A Lesson From Papa-San

Friday, April 26, 1968

I didn’t like making the daily trip to Da Nang.  Convoy Road was a risk, but there was no choice, my dressing had to be changed every day.  The burn had stopped throbbing but was still very sensitive.  Doctor Clark advised me to minimize my activity and try to relax.

After getting the new bandage, Wilson and I went to FLC and picked up our food.  At the surplus dock there was a stack of cases with Japanese markings, labeled “Lobster Tails.”  After opening a case in the truck, I counted 30 tails.  I had no idea how to cook lobster but thought Sumo would know what to do with it.  We loaded 10 cases.

We stopped at Battalion Headquarters for lunch, and Gunny Sampson asked me about the solvent receipt.  I showed it to him, and he advised, “Take it to Supply and have them confirm your order.”  I asked him about preparing lobster tails, and he came out to look at them.  He explained they would need to be split with a knife, deveined, then steamed and buttered.  He didn’t sound optimistic.

We drove back to Hill 65 and unloaded our supplies.  Sumo was thrilled with the lobster tails and planned to precook them to be finished on the grill during Sunday’s BBQ.  I was relieved but still concerned about the prep involved.  Sumo, pointing to my hand said, “It’s not that much trouble, but you need to stay away from it.”

Papa-San was securing his barber gear and wanted a cup of “Ca Phe” * before heading to Dai Loc.  We sat in the sun behind the mess hall, and I was trying to cut a piece of sugar cane to make a fiber cube for my evening herbal tea.  He shook his head no, took the cane from me and put it between his knees.  Using his stump hand, he clamped the cane to one side, stabilizing it so the outer layer could be peeled back.  He finished peeling and cut a cube of the fibrous inner flesh and said, “Bagasse” (French for cane fiber).

I tried to duplicate his handiwork, and Papa-San encouraged me.  It was a lesson in perseverance . . . the “can do” spirit.  My cube was smaller and misshapen, but it worked.  As he was leaving, I gave him the French (open handed) salute with my bandaged hand, and he respectfully returned the compliment with his only hand.

The lesson from Papa-San made me realize my shortcomings.  I had been feeling sorry for myself and acting like a wounded cripple.  I rethought Lieutenant Clark’s advice to “minimize your activity” to mean:  get the job done, but don’t hurry.

I watched the war from my folding chair and relaxed with my herbal tea.  Kilo battery was firing on multiple positions in the early evening.  Jenny was on my mind — we would be together again in 12 days.  I decided to focus on my tan . . . it was already looking good!

* See previous “Papa-San” blog (January 20, 1968)

Command Chronology Kilo battery 4/11 April 1968

Next Edition:  The Inquiry is Set

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