FORT MACARTHUR, CALIFORNIA

 

 

 

Home again in Southern California.  We stayed with Janet's parents (Phyllis & Earl Turner) in their house on Bevon Place in Tujunga.  We had leased out our own house on Vanowen St. in Canoga Park to make the house payments.  A Sgt's   pay wasn’t all that much in 1968.  Janet was approaching her ninth month of pregnancy with our second child as we spent Christmas with the Turners.  The new baby was due in January and I wanted to stay and see it born rather than read about it in Vietnam.  Janet must have grunted real hard or something because the baby was born on December  28th,  just  four  days  before  I was to report to Oakland Army Depot for transport to Vietnam.  The baby, who we named Nikki Lynne, was born with "Hyaline Membrane" and was on the critical list from the start.  Her lungs had not fully developed and there was a membrane restricting the oxygen passage into the lungs that proved to be fatal in most cases of its kind.  I phoned the Red Cross and was granted a weeks extension so I could be with Janet and look after the new baby, who was expected to die soon.

 

I never prayed so hard in my life as I did that night alone in bed.  Janet was still in the hospital and Nikki was expected to die and I was on my way to war.  It seemed the whole world was crashing in on me.  I fortunately had Jonette to comfort me and I rocked her for hours in our old yellow rocking chair.  Janet came home in a few days and Nikki was placed in an incubator/respirator with a fleet of specialists looking in on her every minute.  For some reason she clung to life with a tenacity and got stronger daily.  Meanwhile, I contacted the Red Cross again and through them was reassigned to Fort MacArthur in San Pedro for three months while my new baby was still in peril.

 

Upon reporting to Fort MacArthur I was assigned to the Honor Guard detail and worked an 8 to 5 job.  We were the flag bearers and riflemen for funerals in Los Angeles and San Diego and went to one or two funerals daily.  Those we were burying were coming home from Vietnam in plastic bags and it seemed sort of macabre the longer I did it.  My first funeral was in Burbank and the drivers of the station wagons we rode in were drag racing around the cemetery before the service began.  I was really upset at their lack of respect but as time wore on and the number of funerals we attended grew, I found myself less and less interested in what was going on.  I just wanted it over with so I could go home to my family and forget the Army.  One funeral we did at Pt. Loma in San Diego was for a black Sgt and as we were carrying the casket to the graveside his enormous mother (300+) was screaming hysterically behind us and suddenly took a flying leap onto the casket.  It almost buckled our knees and we struggled to keep from dropping the guy. (a court martial offense)  When it was all over we laughed, but at the time it was serious.

 

Another funeral was a Buddhist ceremony at Rose Hills in Pico Rivera.  There were Shinto priests gonging bells and chanting and it was quite a show.  Afterward the father handed me an envelope with $30 in it to go and have a drink in honor of his son.  We split the money between the six guys and went home in the rain.  We did over a hundred burials in the three months I was there and they comprised almost every faith and economic strata.  It was during this time that I grew to hate the Army Chaplains for their outward spirituality and behind the back callousness.  I promised Janet that if she allowed any representative from the Army to be at my funeral I would come back and haunt her forever, and I meant it

 

My new orders were cut and I was to ship to Oakland the first week in March.  Nikki had come home after eight weeks in intensive care and Janet seemed okay with the two babies and had her mother to help her.  I still didn't want to go but things were looking better on the home front than they did in December.

 

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