He Ain’t Heavy. He’s My Brother.
I sleep with one ear listening for Phillip to come through the door at any time. Saturday morning comes and not a word. With every passing hour I am more and more concerned.
There is not a word the entire day on Saturday and other than going for meals I had not left the room. I went to bed Saturday night nearly out of my mind between worry for Phillip and fear of the court martial coming if his body is found in Mexico somewhere. I just keep asking myself how I allowed myself to let this happen and keep remembering that bus ride back from the submarine base and my little temper outburst that was at the bottom of all this.
I awoke Sunday morning and I guess I thought it was time to try and make a deal with God. I had not been to church since I had left Pampa, Tx where I had apparently left a lot of the values I was brought up with and now with Thanksgiving only 12 days away I decided to make my way about a block down to a little Episcopal chapel on base and try a little prayer. I even put a token in the offering plate. That is about all it was . . . a token.
I left the church and went to eat and returned to the dormitory to find Phillip laying on his bed and moaning in severe pain. I had never been so glad to see someone hurting in my life. He was at least alive.
I went and got some warm towels and tried to be a nurse the best I could, but I wasn’t really sure what to do. He was covered with dirt and grime and some blood although he wasn’t bleeding from any noticeable deep lacerations . . . just badly bruised. His face looked like it had been pounded on and both eyes were nearly swollen shut.
“Damn it Phillip. What the hell happened to you”
He starts mumbling something about his watch, but I can’t understand what he is talking about.
One of our roommates comes through the door and was an eagle scout back home. He knew a little more about first aid than me. He thinks Phillip should be taken to the base clinic for emergency treatment, but he knew where we had been and how if we did that there was going to be a lot of explaining to do. Finally we all agreed to just keep a close watch on him overnight.
I started working on a plan to talk our way out of what was going to be a really big mess. I didn’t see Phillip returning to school for at least a week or more and he had a major test coming up Tuesday that our Naval careers depended on. Plus, just the fact he wasn’t going to make muster in the morning was not going to be explainable. Overnight the plan came together. I wasn’t sure if we could pull it off, but we had no choice but to try.
At 7:00 AM I was at morning roll call at the advanced training school. When they called “Long” I reported he was very ill. When we were dismissed I requested a meeting with the school’s commanding officer to not only explain Phillip’s illness and absence, but discuss an extension on the test the next day. I had to wait about 15 minutes, but the meeting was granted.
I had never even seen the school commanding officer so I had no idea what to expect. For some reason the only benchmark of any type of authority figure I could come up with was RDC King. When I entered he wasn’t nearly as hard as King . . . at least the word maggot was never used and I had made up what I was hoping would be a believable story.
I told him Phillip and I had gone downtown and gotten separated and when I arrived at the bus stop to return I thought he was ahead of me so I caught the next bus. He was actually behind me and when he arrived at the bus stop got into a conversation with a group of Marines and that one of the Marines made an insulting remark about the Navy and that Phillip made one back and before he knew it that had beat the crap out of him and now he was in our dormitory needing medical attention. I explained he had a very important test the next day which I didn’t see how he could take and how we were in on the buddy plan and looking forward to serving together.
I expected little empathy from him, but instead of being a jerk like King would have been he asked me a few questions about Phillip’s condition and next thing I know he is on the phone ordering medical division to send some corpsmen over to our dormitory to evaluate Phillip, provide treatment and report back to him. He agrees to extend the deadline for the test until a date to be determined after he has received the report. He tells me I can be dismissed from class that morning to return to the dorm and assist. As I am getting ready to turn and leave as soon as he tells me I am dismissed, he looked me in the eye and said,
“They spend weeks convincing those Marines they are killing machines in preparation for going to Nam and then when they get off base they don’t know how to control it.” He continues to look me in the eye.
I get the impression this may be a test to see if he can get a clue to help him see if I am making this story up. I do not say anything. I figure it is better to remain silent and be thought a liar, than to open my mouth and remove any doubt. I was dismissed.
When I get back to the dormitory the corpsmen have already arrived and were treating Phillip. One of them suddenly suggests to the other he thinks Phillip should be taken to Balboa, which is a Naval hospital. I am not exactly sure where it is, but I am guessing 10 or 15 miles away and that would be devastating. If we are separated it will be practically impossible to coordinate our story and after the lie I had just told the radio school commanding officer a court martial is on the horizon unless we make this work. Fortunately, the other corpsman thinks Phillip should be x-rayed at NTC for broken bones and hemoraging of the brain but unless they find something doesn’t believe he should be transported to Balboa.
Phillip is taken to the base medical facility. He doesn’t have any broken bones or life threatening trauma.
A report is sent back to the school commanding officer advising it will take 2-4 weeks for full recovery.
The school commanding officer gave a two week extention on Phillip’s test and said he would consider an additional extention if it was needed. In order for my training schedule to not get any further ahead of Phillip’s he assigned me temporarily to M-division where I spent the next 2 weeks mopping floors and buffing them with an electric buffer because he wasn’t going to have me sitting on my “duffus” while I waited for Phillip to get back on his feet. I guess every crime gets punished one way or the other.
Meanwhile, Phillip relates the story of how he had left the cantina about an hour after I had and looked for me about an hour. When he didn’t find me he decided I must have gone back to NTC without him and started walking back toward the border alone. For some reason he decided to take a “short cut” and followed some railroad tracks where he was jumped by a gang who took his money and the thing he was most upset about . . . a watch that once belonged to his grandfather. He had laid by those railroad tracks from Friday night until Sunday morning, although he never really comprehended the time. Fortunately his wallet and military ID were nearby, but he was penniless. Some workers had gotten him to the border and a trucker brought him from the border to NTC where a civilian who worked on base had brought him from the front gate to the dormitory and helped him to the room while I was in church on Sunday morning.
We now knew why Mexico was off limits to US military. It wasn’t about enforcing rules and regulations. It was simply a matter of protecting us and trying to keep us from getting hurt or killed. I promised myself I would never make Phillip feel guilty again just because he was a ladies man. The only reason we went down there in the first place was Phillip trying to do me a favor.
Thanksgiving was only a few days away and I was truly thankful this had ended as it had. Phillip was going to recover. We both had avoided a court martial. Phillip’s test date had been put off and we were still buddies. What more could I ask?
Dead dogs, women like Mable and cities like Tijuana had made me forget about pleasures of the flesh. Maybe by Christmas I would be back to normal . . . and finished buffing floors.
- The Graduate was Hot! KOMA was King!
- In the Navy – We Want You as a New Recruit
- Basic Training – First Abandonment
- To the Girl Who Loved Me
- A Cantina in Mexico – Second Abandonment
- Vanished In Tijuana – Fear and Panic
- Phillip Needs Help – We Can’t Tell the Truth <- You are Here
- Thanksgiving Day – A Time for Healing
- The Captain’s Mast of Seaman Apprentice Webster
- Conclusion – Too Much Living to Do