It was Christmas Day 1968. We had just arrived on the flight from Vietnam to Fort Lewis Washington. The air was not filled with the excitement of Christmas. It was as if no one at Fort Lewis cared about where we had been, where we were, or where we were going. The post appeared abandoned -- just like a ghost town out of the stories of the old-west.
Notwithstanding the signs of desolation and the absence of Christmas spirit, our plane was loaded with returnees of various military ranks and military occupational specialties. By that time we had generated from our own ranks enough Christmas cheer to carry us over for a few days. Our "plane load" wondered around the post looking for signs of life and for instructions about where we were to be processed out of the military. So far as I know, all members of the "plane load" were to be released immediately from active military duty upon arriving at Fort Lewis. I use the term "plane load" because in those days we generally did not travel to or from Vietnam as any kind of unit. Therefore, when our plane arrived, there was no formal command structure in place to coordinate the actions of the returning group.
The plane load (about 150 men) wandered around Fort Lewis aimlessly for a while looking for instructions. Because of the desolate atmosphere that prevailed, a sense of unity had developed among us, and we wandered together. Finally, we came upon a clerk who happened upon the scene. When asked about where we were to go to be processed out of the Army, the clerk did not know, but was kind enough to place a call for us. He then informed us that all of the staff had been released for the Christmas holidays. He said that there would be no one available to process us out of the Army for a few days, and that we should remain in the Fort Lewis area until after the holidays. It was then that I silently wished that I was back in Vietnam so that at least I could celebrate the spirit of Christmas with my colleagues that I had left behind.
It became obvious that someone had dropped the ball. It may be that the post thought that all Christmas time arrivals had already been processed. By this time the plane load was becoming irate -- almost to the stage of mutiny -- but among our plane load a serious question existed as to who would be the mutineers and who would be mutinees -- the bitter attitude of the enlisted men and the officers comprising the plane load meshed harmoniously -- there was no division of opinion among the plane load. I began to wonder what type of action this newly unified crew of irate men would take to resolve the dilemma which stood before them.
As a line officer, and having been appropriately brain washed to correctly understand my low-standing status in the pecking order of military heirarchy, I felt compelled, but somewhat ashamed, to keep my mouth shut as I was accustomed -- the custom being to select only the most proper and controlled words to be stated under these circumstances. However, I knew that by exercising such control, nothing would be accomplished, and that we would be doomed to spend Christmas at Fort Lewis, while my wife waited alone at the airport in Dallas for my arrival that evening.
We all know that for certain military occupational specialties brain washing is an absolute impossibility. Army physicians have never been able to learn that they were supposed to be humble, contrite, and tremble with fear when being addressed by men adorned with "Birds" and "Stars." Because of the military's failure to develop successful brain washing techniques for the medical profession, our plane load was blessed by having among its members an Army doctor whom I always shall remember as "The Doctor Hawkeye Pierce of Christmas of 1968." Dr. Hawkeye, as a physician, had an attitude that would instantly disqualify him from ever becoming a line officer. He lacked that element of serious dedication to military goals and objectives. This bad attitude was further manifested by the embroidered "FTA" which Hawkeye had on the back side of his tie.
The next thing that we knew Dr. Hawkeye was attempting to call a three-star general to complain about our plane load's predicament. Knowing that brain washing was seldom effective with Army doctors, an immediate feeling of hope and cheer over came me -- ["By God, this nut is crazy enough to call the three star general, chew him out, and get us out of here."] AND HE DID IT! Two hours later, we had been processed and released from active duty, and I was at the airport on my way to Dallas. We did have to take a few short cuts -- to save time, the pee bottles were shared in the spirit of Christmas generosity.
My DD-214 says that I was released from active duty on December 25, 1968. I arrived at Dallas Love Field shortly before mid-night on Christmas day 1968 -- in time to meet my wife. She did not know that my timely arrival should be credited to none other than The Doctor Hawkeye Pierce of Christmas of 1968.