There was a hospital corpsman a few years ago who was hit while saving Marines in Iraq. He covered the body of a patient to protect the Marine under fire. He was hit in the face, shoulder, legs...it was bad.
I had very little to do with helping him recover except for a few phone calls and a plane ticket or two for his family to visit him. Many others, especially Marine spouses did more for Doc than I did.
Later, we would talk a lot about what he wanted to do after his recovery. Since we weren't sure about his future in the Navy, we talked a lot about his options after medical retirement, but Doc's endgame was to go back to a combat battalion.
The day he was told he was going to be allowed to stay on active duty, he called my cell phone.
It wasn't easy for him to talk as he was still sore from surgery on his jaw.
Doc says to me , "I get to go back to Battalion, sir!"
It is what he wanted. He was packing his stuff, calling his wife, and getting ready to leave Bethesda. And no matter how many times over the last year that I had told Doc not to call me sir, he always did. I learned that Doc was relentless and that Doc never quit and that it took an act of god to get him to change once he made up his mind.
"We're going to deploy soon"
"I've got to get there ASAP so I'm on the deployment. Can't miss this one."
"I wanted to repay you for everything that you've done."
I had been offering assurances to him but not offering up much. Now I had to say something.
"Doc, there's no..."
"Sir, I can't pay you back for all you've done for me and my family with money. I'm going to pay you back in a different way."
I wait, wondering what in the hell he is talking about. Just before I tell him that he can't pay me back...
"I''m going to save Marines..."
So a year or more goes by. I knew that he went to Afghanistan and came back months ago. I knew that he was in heavy combat but wasn't hit. I heard that he and his wife had another child since I had talked to him last. Other than that, I hadn't heard much. Then, this morning in line at Dunkin' Donuts, I get a call. It's Doc.
"Hey, Doc! How the hell are you?"
"Sir, I lost your number, hope you don't mind that Mrs. C gave it to me."
I laugh and tell him that it's no problem and that he can call me anytime and ask him about his family. I try to make small talk about sleepless nights with a baby. Doc cuts me off and gets to the point of the phone call.
"Wanted you to know I patched up a lot of Marines." He gets quiet and says very seriously in his slow southern drawl, "Saved at least four."