By Christopher Barnum Rose
A hot summer day at Lincoln Park. The blazing sun shone brightly upon my face. I was in the park swimming pool with my friend Travis and pretty girl named Susan. The water was cool and refreshing. Beyond the pool was the majestic Salish Sea. From the pool you could see ships passing by and islands in the near distance.
Travis and I splashed each other with water and plenty of laughter too. Susan was amused. Once grown men got in a pool they acted like a bunch of kids. That’s what it was all about though. Getting off work and headin’ to the pool. Like kids – it was exciting and something to look forward to. We were actually there for a class. “Water Heroics” as Susan called it. Water AEROBICS wasn’t just old people. It was also fit people having fun. Hard work that got the heart rate up. Just what I needed to do. Get out there and enjoy life with friends. Do fun things. Swim and exercise. That’s what we were doing.
That’s about when I heard that familiar sound in the distance. A deep sound of rhythm. It had a beat to it. Boom, Boom, Boom. Whack, whack, whack. My laughter and joy of the moment seized right then and there. I looked toward the sound waiting for a visual. I couldn’t see it at first. The sound hitting the hill next to our pool. As if in a trance I waited for it. Only slightly conscious of the fact I was the only one in the pool hyper focused on the sound. Then it came in view. A huge military helicopter flying directly over us. Its blades making that familiar sound. That sound every vet knows that ever spent five minutes near helicopters. That damn sound.
As the chopper flew overhead my mind drifted back to Germany and my experience near the aeromedical evac choppers. I was mentally transferred back in time. To the flight line watching our C-130 Hercules aircraft flying in from Bosnia and other places. Our planes had been shot at. Shot bad. Sometimes more. As the planes came in we were not sure if they could land safely. Some of the propellers not working as smoke billowed out the bowls of the turboprop engines. We’d wait on the side of the runway hoping they would land. Hoping they would not crash. Hoping our airmen would not die. We didn’t really talk about it. Didn’t really acknowledge it. Just forget it. Just ignore it. We drank a lot. We drank so much it numbed emotion.
Our medical evacuation choppers stood by with their bright red cross painted on them. Medevacs. Ambulances too. The medics were the angels of our work. Heroes amongst the rest of us. I was just an engineer. The planes came in smoking. A black smoke. The medics would pull the wounded off the planes. Maybe worse. Maybe the fallen. Firefighters dealt with smoking engines and were ready in case a plane crashed on the runway. Medics running to the wounded and pulling them out of the planes quickly. Medics getting them placed in the choppers. I hated it all. I hated what I saw. I hated seeing our guys suffering. I tried to just normalize the abnormal. I drank a lot. We all drank so very much. We just drank it all away. We drank away the reality of watching young men suffering.
As I sat in the pool dazed and lost in my thoughts I could hear the chopper flying overhead. But I could see our wounded airmen now on the medevacs. The choppers. Pilots skillfully flew the wounded from the runway up the hill. Up a hill to receive lifesaving care. Up the hill to Landstuhl Army Medical Center. The choppers took them there. Whack whack whack. That fucking sound. Those angels were saving our troops. I tried to forget. But I can’t. I can’t forget. I can’t sleep. I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t talk to anyone about it. Nobody gets it. Nobody understands how fucked up it is to be watching the good guys suffering. To just sit there and wait wondering how many people would die and even if they didn’t how many of the wounded would be pulled out of a plane that might blow up. I wanna go home. I just want to get the hell out of this place and go home. I want to be home.
I start to hear the laughter of people in the pool. I can hear them and the sound of splashing water. My thoughts fade and my vision begins to open back to the reality before me. The pounding sound of the chopper becomes less. It’s flying off into the distance toward the islands. I realize I am in the pool. I’m not in Germany. I’m home. I’m home living the life I once dreamed of. I just lost my mind for a bit that’s all. I just went on a trip. A bad trip. I hate this. I hate war and its memory. I am confused. Jesus it wasn’t Vietnam. It was Germany. Get it together man. I am glad to be with Travis and Susan in a swimming pool. Jesus man. I’m home. I’m finally home.