Saturday, March 04, 2006

Chapter 23: My Trip Back to the World

On 2 December 1968, the doctor in Japan cleared me for discharge the hospital and transfer back to a hospital in the United States, or as we called it, The World. They gave me choices of any hospital in the United States I wanted to be transferred to and I choose St Albans Naval Hospital in Queens, New York. This hospital was the closest military hospital to my home in Smithtown on Long Island, about 40 miles away. The doctor told me my orders would be cut that same day and I would be transfered the next.

I was so excited when the next morning finally came. The trip to the airport in Japan was the reverse of my trip to the hospital; ambulance to the helipad, the medevac helicopter ride to the airport and then an ambulance to the medevac plane. The plane was laid out pretty much like the one I took from Vietnam to Japan, but only larger. There were racks to hold the stretchers and seats for the amblatory. I was on a stretcher which was hung in a rack just like the last flight.

The flight home to New York was far from non-stop.

The first leg of the trip was from Tokyo, Japan to a military airbase in Anchorage Alaska. We stopped here for refueling. Everyone had to disembark during refueling except the patients that were unable to walk, like me. I was near the doorway in the plane so every time someone came in or out, a freezing cold blast of air hit us. I asked one of the airmen what the temperature was outside. He joked that they were having a warm spell, -20 degrees F (-29 degrees C).

After about an hour, we took off for either Travis Air Force Base near San Francisco, California or to Andrews Air Force Base in Washington DC. My orders said I was to go to Travis, but I don’t remember that stop. I just remember landing in Washington DC. I may have slept through the stop in California, because I was given pain medication shots every four hours due to the rigors of the flight and having to lay on the stretcher for all those hours.

We did eventually land at Andrews Air Force Base at night sometime. I don’t remember what time though. I do remember we were all taken off the plane, but I’m not sure if I stayed in Washington overnight or put on a flight right away for the short trip to New York City. I was probably put on the flight to New York City right away, because the paperwork I have says I was admitted on 6 December 1968 at 2125 hours (9:25 PM).

The reason I’m not sure about the stops, is because of my confusion looking at the timeline I put together when I looked at all the paperwork I've saved. I left Japan on 3 December 1968 in the afternoon sometime and arrived at St. Albans, Queens, New York at 2125 hours on 6 December 1969. Considering that Japan is a day ahead, I left Japan in the middle of the night on 2 December New York time, but I didn’t arrive in New York until 6 December, which would be four days later. That’s not possible because I wasn’t in route that long. So who knows, and lets just forget it. What I do know is that I was admitted to St. Albans on 6 December 1968 at 2125 hours (9:25 PM). These are a couple of old pictures of St. Albans from 1948, but it still looked the same twenty years later. (Hey, I was born in 1948)

The day after I was admitted, I weighed myself on a scale that was in the bathroom, I only weighed 112 pounds (52 kg). I had been skinny my whole life, but this was ridiculous.

I stayed at St. Albans for almost eight weeks. Not all of wounds had healed yet and I needed a lot of physical therapy before I could walk normally. I could get around okay, but just okay at this point.