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The Watch

by Rich Raitano, HHC 4/3 Medic

There's not much good to be said about keeping track of the dead and wounded. I don't mean the tedious, disconnected tallying of casualties from a list collected by some unknown gatherer of such things so they can be sorted, categorized and written into a daily report. I'm talking about the collector ... the gatherer, the individual who has to personally track the dead and wounded for the one who tallies, who then sorts and categorizes quickly and efficiently so that letters can be sent to loved ones half a world away.

Casualty Reporter: The one who gathers names, assess and evaluates the wounded and the cause of death of his fellow soldiers. The one present when the terror filled, shot up, traumatic amputated, sucking chest wounded, vomited breakfast on the litter, strangled screaming, crying for their mothers and wives, gore comes into the ER. The one present to watch as the life goes from their eyes and the last breath gurgles from their lungs.

The ER is filled with the pungent stench of torn muscle and flesh, jagged bone, vomit, urine and feces, and entrails that permeate the room like a fouled butcher shop. It sticks to the hairs in your nose and on your clothes. Showers will never wash it away. You suck it up. Shut down. Take a deep fucking breath, ignore the screams in your own head and begin your collecting: Names, service number, wounds (GSW T&T R arm, traumatic amputation L leg AK and R leg BK), details of contact with enemy. One at a time.

Two ... three ... five, sometimes more, sometimes less, they come. It's always the same: Today ... yesterday ... tomorrow. Their faces come into focus. You know them! You trained together in Hawaii. This one DOW as the doc's work on him. That one torn like a rag doll, eyes wild with fear, left to die alone on a liter. More wait patiently at GR wrapped in OD plastic; stored in cold drawers like vegetables in a crisper. More to evaluate and identify. More names and faces.

Stop! god-dammit, Stop! Where are you, God? Where the fuck are you!? When will you have had enough? When will you say no more!? Stop this fucking screaming in my head! No more, please. Please, God ... no more. God is silent. Heaven is far from near. Suck it up, turn it off the best you can and head back to the hootch. Find something to talk and laugh about with your fellow CR's. Ain't no thing. Find a joint, light it up. Draw the cannabis in deep. Kick it with a swig or two of Jack Daniels. And wait. Wait for tomorrow.

'Body Count' was part of the what we had to do to 'prove' to the American press that we were doing our job. Only problem was even after 12 hours of laying in the hot humid jungle the corpses began to stink something fierce. My mother sent me a small bottle of wintergreen oil to rub on a handkerchief to mask the smell. Sometimes even that didn't work. I would often take off my prescription glasses so I wouldn't have to see the maggots and other bugs infesting the bodies. A pair of rubber gloves from graves registration also helped in picking up the decayed bodies.

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