Stateside

Paul Lowinger

 

It was a gray fall Denver day outside the city in 1944 at Fitzsimmons 5eneral Hospital The white stone buildirg pictured on the post card was surrounded by wards in temporary wooden barracks connected by foot paths and roads. Under the shadow of the nearby mountains, the patients moved along the sidewalks using crutches or wheelchairs and the roads were traveled by military vehicles.

Ward 8D for women patients in the main building was divided into rooms occupied by pale nurse-patients wearing robes who were afflicted with the white plague, tuberculosis Before the war the hospital was the tuberculosis center for the Army but now the wards were crowded with newly arrived G l.'s from the Pacific theatre, psychos, the injured and those with tropical diseases.

I was pushing a large electric floor buffer, a bored Army Private alone in the long hall of this ward with my daytime fantasies of love and golf Would the buxom student rurse from Iowa come with me to visit the frantic downtown clubs? Maybe the wet October weather world clear so could play on the hospital golf course later today.

The corridor was quiet and empty at c):30 AM as a new co-worker arrived It was surprising to see a 25 year old civiliar in a hospital staffed by Army medics except for the nurses and women in the offices and a few older men civil servants. His whites were too small for his rangy frame and his leathery face was chewing gum and had a truculent expression The nurs in charge of the ward,.Lieuterant Janson waved him to a buffing machine and said that the student nurse would change the water pitchers so I was to wax floors with the grim stranger,

He identified himself as Jack and proceeded to a ramblirg monologue, "Jam and June, do the 300 rooms, I've got a handle, Major Brindle, you're in 2 trouble, Pearl Harbor, Charlie Chaplin, I'm the charge

None of this made sense and yet it couldn't be ignored since he had a buffer too and we were to work together. It was best not to ask too many questions.

Gradually Jack was less less strained, "You're living wrong. Why can't you keep a path? Let me show you. My vulnerability and his discontent were face to face as he glowered. His hands had been held tightly against his chest but now they moved suddenly outward in a strange awkward gesture of expulsion.

A confused story emerged from Jack, "On the ship they stole my ray I was sent here. I arrived at the train station from Fort Tom. Mark said I should live here. 1 have to do your work again."

He seemed to be answering my silent question, Why was someone his age not in the service?"

His eyes were squinting and bright with anger as the words f looded out in a torrent, "Christ, government, we can do, Stalin, energy, kiss my ass."

I mumbled, Yeah" as Jack's crackling voice ard a gesture of screwing and unscrewing bottle tops seemed to be directed at me. I pretended I wasn't afraid and fooled myself.

He disappeared from the ward for half an our and on return he sputtered like an engine low on fuel, Lucille Ball loves me and wil I marry me after her divorce. You need batter practise. I'll get General Patton, number four, electric listen, is there a tail, eat carrots."

I left for lunch in the mess hall where I did 't see any of my buddies but at the table a thin blonde corporal with a Slavic accent advised a friend, "5et a job in a the new ward for orthopedic cases and get your butt off the psyche ward." There was going to be another ward for casualties arriving from the Pacific but the work on the orthopedic wands was harder because 3 of heavy lifting and periodic drunken fights among the bored orthopedic patients. Should I leave my sinecure on 8D to escape Jack and go to an orthopedic ward or ever a psycho ward?

The post was operated by a permanent cadre of Army trained medical technicians who worked under the supervision of nurses and doctors. I was on temporary assignment along with about 200 others in the Army Specialized Training Program, a group who had completed college premed in the Army and now waited for transfer to medical school in September 1945. Our college-bou d insulation from the danger of combat gave us an aura of privilege so someone put a sign in our barracks, "if you'rc, so smart, why aren't you rich?" Despite this jibe we felt smugly egalitarian because we had been selected from among all the enlisted men in the Army by exams and interviews first for an engineering program and then for premedical studies.

I was weighing my options when my friend Zeke arrived at lunch fresh from his triumph yesterday of arranging a tour of the hospital wards by Hollywood star Vincent Price. Zeke's face twitched like a poorly timed electric sign but he was a valuable source of information or at least gossip. I needed to ask him about new jobs before he launched into his complaints about his boss, a major who Fan public relations.

I asked, 'Are there any jobs in the new rehab program?" knowing that Zeke read a flood of military memoranda as he edited the post newspaper.

In a soft Canadian accent he said, "There is going to be a War Information Center in T 24" This suggested a respite so I went to the sergeant's office and arranged an assignment to the new job.

T-24 was a small temporary wooden building divided into separate seating areas for European and Pacific theaters each facing a large wall 4 map. In the rear, a small office had a mimeograph machine and ar) Associated Press teletype that produced a ribbon of news at irregular intervals day and night.

Ross was the sergeant, a short mustached man who w s almost 4 and had been a rural school teacher in Minnesota before the war, He came to T- 24 with another G.I. shortly after I got there the next day and explained, "This is Herb who will work with you. Taciturn Herb with straight black hair and olive skin readily accepted the plan that gave me the European theatre while he was in the Pacif ic We shared responsibility for preparing a weekly mimeographed war news bulletin from the Associated Press. Herb, a native of Bagdad was a political conservative and anti-Soviet while I was a liberal and pro-Soviet so we had some creative tension in our lectures

A captive audience of ambulatory G.I. hospital patients from the real Pacific theater knew the war in a way that their stateside lecturers did not but we offered global platitudes and I didn t have to return to ward 8D and crazy Jack