Vietnam | World War II | Family | Short Stories | Iraq and Afghanistan | Events in News | Commentary and Books | Movies | Obituaries

Home  |  Books  |  Archives  |  Obits  |  Blogs  |      Devos
Summer Reading
I'll Miss You ...

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.
Albert Schweitzer

Standing outside the door, I thought to myself, I'm not cut out for this. And, I wasn't. I'd run across many in the ministry who as clergy had some passion to be a hospital chaplain. Not me. The only reason I was in it today was through internal politics and a fluke. I'd just come back from Korea and was trying to get retired. Thus far, I wasn't having any luck. I was a Southern Baptist and there weren't all that many churches anyway. Plus, I was about as far removed from emotionally being a Southern Baptist as being on another planet. And, hell, they were political themselves and what Church wanted an Army chaplain anyway.

Ms. Byerly, (not her real name), looked at me but didn't really see me. One of the things I hated about hospital work was that I never felt I could do anything. A doc could give a shot or sound like they knew something and talk about treatment. I could say, I'd pray or some other innocuous BS, not that prayer was not important, but nobody saw the results of it. Well hold it; I didn’t want to go overboard here. But, regardless, it always seemed to me to have a hollow ring like you didn't have anything else to say, so you said, "God bless you or I'll pray." Plus, it brought up all these questions in me. I could process the "mothers" in milliseconds. What about suffering. Why did some suffer, others didn't. Why did the assholes of the world benefit and the good people suffer? F___, during a hurricane or tornado, everybody in trailers or if you prefer mobile homes, got the shit kicked out of them immediately. See what I mean, I processed all of this in five seconds or less. I said something like, "Hi." And, then she threw up all over my shoes. I got the nurse, the orderly came traipsing in-a big black guy who was incredibly empathetic. "Don't worry bout it, this is my job and the chaplain looks kind of scruffy anyway. This is good." He laughed. I laughed. But, I was ready to get the hell out of there but for some inextricable reason, I didn't, but sat down in the chair beside her bed and watched her sleep. A couple of times, she opened her eyes and looked at me. So, very unlike my ADD self, I just sat. Finally, without opening her eyes, she said, "Chaplain, there are three things I want to do before I die.” Without waiting for me to ask what, she moved on: “I want to go to Yosemite. I want to make peace with my mother and I want to have sex one last time. No, I'm not going to seduce you." She faintly smiled and then I could tell she dropped into a deep sleep.

Olivia and I became good friends. Once she was diagnosed with cancer, her husband had not touched her. We men are such f____ing assholes. Then her Mom, from what she told me, was this narcissistic mother where everything revolved around her. We could be a TV movie she told me. My two brothers haven't spoken to Mom in years. She is on her third marriage and had several men between. I suggested she call her. It was a disaster. It only works out in the movies or TV.

I didn't know the husband. He was a Sergeant Major stationed in Korea. I knew Korea. It is a culture that is inexplicably unknown unless one is immersed in it. I had believed for some time that we should get out of Korea. We had saved the country. The South Koreans had the best "ground" Army in the world. Meaning, of course, if they were attacked by the North, they could handle it and were prepared. I loved Korea, but always stayed a little ticked off that they don't show more appreciation that we'd saved their ass. A GI, serving in Korea could get caught up in the milieu of life there: mainly involving a "business/working girl. Some might call them prostitutes. I never did as somehow I always thought they were doing what they had to do. Korea is a caste society. Plain and simple. It is governed by a strict Confucian code. If you were born the son or daughter of a taxi driver, you died the son or daughter of a taxi driver. Many of those on the lower rung of the cultural ladder, especially females moved to the little towns surrounding the military camps. It became a subculture that, for lack of a better term, trapped many a GI. He became ensnared, fell in love and the next thing you know, he wants to get married. At one count, there were 5000 American/Korean marriages a year. And, they did not all meet at the University.

When one of my young chaplains came with the request that we maybe could help in contacting Mrs. Byerly's husband, her picture surfaced immediately on my radar screen. "Why couldn't she contact him? "I don't know but one of the "Interns" thought would be good if her husband came home as she was terminally ill. “Why wasn't he already home?” I suspected I knew.

"I don't know."

“I’ll check it out."

Here is the basic difference in military chaplains and civilian clergy. Civilians will say God bless you and I'll pray for you. Military chaplains will say, "Tell me what I need to do."

I wandered into Mrs. Byerly's room on a Monday morning. She turned her head toward me and smiled weakly. We chatted for a moment. No, I take that back. We didn't chat. She looked like chatting was the last thing she wanted, but she did do something very uncharacteristic. Reached out and took my hand. It was weak but touched me and said, "Where have you been? I told you I was not going to seduce you." I smiled. She smiled and closed her eyes.

What the f..k, where is that sorry ass husband and then I ventured forth with a comment on him. "No, I'm fine without him."

" Why?"

“Well, he could have come if he wanted too."

"Sure but still..." My voice kind of trailed off and I thought to myself as she drifted into that drug induced slumber that took her away from my presence. I thought to myself, “Looks like he's not coming and we can't make him". This was one of those times when I wish that I didn’t know about Korea. Are you sure now as I continued the conversation with myself. "I am sure."

I sighed as I left the room, still doing that five second think. This was one of those thousands of dilemmas that I often found myself in. A personality thing I guess. Nothing was required of me. But, I knew I wouldn't let it alone. Hell, I'd been fired four times in my not so illustrious career.

I had my suspicions about the good Sergeant Major Byerly. The MFer was probably shacked up in Korea with some Korean business/working girl. I didn't blame him. Whoa! You don't know that. Reserve judgment until you really know what is going on. Give the man the benefit of the doubt. I'd learned a long time ago, none of us know what goes on inside families. This has probably been hard all the way around-wife getting this insidious disease, a husband who couldn't step up to the plate. I don't believe my BS for a minute. The Sergeant Major, a leader of men; this guy is supposed to be able to handle it. I was a little biased. I never could figure out what any Sergeant Major was supposed to do. In Vietnam, I remember thinking that all I saw them do was follow the commander around. Major Sansom, the Ops officer, probably prejudiced me as he kept saying, "If the Colonel stopped abruptly, the Sergeant Major would break his nose."

Anyway, this was all rolling around my head as I kept trying to find the Sergeant Major. Finally I chased him down at one of the support commands at Camp Humphrey. I knew it well.

"Sergeant Major, this is the chaplain at Letterman." Long pause.


"I'm calling about your wife." Long pause.

"Yes." What is it with this fucker?

"Well, Sergeant Major, She's pretty sick."

"I know that. What do you want me to do about it?"

"Sergeant Major, I sure don't want to intrude, but it might encourage your wife if you came home.”

"Chaplain, my wife and I have talked about it and frankly, it is none of your business." He hung up. Well, damn, that went well.

He would have been better off had he hit me in the face. One sorry son of a bitch. I walked around for awhile, went outside, sat down, stood up. I was seething. What the hell to do? I called his commanding officer, a Colonel.

“Well Chaplain, if the Command Sergeant Major doesn't want to come home, I can't make him." Long pause.

“Colonel, you are his boss and this looks like one of the times for him to do the right thing.” Long pause

“Sorry Chaplain, not my call.” Long Pause.

Sir, I tell you and I understand but I can't let this go. My next call will be to the General or some general.” Long pause.

“Chaplain, are you threatening me?"

“I am” and this time I hung up.

My chaplain assistant spotted him in the doorway. “Sir, the Sergeant Major is here.”

“Good.” I went to Olivia's room. The Sergeant Major and I were civil. Olivia seemed to be a little more alert. As far as she knew, the Sergeant Major came on his own. Maybe he did.

There's some postscript to this tale. I was in the hospital early one morning and Olivia was in the little snack bar. I was so happy to see her and she me. We chatted and suddenly she said, "Chaplain, I have some great news.” Without answering she said, “God has healed me. I just know it.” For a moment I was at a loss for words. OK, where are my five seconds?

“Oh, that is wonderful. How did it come about.”

“I just felt it and can’t wait to see my doctor. I seem to feel so much better.”

Maybe having the Sergeant Major home has made her feel better. I saw it in men all the time who had been to Korea. Once they were home, they took another look at that life in the “land of the almost just right” as we often called Korea.

Olivia died two weeks later. I was sad beyond belief. Her services were a few days later. As I sat toward the back in a full Church, the Priest did his thing and I momentarily thought, how in the hell can people get into this stuff. The priest in all his garb, waving something that was water I guess and then a pot with smoke. What the hell was that? I immediately slapped myself. My five seconds. What the f..k is wrong with me. I am an asshole. I’m going to miss my friend, wish I could tell these folks how wonderful I thought she was. I guess this was the Sergeant Major’s last “got you”, not including me in her services. MFer, asshole. I am so awful. The Priest stood. “It is always my custom to ask anyone who is here if they would like to say a word. If so, just please come up and comment.” I was on my feet and moving toward the front. I stopped momentarily and put my hand on the casket. "Thanks Olivia, I’ll miss you."

Leave Us A Comment. No email required. Just click in the boxes. Place a name or put anonymous and then leave your thoughts.

HTML Comment Box is loading comments...