“Merry Christmas, Doc!” the gunnery sergeant barked as he spooned a heap of dressing on my tray.
“Same to you, Guns,” I replied half-heartedly.
Setting my tray at a the stand-up table where a few other Marines were wolfing down their Christmas Eve fare in the makeshift mess hall, I stared at my food not certain if I were really hungry or not. I pushed the two slices of turkey and re-hydrated green beans about my plate as my mind wandered.
Looking around at the decorations the cooks had put up, made the huge tent seem like a stateside Christmas. They’d spared no effort in preparing the meal, plus some of the officers and senior NCOs tried to lift spirits by manning the serving line.
But it wasn’t working — at least not on me.
Emptying my tray, I stepped outdoors. I walked around the base, eventually ambled toward the Enlisted Men’s Club.
The smell of beer turned my stomach, so I decided to have a soda instead. I sat at the end of the bar, and as I sipped my drink, I knew inside what was really bugging me.
In a flash of inspiration, I decided to call my mother.
Maybe talking to Mom would lift my spirits, and I needed to tell her and my sister’s Merry Christmas anyway. Amazingly, I found just a few Marines at the phone exchange.
The operator was able to patch me through to my mother’s home in Fortuna. This in itself was remarkable, since often it took longer. Even though it was early in the morning, Mom sounded excited when she answered the phone.
By the time I hung up the phone, I could feel the burning of the tears as they rolled down my face. Then I noticed the Christmas music playing over the tinny squawk-box as I veered toward the chapel.
Sitting alone under the chapel fly with its benches and an altar, I looked at the Bible in the pew. I remembered how the chaplain said reading it would help build me up for the storms of life that were sure to come.
Having read some of the New Testament they gave all recruits at the induction station, I recalled many of the passages caused me to see things I didn’t like in myself. Yet I remembered the verse in the Book of Matthew about personal troubles.
Here, now, it felt as if Christ were standing beside me, saying, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”
I felt for the first time in months the heaviness in my heart evaporate as I repeated the quote.
Then without warning, it was as if someone had smashed a hardball against my helmet. The blow sent me sprawling to the ground, where I found myself struggling to get back up.
Chaos was everywhere, as some Marines dove for cover and still others moved into fighting positions. The base erupted with gunfire; all of it out going and concentrated in one area.
Slowly I got to my feet and looked around, my ears weren’t ringing like they had been a few seconds ago. And I expected my head to hurt, but I didn’t feel dizzy anymore.
“Holy shit!” I exclaimed as the Gunny came rushing past me and towards the body of a man lying dead near where I had sat.
“Hell,” I said aloud, “I didn’t even know there was anybody there.”
“Corpsman up!” someone yelled, while others shouted, “Doc!” repeatedly.
Guys were looking all around for Doc even though I was standing right there. It left me confused
Then Guns rolled the dead Marine over onto his back, and someone said in disbelief, “Crap, it is Doc.”
I look around me, thinking, “No, it can’t be. I’m right here.”
Then from someplace behind me, I felt more than saw a faint glow. As I slowly turned to see what it was, it grew brighter, until I could no longer see anything but the light.
“Doc, you’ve been reassigned,” a voice called out to me, “We require your presence at Forward Operating Base Nine.”
I looked back at the body still lying on the ground and knew then what was happening.