tagMatureCorpsman, Up!

Corpsman, Up!

bykomrad1156©

"I'm proud of you, son."

Chance Petersen had never heard those words from his father before in all the 26 years he'd been alive. It wasn't that there weren't opportunities to say them, his father had just never felt that anything his son had done was good enough to merit his doing so.

But now that he was extremely ill, his entire outlook had changed. Wayne Petersen was a successful doctor who knew he was dying, and he also knew he'd been unduly hard on his son from the time he was a little boy. Even worse, he knew he'd been that way for no good reason as his son was a happy, pleasant child who'd always been eager to please his dad until he finally realized nothing would ever do that. Nothing he did was ever done right. Nothing was ever good enough. Praise was extremely rare and always came with some kind of caveat. And pride was a term he never used.

When Chance's Little League team took first place after he pitched the winning game, his father had glibly said, "Not bad." After he graduated from high school as a member of the American Honor Society all he heard was, "You'll have a tough time becoming a doctor with a GPA lower than 3.8."

Chance's had been 3.72. Obviously, that wasn't good enough.

A month after graduating and working at a fast food restaurant while still living at home, the constant criticism became too much to take, and Chance found himself driving by a military recruiting center he'd passed a hundred times but never noticed before. On a whim, he walked inside, and when he did, he became every recruiter's dream. A 'walk-in' eager to enlist.

This particular station had no Army recruiter for whatever reason, so Chance's opportunities were limited to the three other services. The Marine's uniforms looked sharp, but he'd stories about the Marine Corps and wanted no part of either it's Full Metal Jacket kind of boot camp or fighting wars at the so-called 'tip of the spear'. The Air Force seemed like civilians in uniform, and that left just one choice. The U.S. Navy.

Chance spent a few minutes talking to a chief petty officer who not only impressed him, but sold him on the Navy in short order. The following week he was taking a physical exam and a series of aptitude tests. Two months after that he found himself in San Diego, California going through Navy boot camp.

He'd only told his mother he was leaving two days prior, and she'd cried the entire time, but true to her word, she didn't tell his father. When he found out, he dismissed his son's choice as yet one more misguided step in the wrong direction.

Chance knew he didn't have a specific job guaranteed after boot camp as he'd enlisted as 'an undesignated seaman.' His recruiter had told him his scores were high enough that he could get pretty much any job he wanted with a very quick mention of something about 'the needs of the Navy' that Chance didn't catch or understand.

"When you get to boot camp just let them know what you'd like to do and you should have no problem getting it," the recruiter told him being careful not to make any kind of actual promise.

So when he got close to graduating from boot camp, Chance was more than a little surprised to learn he'd be attending what was called 'A school' at San Antonio, Texas. He'd been given orders to attend Corpsman School which was actually located at nearby Fort Sam Houston which was a part of Joint Base San Antonio, with San Antonio being the location for Air Force enlisted basic training.

Chance also didn't realize before going to boot camp, he'd have to extend his enlistment to five years rather than four to become a corpsman, but the thought of getting to work in the medical field sounded interesting and he'd gladly done so.

When he called home to tell his parents about his next assignment and what he'd done, his dad had told him it sounded like he was wasting five years of his life instead of four then handed the phone to his wife.

Undeterred, Chance attacked this new challenge in a way that put him at the top of his class 19 weeks later. This time he got another 'not bad' from his father. Of course, he'd had to add, "Not bad for something that isn't all that challenging," which meant it wasn't exactly medical school.

Chance laughed out loud when he got his first set of orders to the Fleet, the term the Navy used to describe its operating forces. The reason for the laughter was finding out he was going to the Fleet...Marine Force or FMF. Yes, he'd still be in the Department of the Navy and in an operational Fleet, it would just be as a Navy corpsman serving with U.S. Marines, the one branch of service he'd shied away from in order to stay away from ground combat.

When he reported to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, he was assigned to the base hospital then was further attached to the 2nd Marine Division and ultimately to a battalion within one of its three infantry regiments. Unlike the Army which had battalions, brigades, and divisions, the Marine Corps had no brigades, only regiments. Yes, the Army still had Ranger Regiments, but for the most part, they were a thing of the past.

HN Chance Petersen, with 'HN' standing for Hospitalman in pay grade E-3 or the equivalent of a Marine lance corporal, was assigned to 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, or 1/8 for short. Unlike the Army, it was never called 'the first of the eighth' but simply 'one-eight'. His unit's nickname was the 'Beirut Battalion' as 1/8 had borne the brunt of the suicide bombing attack on the Marine's barracks in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983 where 241 Americans were murdered. Among the dead were not only U.S. Marines but the Navy corpsmen who'd served along with them.

Chance lived and trained with 'his' Marines, and along with a whole lot of razzing for being a lowly 'Squid' he was also afforded a lot of informal respect as their 'doc'. It was still too early to tell, but many jarheads considered their corpsmen to be honorary Marines, an unofficial title never bestowed lightly on anyone. But because Navy corpsmen shared the same dangers and hardships as the Marines they served with, a corpsman was often given a decent amount of respect. If he was really good, the Marines would think of him as one of their own, and Chance Petersen proved to be worth two shits as he pushed himself to do everything his Marines did from long runs in uniform to conditioning hikes to firing crew-served weapons to you name it. And while doing that, he also treated all of their basic medical problems, never once complaining or asking for a shortcut.

But he really earned his spurs during the battalion's ten-month tour of duty to northwestern Afghanistan. Most of the days were long and boring with very little to do but try and work out using the makeshift gym equipment they had at their base camp.

And then there were the days they went out on some kind of mission when just leaving the confines of base camp meant dealing the possibility of death at any time due to makeshift bombs called IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) buried underground along any known or suspected route of travel. Ambushes were also possible in or around any village or area that afforded the enemy a place to hide and launch an attack.

Those were the times when the boredom was interrupted by a few minutes of sheer terror and was often accompanied by serious injury or death.

Chance was there even before the call, "Corpsman, up!" was heard from a Marine calling for help for a wounded comrade.

"I gotcha, man!" Chance would say as he rolled in and assessed the wound. From basic first aid to tying a tourniquet on a leg losing blood from the femoral artery to administering morphine to stopping the bleeding from a gunshot or shrapnel wound, Chance was there taking care of it all, often while exposing himself to enemy fire.

Had there been beer available 'in-country' Chance would have drunk for free many nights after his unit returned to the relatively safety of its base.

Four and a half years and two combat tours later, HM2 Chance Petersen was unceremoniously released from active duty after signing a few pieces of paper and shaking hands with a bunch of people he'd worked for, giving and getting more than a few back-slapping hugs from the Marines he'd grown to love as brothers for life.

And just like that, he was once again a civilian, driving home in the car he'd bought four years ago headed back to his hometown a few miles outside of Seattle, Washington. It seemed surreal to think of where he'd been and what he'd done just several months earlier as he drove along the smooth, paved roads of the interstate highway system where no one knew who he was, what he'd done, or gave shit that he had.

When he walked into the house he'd left five years ago, his mother went crazy and started crying. His dad shook his hand, gave him the once over and said, "I see you've still got two arms and two legs. Not bad."

When he told his parents he'd been accepted to the University of Washington's Registered Nursing Program, his dad had given him a stern look with a raised eyebrow and said, "Haven't you had enough of doing a girl's job yet?"

Chance had never shown any disrespect toward his father no matter how caustic the criticism. But this time the anger boiled over inside of him, and Chance stared his father down and said coldly, "I pity you, Dad. You're gonna die a bitter old man. You'll be rich, but you'll never be happy," before walking away.

For the next three-plus years, they never spoke another word to one another. Chance's mother went to his room on campus and later to the small apartment he rented with a couple of other guys once a week to have lunch or dinner with him, but that was the extent of his family ties.

He allowed her to pay for the food, but wouldn't otherwise take a dime from her knowing it was money his father had earned. Between the GI Bill and working 20-30 hours a week, he proudly paid for everything the entire time he was in school and never complained about having almost nothing left over for himself.

For the most part, Chance spent his days in class, his afternoons working, and his evenings and late nights studying. He'd learned the value of hard work on active duty and he was almost singularly focused on not just graduating, but really learning the material.

His only diversion were several co-eds who found the somewhat-older, ruggedly-handsome fellow student someone they wanted to meet, and quite often, hook up with. He rarely ever mentioned his time in Afghanistan or what he'd seen, but he did occasionally mention his having been a Navy corpsman which added to his quiet, confident mystique.

And then one day out of the blue, just before he was to graduate (with honors) from the school of nursing, his mother called to inform him his father had been diagnosed with incurable brain cancer. Chance didn't need his mother to beg him to come home. The moment he heard he hung up and drove straight to the large, beautiful house he'd grown up in, and without saying a word, he hugged his father as though they'd been the closest of friends his entire life.

For the first time in his life, Chance saw his father cry. The tears weren't tears of self-pity. They were tears of sadness for having been such a distant, cold, uncaring father to his son.

It was all Chance could do not to cry himself as his terminally-ill father apologized for being such a fool and...such an ass.

"You were right," he told his son. "I am going to die a bitter, old man."

His father was only 59 years old making it hard to think of him as old. The bitter part, however, had been undeniably true.

"No you're not, Dad. The past is the past, okay?" Chance told him.

"Thank you, son. That means everything to me. After the way I've treated you, I don't deserve your kindness."

The form of cancer his father had was incredibly aggressive, and it was growing at an unbelievably rapid rate. He'd not only been unable to attend Chance's graduation a few weeks later, he was very close to death.

By sheer force of will, he remained alive and conscious until his son came home a few hours after it was over. When he saw him, Wayne Petersen stretched out his frail arms from his bed and hugged his son.

As he held him, he said very quietly, "Congratulations. I'm proud of you, son."

This time, Chance's eyes welled up with tears and he said, "I love you, Dad."

His father weakly patted him on the back then said, barely able to speak, "I'm not just proud of you. I love you, too, Chance."

Chance wiped his eyes with his sleeve before standing up and saying, "Get some rest, Dad. I'll be back first thing in the morning, okay?"

His dad nodded and raised his hand slightly. Chance took it and gently squeezed it just before his father closed his eyes for what was to be the last time. Later that evening while Chance was out celebrating with friends, his dad slipped into a coma and by the time he showed up early the following morning, his father was gone.

There was no reason for his mother to interrupt her son's celebration when her husband took his last breath around 6:30am the following morning. She sat there holding his hand, grateful he'd finally made peace with their only child.

After the funeral his mom asked him just before he got ready to leave, "What are your plans?"

As a registered nurse, his skills were very much in demand. Chance had several job offers to choose from and was trying to decide which one to take. He explained the three he thought were most interesting before his mom asked another question that surprised him.

"Do you think you might want to settle down one day and maybe start a family?"

"I don't know, Mom. Eventually, yes. But I kinda have to meet the right girl first, you know?" he said with a smile. "And now that I'm just starting out in a new career, I don't see me doing a lot of dating let alone getting married anytime soon. But yes, someday I'd like that."

"You were so busy in the Navy you didn't date a lot, and I don't remember meeting too many girls when you were in college. I guess I was just doing some wishful thinking," she told him.

He knew she was having a hard time being on her own for the first time since she was 21, but he just couldn't bring himself to move back home. Chance made it a point to drop by as often as he could, but actually living there was out of the question.

He eventually settled on a hospital in downtown Seattle and gladly accepted the opportunity to work in the ER because that was where the action was and where he felt he could do the most good. Because he'd be exposed to so many different kinds of injuries, it would ensure he'd learn every aspect of his craft much faster than say working for some clinic or HMO.

At some point, he'd try and move to a quiet, private practice, but for now, treating people who were severely injured seemed like the best and most interesting thing for him, and Chance found himself thoroughly enjoying the challenges of the job.

The exceptions were seeing children brought in who'd been shot or critically injured in a car accident or some other mishap. He'd never given much thought to having children of his own, but his heart went out to each one of them as he gave his all to helping save their lives. In those rare instances where he and the doctors couldn't, he'd find a quiet place out on an exterior balcony on an upper floor and privately shed a few tears before picking himself back up and going at it again in what seemed like a never-ending battle of life and death.

And yet that's what life was—a constant struggle to survive even when everything seemed perfectly safe and normal. The man in the black hood with the scythe was always nearby, just lurking and waiting to strike. Most people weren't aware of that and went about their lives as though they would never end. But even at his relatively young age, he'd long ago learned that wasn't true.

After a particularly grueling 18-hour shift during his third month on the job, Chance couldn't wait to get back to his apartment and crawl into bed and go to sleep. He'd experienced physical exhaustion many times during his two tours in Afghanistan as well as on some training exercises, but he'd never had to drive home when he was barely able to stay awake. So each and every time he got behind the wheel he steeled himself to stay alert to minimize the chances of sending someone—or himself—to the ER he'd just left.

It was a little after 6am and although the traffic was already building, it still wasn't bad. In another half hour it would be bumper-to-bumper for several hours and just as bad from about 3-7pm at night.

He was sitting at a light waiting for it to turn green when he heard the sound of tires squealing. He couldn't identify the direction for a second or two, but when he saw a car go flying around several others across the street in the wrong lane, he could tell things were about to get really bad very fast. The car was in the left lane and headed straight for oncoming traffic which was the lane Chase was currently in.

The car not only didn't slow down for the red light, it accelerated at the intersection and as it blew through the light, it plowed into a car passing from Chance's right to left. Had it not hit the other car, it seemed almost certain it would have hit his own car head on. As time often does in such situations, things seemed to slow down as Chance clearly saw the collision then watched the car that was hit spin around and flip over after having been struck in the right rear.

The car that ran the red light careened to its left after the collision then slammed into a light pole before jumping the sidewalk and flying sideways into the side of building.

Chance turned right and parked his car just a few feet from the one that had smashed into the wall. He grabbed his phone, jumped out, dialed 911 then ran to the car and looked inside. The driver, who hadn't been wearing a seat belt, was slumped over and Chance was almost certain his neck was broken. He managed to get the door open then looked in and as he checked for a pulse looked into the young man's eyes. The pupils were already unresponsive to light and continued dilating as he looked at them and Chance knew he was gone.

The stench of alcohol was overpowering and explained the reason for his reckless driving.

As he reported the location to the 911 operator, he carefully made his way through the snarl of traffic that was stopping to gawk and rubberneck at the other vehicle that was upside down in the middle of the street.

Two other men were trying to open the driver's side door as Chance arrived.

"Pull harder!" one of the men said as the door opened slightly.

Along with the other man, Chance pulled as hard as he could, and the tangled mess of metal creaked open. The driver appeared to be in his late 60s or possibly his early 70s and he was hanging upside down by his seatbelt.

Chance told the other men who he was and they stood back letting him take the lead.

"Sir, are you okay?" he asked.

"My leg," the man said.

Chance bent down and looked up and couldn't see any signs of a break, but it was impossible to tell from that angle.

"What else? Does anything else hurt?" Chance asked as he tried to evaluate the man.

"My neck. I hit my head pretty hard," the man said. "Is the other driver okay?"

"He's...fine," Chance lied before asking for a knife.

"Okay. You hold him here and you here," Chance said as he got on top of the car which was the undercarriage. "I'm gonna cut the shoulder harness and then the lap belt if I can reach it. Do not let him fall! and cradle his neck. Got it?"

The other men squeezed in tight and got in the best position they could.

"You ready?" Chance hollered.

"Go for it!" one of them yelled back.

Chance sawed the knife blade back and forth several times before it gave way.

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bykomrad1156© 26 comments/ 38173 views/ 67 favorites

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