I’ve been thinking a lot about Bill’s service, and the characters he meets along the way, some of whom shape the man he became, others he remained friends with after he was discharged, and those that were killed.
Several have a direct bearing in the main story, for instance, Brainless, a rather ubiquitous nickname, given to him because of his actions, that is to say, he acts without thinking, sometimes when in great peril, a man who never quite recovered, but is, for all intents and purposes Bill’s friend and someone he feels responsible to look after, perhaps because of how many times he saved Bill from death, or worse.
There is also Manilow, but we’ll save him for later.
So, this is where ‘Brainless’ get’s his introduction:
It was the first time I’d been hit by a bullet, and it hurt. It was a steep learning curve, realizing you have been hit, and then the brain going into overdrive to tell you first it going to hurt like hell, and then begin to assess the damage, running every scenario from ‘it’s a flesh wound’ to ‘Oh God, I’m going to die’.
At least, that was what had happened to me for my first time.
Seconds, or minutes, or hours later, a man who doubled as a Medic came scrabbling over to me and looked at the wound. A silly thought, how did he know I’d been shot? Had I screamed? He made a quick assessment, told me I’d live, and dressed it as good and as quickly as he could.
There were other casualties.
I lasted until I was brought into a clearing some miles further on, after the enemy had been killed, or had retreated, and loaded onto a helicopter. There I was told everything would be OK and then the lights went out.
My first visit to a mobile army hospital, after being hit, was a novelty. It was nothing like a real hospital. Nor was the staff. It took a different sort of medical personnel to man a front-line hospital where you were just as likely to become a casualty yourself.
The doctor was quite jovial about the whole matter saying I would be back out again in no time, not exactly a prospect I was looking forward to. It was almost a mend job without anesthetic and the memory of it remained with me for some time. Facilities were not primitive, but they just appeared that way.
I was one of the less needy casualties that day. After being stitched up, a nurse took me to a bed in a ward with a mixture of serious and not so seriously wounded.
The nurse, whose name was Wendy, had the same sense of humor I had. She insisted we be on first name terms from the start. How she kept her humor was a mystery, for most noticeable was her tired look as if she had been doing the same thing for too long.
The bed was comfortable, the temperature bearable, and the food edible. Being, and remaining, injured had its good points.
I slept well the first night. I presumed the injection she’d given me was to ensure I had a restful sleep. It was long overdue and much needed.
The next morning the numbers had thinned. Two men had died, several others returned to duty. To my left was a sad and distant private, who, from time to time, would start moaning. He’d been in the middle of a mortar attack and was both deaf and had serious psychological problems.
To my right, there was a large man who barely fit in the bed. He was a perpetually unhappy person, with only minor injuries, a bullet wound to his upper leg. Nothing serious, he said, and just wanted to leave as soon as possible. Brainless, the nurse called him. Always wanted to get back to the war and kill some more of the enemy. An obsession, she said.
He was staring morosely at the ceiling when I woke. It took a few minutes to regain full consciousness, a sign I’d been in a drugged sleep.
“What are you in for?” he asked.
“Leg wound. Nothing serious.” You?”
“Leg. Bastards snuck up on me. And the useless rearguard didn’t do his job properly.”
I’d seen both. Tread in the wrong place, and you didn’t do it again. Sniper’s fire came from almost anywhere, taking out soldiers and civilians indiscriminately. You could never hear the bullet, just feel it.
“Mongrel,” I said with feeling.
“Probably the same. I didn’t see it coming. I hate it when you can’t see the bastards. There ought to be some law they send you a message first. Give you a chance….”
“Chap other side killed himself. Had enough. It was written all over his face. What kind of sooks are we bringing over here?”
“National service,” I said quietly.
“You?” he asked.
I could feel his contempt for ‘Nashos’ and to be glad I was not one. “I believe I volunteered.”
He didn’t ask what I meant, and even if he had, I probably would have made up a lie. I hardly thought if I said my father in law hated me that much he would send me here, would make any sense, particularly to this man beside me.
He snorted. “More the fool you, then.”
We were both released on the same day. His unit had suffered major casualties, and the story he gave me in the hospital was not quite true. He’d gone down trying to save what men he could in an ambush. Heroics came to mind, but his selfless actions were much more than that. Without a unit, he joined ours.
Wendy remained in my mind for some time after that visit. When I returned the next time, my injuries being more serious, I enquired as to her whereabouts, only to discover she was dead too, a victim of her own hand, simply because she could not cope with the death, mutilation, and waste.
There was no doubt it affected all of us in different ways. Some didn’t like the idea of going back out into the jungle and found their own peace. Others, like Wendy, needed something more, but all too often, no-one recognized what the solution was until it was too late.
Now that I have paved the way, I must get back to the main story and write the part where Brainless enters the picture.
© Charles Heath 2016-2020