scared. He runs anyhow.
He pants, being 9,200 feet high. In
front of him, ffft! some bullets raise
dust like the bubbling mud at
casualties (by now there are two) are one boy who’s saying, “I can’t
see!” and one boy who’s gasping, “I can’t breathe!” and, with
Rivera’s aid bag, the far-displaced doctor treats both.
“How you doin’?” Rivera asks them—asks, asks, even shouts from a
hundred meters to the two sergeants and Miranda, “How you doin?”
lay low,” Rivera shouts, aware that if one of them falls asleep, his breathing
might stop and he’ll die.
While shouting, Rivera’s thinking, Oh,
god, will these casualties ever end? No,
they won’t, for in this other platoon another mortar round just fell and the
radio operator cries, “Doc!” The
boy, PFC McGovern, is Rivera’s phenomenal friend, phenomenal since each of his
legs seemed wired to a separate cerebrum. “McGovern!
What’s wrong with you?
You got two left feet?” Rivera agonized on countless occasions as
McGovern tripped over his cot, the MRE box (Meals Ready to Eat) or even the
crack in the floor, spread-eagling. “McGovern!”
Rivera agonized. “Did you not see
it?” “I seen it! I
thought I’d get over it!” But
now (it’s just about noon) no fault attaches itself to McGovern as he lies
sprawled, both feet, both legs, both arms full of fiery shrapnel.
burning!” McGovern cries to Rivera.
takes off McGovern’s left boot, left sock.
McGovern’s left foot is a shrapnel-studded caveman’s club, and Rivera
instinctively shields his eyes.
is it? What is it?”
all right, man,” Rivera says, his hand raised, his fingers apart, a gesture
meaning “Easy. It’s all all
right,” his head turning toward the battalion medic, his lips pantomiming,
“Oh fuck.” He wraps McGovern’s
foot in Kerlix, but the Kerlix becomes blood red, and he unwraps it and rewraps
it in Kerlix, then Ace. “I know
this hurts,” says Rivera. “But
you gotta try to wiggle your toes.”
can! But they hurt!”
know they hurt, buddy.”
God! I can’t take it!”
you’ll be all right.” But
McGovern screams, and Rivera takes out his Nubain, injecting a minimal
milliliter. “The pain, this’ll
get rid of it,” Rivera says, then starts on McGovern’s other foot,
McGovern’s legs and arms.
enemy,” cries an undaunted sergeant, “wants us to sing the Tenth Mountain
Division Song!” Around him the
soldiers start it,
a glorious history…
all Rivera’s patients ask. “When
are the medevacs comin’?” The
boys mean “When are the choppers coming to carry us out?”
comin’. They’re comin’,”
says Rivera while thinking privately, When
are the medevacs comin’? He
radios battalion, “Polar Bear? When
are the medevacs comin’? When are
the QRFs,” the Quick Reaction Forces, “comin’?
Where’s our help? What’s
takin’ time? We got to get these
casualties out!” On this
wide-ranging radio, the officers at battalion can’t say “They’re tryin’!
The medevacs tryin’! The
other companies, tryin’! But the
LZ’s too hot! The landing zone’s
The soldiers cringe, the bombers conclude, the Qaedas, unchastened,
undismayed, come from their caves, their rifles, launchers, and mortars come
too, and “Incoming!” the soldiers shout.
To shield him, Rivera lies on top of McGovern, the boy with wounded feet,
legs, arms, the boy benumbed by Nubain, he puts his head on McGovern’s and
hears him say, “Please please please.” Then
boom, a mortar round hits First
Lieutenant Maroyka. Then ffft,
a bullet hits Specialist Almey, a boy who played basketball with Rivera,
shooting, shooting like some repetitive plastic toy.
Then boom, a mortar round hits
Major Byrne, the doctor far from a MASH and, with Rivera, the last intact
practitioner here. Then boom,
another mortar round hits the battalion medic, this one from two feet away.
mid-afternoon, and it’s still going on. How
many soldiers in two platoons of Company C of the 1st Battalion of the 87th
Regiment of the Tenth Mountain Division of the American army were hit?
The journalist's rule is
“Report it,” but the American army’s rule that a correspondent must sign
to is “Don’t.” Restrict
yourself, the army adjures me, to “Casualties were light,” “Were
moderate,” “Were heavy.”
tell people, “You’re all right,”
thinks Rivera. But
who’ll tell me I’m all right? It’s
moratorium time as the bombers inconvenience the Qaedas, and all right he’s
certainly not. He’s not making
calls on Miranda, Abbott, McCleave, McGovern—the roster’s almost
interminable—though he’s conscientiously watching them. Rivera’s
worn out. His day began at two this
morning, and he hasn’t eaten breakfast, lunch or Combos since then.
He’s hardly had water, either. His
face is charcoal-colored due to close mortar rounds, and on his hands there’s
blood, other people’s ectopic blood. On
all three browns of his camouflage clothes is this same inappropriate red.
If someone cries, “Doc!” Rivera expects to run up and treat him.
But can he?
It is, to Rivera, as if he’s playing basketball for Ellenville High—he once played forward for Ellenville—and Ellenville’s eighty points down. He doesn’t want the pathetic game to go on. He doesn’t want to run to and fro like someone indecisive, dribbling, blocking, tossing. He doesn’t want to see balls scoring baskets even for Ellenville. All that Rivera wants is
then Rivera remembers the
thinks of the wife who must have asked, “Did you see Steve?”
Steve was the paramedic at Harlem Station, in
then that Rivera hears, “Doc!”
Rivera springs up. He starts running...More