A few months prior to my departure for Vietnam, Robin and I had visited my sister, Helene, and her husband, Jimmy Parry, in Connecticut. The movie Mash had just been released, and we went to the theater. It was not only a great flick but also a primer on how a surgeon was to survive mentally in a war zone. I was determined to assume Donald Sutherland’s irreverent Hawkeye persona as a way to conduct myself. By the way, I did and it worked. Roger and I were considered exceptional surgeons and a dynamic team in the OR. But he was more sedate. What could the army do to me, send me to Vietnam, I was already there?
When not wearing my fatigues I could be seen at times in blue tie-dyed sleeveless T-shirts and Bermuda shorts. One’s length of stay in Vietnam could be gauged by the degree of washed-out color your fatigues reflected, sort of a badge of honor.
As for my attitude, I never wore a cover, i.e., hat, and avoided saluting, did not dwell on rank, befriended the ranking sergeants, for they were the source of whatever you needed or wanted, and I abided by the in-country philosophy, “don’t mean nothin’.”
Enlisted and docs alike were on a first name basis and respected the other’s space and contributions in the emergency department, i.e., ED and OR. I learned very quickly that a war zone strips one of the implied importance of heritage, educational accomplishments, title, access to wealth, and most state-side status. One could not take one’s self too seriously. We were all in the “same boat.” With these attitudes in mind, the cherished wounded benefitted from our discarding these inhibitory barriers.
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