’s consciousness.
More pressing at that moment, there were many specimens to process from the multiple wounded brought to the 85th Evacuation during the recent mass casualty on Christmas Eve due to friendly fire. Somehow, American high explosive artillery was directed, by mistake, at our troops. Following the explosions, nine young soldiers were KIA. Nine others were medivaced to the 85th Evac where three died during surgery, to the anguish of those attempting to save them. They died on the operating room table. Their blood loss exceeded the surgeon’s ability to stem the tide and the anesthesiologist’s ability to replace the loss. The surgical drapes saturated with blood covered these dying wounded; the cement floor was slick with sticky congealing red-brown blood; the surgeon’s gowns and fatigues soaked with blood. If those in the OR were new to this horror, they had not learned to wear flip flops to avoid blood pooling in their combat boots.
Ryan related to Matt that young troops from the 101st Airborne Division crowded the ED area in a weeping huddled group. Most of them were still teenagers. Some were blaming the newbie First Lieutenant. A young First Sergeant repeated the rumor, “That asshole called in artillery on his position.”
“Too bad he didn’t die too,” a friend answered.
The celebratory events planned at the 85th Evacuation for Christmas Eve did not come to pass.
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