Confessions of a Cayce Doctor
“There is the right way, the wrong way, and the Army way.”
§ Nearing seventy years of age, I know – although I know little – that I have lived on planet Earth many times and have more to follow. I am also quite confident that I have “fought and bowed” in more than a few spots on the planets over the ages.
While humanity must have experienced periods of peace over the millions of years of our existence here, we surely seem to be a fighting bunch over the centuries before and through the Common Era. Yes, there are tranquil places on the Earth even now. But, we tend as individuals and clans and nations to project our problems on others and find all sorts of reasons to battle, fight and go to war. The enemy appears in all sorts of guises, even though the real one dwells within. “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Opportunities abound and the military and police and security forces [the latter all armies in disguise] offer many martial lessons when we are ready for them. That though combat, fighting and struggle come in many forms and are encountered most every day. Having Mars in Scorpio in my natal horoscope suggests that I was a human ripe – at least in some ways – for military duty.
The Bhagavad Gita, one of the great scriptures of the world, teaches in symbolic form the great battle laid before each of us. The holy war which we all must wage and win is the one within ourselves. With Chrishna driving our chariot, we must put to the sword those passions and prejudices which hide within the folds of our very being. When that great battle is finished, we will know our Selves in truth. In the meantime, we find all manner of foes and fiends to test us and teach us. Ah, would that we learned more quickly. Ah, but all is well. In due time, we will be made whole. §
I have to admit that much of Army life agreed with me. Or, I agreed with it. “Yes, drill sergeant. No, drill sergeant.” That even though I had disliked Army ROTC at the University of South Dakota. Reserve Officer Training Corps classes were dull and boring. When New York was nixed by my folks after my one semester in college, I investigated the various services. My poor vision and thick glasses made me unacceptable to two branches. The Air Force had a waiting list to get into uniform.
So, the Army it was. Since I enlisted – RA1698723 – for three years, I had some options for training. I had no interest in being an infantryman, but probably had not thought much at all about the possibilities. It simply was time to make a move. The Army recruiter went through his book and said, “How about corpsman or medic?”
I picked up the thread immediately, “Sure, maybe I can help somebody, some day!” That response would have appealed to Mr. Cayce, I’m sure.
But after all these years of medicine and life, I wonder to myself, “How many bodies and beings have you really helped?” Well, life goes on and tomorrow is another day.
I signed on the dotted line and was in the US Army in a few weeks. Off to Fort Leonard Wood, MO, for basic training in May 1967. The program was not tough really. I liked marching and parading. The drill sergeants seemed fair and decent to me. They weren’t out to violate human ears or space like in the movies.
I boloed the rifle qualification test which occurred in a rainstorm. Between the rain, my thick glasses, and my performance anxiety, it was no wonder I got the opportunity to do KP over the weekend and repeat the test. I passed the second time.
I also got a break in the action by coming down with the flu during bivouac days. Instead of crawling around under wires with live ammo going over head and camping out for some nights in the frigid Missouri countryside, I got to recuperate in a warm hospital bed. There are some benefits to illness – and consolations to every problem.
After eight weeks, several of us were waved off in a bus to Fort Sam Houston, TX, which is located next door to San Antonio and the Alamo. We arrived there early for the 91A medical corpsman class. So, they sent us to nearby Camp Bullis to be trained as truck drivers. I did not do well with double-clutching and they soon pointed me back to the Fort where before long corpsman training began.
All of the classes were easy. Performance testing was minimal. I got good grades and was offered the opportunity to apply for an advance 91C (LPN equivalent) course at Valley Forge, PA, or the Presidio of San Francisco. Valley Forge was where Washington spent a miserable winter during the Revolutionary War. I had had enough cold winters by then. San Francisco and the Golden Gate sounded much more appealing. I was selected to take the training and headed off to the West Coast after a short leave back with the family in South Dakota.
The Presidio of San Francisco is a green, lush, beautiful spot located on the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula. The first military installation was built there in 1776 and rebuilt repeatedly over the succeeding centuries. The Golden Gate bridge has its southern terminus on the Presidio. The Bay and Alcatraz Island were all within dramatic view every day of the week, unless the fog rolled in. Which was not unusual.
The gorgeous San Francisco Bay was just yards from our white wood frame barracks and classrooms. Letterman General Hospital, where we did our OJT, was a couple blocks across an old air field and up a modest incline. The hospital was another old wood-frame rambling structure built and rebuilt over the previous many decades. The buildings were showing their age in our time and Letterman General was resurrected as a ten-story, 550-bed facility just months after most of us left from training to parts scattered mostly in Southeast Asia.
Ours was a 40-week program divided between classroom and work on the hospital wards. It was all relatively easy and even boring with mostly lecture sessions in early times until we moved to regular hours in the hospital. Few memories remain except for pushing patients in old rickety wooden wheelchairs down long, long hallways from one place to the next. Such was, however, good exercise.
I do remember working with soldiers shot up in Vietnam. I can almost see one whose leg was missing from the hip from a war wound. We had to dress and re-dress it. Working on that ward was a hard assignment. Many of our patients had been shipped in via several intermediate points for special surgeries, prostheses and long convalescences.
From another ward, I won’t forget old Navy Captain Greene who was one of my patients for a few days. He had a lesson to teach me, if not others. Captain McDonald, the head nurse, had sent me into the wide open rambling ward to give Captain Greene his appointed medication. The tottering old sailor stuck his nose up and told me he would not take it. I reported back to the nurse’s station with the news. McDonald was adamant and quickly sent me back to complete the mission. Greene continued to resist and smartly remarked that, “You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make him wash in it.”
I thought that was a very savvy, if unusual response. The head nurse was not impressed and grimaced, “You can tell Greene I will personally come and pour those pills down his throat.” I went back and told Captain Greene with somewhat less potent wording. Greene continued to resist. Unfortunately, I do not recall the rest of the story.
Most of my memories of Frisco are of my classmates, with a couple of whom I have resurrected friendships in recent years through contact via the Internet and Facebook. I “ran” with a small group, but still often with myself in those days. Exploring the post and the surrounding area. I walked everywhere as I often do to this day whether motor conveyance is available or not.
While many of my fellows explored North Beach, Haight-Asbury, and marijuana, I lived tamely. Through the USO, I got to see some SF Giants baseball games and performances of Imogene Coca and Sergio Mendes and Brazil 66. Generally, I was content with the bay, Golden Gate Park, Market and Lombard Streets, the movie theaters, and Bushati’s Italian restaurant near the base.
I experienced Cinerama watching Gone With The Wind. I liked the former more than the latter. I thought Dustin Hoffman was superb in The Graduate especially after a hamburger at a nearby grill. While I ate the burger, I felt a little guilty paying a price which my mother, the sometimes waitress, would have thought outlandish. While my Frisco adventures were worthy of a G-rating, I may have missed out on some of the wonders and exotica of San Francisco.
The Bay Area was almost as liberal in those days as now. And, our cadre of 50+ class students who were attracted to the Golden Gates represented that picture to a greater or lesser degree. Compatriots had to visit North Beach and Little Italy. I remember PFC Shelley returning one night from an excursion to North Beach, saying that he was a tri-sexual. “I will try anything once.”
Which recalls my earliest moments at the Presidio. Soon after reporting in, I began hearing comments like: “Watch out for Ostrander.” “Keep clear of O.”
I didn’t think to ask why. So when PFC Ostrander appeared one day and kindly invited me for a drive around the city, I accepted with thanks. But interestingly, in a matter of minutes our conversation turned to sex. And within a few more minutes, Ostrander stopped his car on the edge of the ocean and put his hand on my knee. Well, I knew little – very little about sexuality and especially homosexuality – but I knew enough to remove his hand and ask him to turn the car back to the barracks. It takes all kinds. Then and now. Karma rules, however little we understand it. And, however long it takes to work itself out.
Karma sadly ruled during the elections of ’68. I remember exactly where I was on June 5, 1968. I sat in the barracks day room watching the late returns of the California Democratic Primary that evening. Like the rest, I was struck dumb when Robert Kennedy was shot in Los Angeles after a victory speech as the clock passed midnight. It was a real shocker, but certainly seemed to fit the era as we prepared to travel to Southeast Asia.
Graduation for 91C class at Presidio of San Francisco
We were all relieved to finish the program, graduate in September of 1968 and travel home for leave before heading to our varied assignments. Almost all but the older students who had previous completed earlier tours were ordered to Vietnam.
Next Stop is Vietnam - Chapter 4