Written by Michael Collins, with an introduction by Uprooted Editor Megan Collins
They had taken me in the back of a “Deuce and a Half” (US Army parlance for a large truck) for the forty-five minute trip from Dong Ha and I was stretched out on the operating table in an emergency field hospital tent in Quang Tri. Because the anesthesia was locally administered I was alert and could hear the snipping of surgical tools and gaze up at the faces of their handlers as they went about their bloody business. Then we heard it…the dreaded, but all too familiar, swish-swish-swish sound of incoming artillery passing just a few feet overhead. The lights went out. That’s when I told Dr. Pedutom and his assistant to go to the bunker without me.
But I’m getting ahead of my story. No, this is not the tale of a Purple Heart. Wrong organ. It all started a year and a half earlier, before I was even drafted. To put it discreetly, my local doctor advised that my discomfort would be relieved with this simple operation. When I became one of Uncle Sam’s finest, at least in name, I resolved to seek maximum compensation for my inconvenience by having the taxpayers foot the bill for said operation. It seemed only fair. One year, eight months, sixteen days and ten hours of servitude in exchange for $100 worth of repair (in 1968 dollars) to this very personal bit of newly certified US Government property, as GI’s become once they are sworn in. One way or another, I was going to get circumcised.
But how to go about getting this special requisition approved, given the other priorities folks had at the 108th Artillery Group, about five miles south of the DMZ in I Corp Vietnam? Good fortune landed me a part-time gig plying my civilian skills as a bartender in the shack we called an Officers’ Club, which resulted in a fine friendship with Maj. Nestor U. Pedutom, a Philippine MD who, like myself and my conscripted colleagues, would rather have been somewhere else. His excuse for being there was a shortcut to full US citizenship. More than a few drinks and several weeks later he agreed to help me out. (Though the night before our ride to Quang Tri, last call came very early.)
So there we were in the dark. Following my refusal to drag my butchered body part through the dirt to the subterranean sand bag shelter, Dr. Pedutom insisted on staying with me to complete the task at hand. But there was a hitch. Because of the power outage the only way to finish the job was for me to hold a large flashlight so he could see what he was doing. The problem with this plan, of course, was that it meant I could see what he was doing as well. There was also the possibility that a shell would make a direct hit on the hospital, rendering the whole matter moot. Apparently, when all is said and done, the old adage is true. You really do get what you pay for.
As it turned out the incoming ceased, along with my flashlight duty when power was eventually restored, and fifteen minutes later the deed was done. For good measure, upon my return to the base the next day, it happened a USO show was underway (the only one during my tour). Our Executive Officer, seeing my bowlegged attempt to gingerly circumnavigate the festivities so I could begin some much needed bed rest, decided it would be a shame for me to miss all the fun. After a whisper in the ear of the scantily clad lead singer-dancer (I think the term was “go-go girl” in those days), shared among her bandmates to much laughter, his scouts found me and placed me on stage as the new, impromptu star attraction.
Musically accompanied titillations and provocations followed to the great amusement of the entire unit. I don’t think the phrase “pole dancer” had been invented yet, but if so, I would have been the pole. But alas, it was like offering candy to a seasick sailor. You can lead a soldier to water, but you can’t make him drink. Choose your cliché. The images of skin stuck in my mind were not those of lovely Miss Manila straddling my ears as she rode on my shoulders like a cheerleader.
Enough said. That’s my war story and I’m stickin’ to it.