M A S H Fan Fiction ❯ Theatre of War ❯ Daybreak in Uijeongbu ( Chapter 1 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the original M*A*S*H characters, circumstances, settings, or otherwise. Gene Reynolds, Larry Gelbart, and other people I'm forgetting have ownership over the series and concept. Lena and other various characters introduced by me inside the story are, however, my on creation—and as such should not be used without my permission. Please do not sue me, for this is fanfiction and intended to be fun.
October 14th, 1973
I first met Lena the morning of December 5th, 1951; a memory forever burned in my heart as the moment my bleak outlook on life dissolved completely, and a bright friendship was born from the ashes of faded hope. It was cold that morning; I remember the trees being frosted over from the previous night's inclement weather. Long icicles had formed from their frozen branches, scattering daylight about the compound as enlisted men scrambled to prepare for wounded. It was just a normal winter day in Korea, or so it seemed to me at the time. Radar had just finished an announcement informing us more casualties were on the way, and I had crucifix in hand heading out the door to the OR. Not much I could do there besides assist blindly, administering the Last Rites when needed. Still, I liked to help when I could. Those poor boys, not even old enough to drink yet they were falling prey to a war they did not start. I felt like such a vulture sometimes; circling around the masses of blood-stained soldiers, waiting to hover above them if and when they took their last breath.
Padre, that's what the men came to refer to me as. Padre. Not John, or Francis, or even Father so much anymore—but Padre. I suppose it was fitting in the sort of way a eulogy is fitting of death; after all, I was the military-issued chaplain there to reassure the men as they needed reassuring. But Padre just sounded so foreign to my ears. I longed to discover a more...practical title the men might call me. I enjoyed being helpful and needed mind you, but still I wondered if there wasn't a greater purpose God intended me for. Acting on behalf of the Grim Reaper wasn't why I originally chose to become a priest—I wanted to help people, to be a representative of God. All this death and destruction began to wear me down badly, a slow depression creeping into the empty corners of my mind where optimism once thrived. I truly began to believe the chance for solace had evaded me. And yet, there she was.
Such a cold morning, she must have been freezing standing there in her freshly pressed uniform amongst the snow and ice. Securely fixed inside the doorway of Colonel Potter's quarters, she absentmindedly brushed aside white powder skirting the threshold with a foot and hugged her arms against her body for warmth. She was fetching to say the least—black hair tightly wound up into a bun underneath her cap, loose wavy strands cascading past brow and face embracing the gentle curves of her ears. Her slender features were reminiscent of elfish lore, with pale, delicate skin peeking out beneath the dark olive of her attire picking up the white of the snow beautifully. She had eyes that held you--reflected your very soul within deep sapphire hues, and nothing could severe the reckless enthrallment I faced now. She looked very clean to me, which I suppose to you, is an odd way to describe someone. But after spending a year or so in Korea, true cleanliness impresses. In awe I stood, drinking her all in. She was busy talking to the Colonel so she didn't see me standing there watching.
I unconsciously held onto my breath as I studied her, caught up in that single moment of pure, poetic beauty you often hear about in stories but never witness for yourself. I'll never forget how she looked that day, how her eyes sparkled with child-like fascination over an undone button on her lapel, her long slender fingers correcting the mistake when she thought no one could see. Even such small actions were far more significant to me than they should have been. I was afraid she'd notice me standing there and the spell would be broken, so I just paused, lost in silent revere. How graceful she moved, every small gesture elegantly rounding out her charm as she looked back at Colonel Potter and balanced casually on heeled shoes. I soon felt my ears tingle and quickly looked away embarrassed, dashing towards the OR and evading the situation altogether. I made a promise at that moment to keep my distance from her; it wasn't proper for a chaplain to behave this way. To be taken off guard like that, the shame I felt! Excommunication would be a blessing compared to the real consequences of this ignominy if I stayed any longer. And so I fled. Who ever this woman was I could avoid her until she left camp, I was sure of it. I caught a fragment of their discussion as I darted through the doors however, her clear voice resonating in my head long after I was free.
“...I guess I should unpack later then.”
My face mask was tied far too tightly behind my ears, my nervous hands being to blame. She walked into the OR behind the Colonel, apron snug against her body and fresh gloves on her hands. No time to change, she came in dressed to the T. There was an air of confidence about her until the smell of blood and entrails assaulted her nose and reality came crashing back down. I could see the physical revolt on her face as rows of bodies came into view, calm exterior twisting in agony as her hand groped for the table to steady against queasiness. She must have been fresh out of school; the shock of war too much to handle for someone so young. I remember when I first came to the 4077th I experienced the same exact thing. I don't know which is worse—the fact that I took part in this horror at all or the fact that I eventually became accustomed to seeing such terrible things on a daily basis.
Hawkeye immediately inspected her with his eyes, running his gaze all over Lena in silent assessment. The amused smile that resulted sent a shiver down my spine, and so I distracted myself with BJ's patient to hide my inner turmoil. Ordering his nurse to close up for him, Hawkeye raised his blood soaked hands into the air and waited for the next boy.
“So, who's this? Don't tell me we have a new intern.” His usual songlike voice stretched out and reached for Lena as he quipped about her age. Taking his scalpel, he carved a line into the stomach of a newly laid out soldier and asked for more suction. “Watch out Frank, now we have another doctor with more experience than you.”
Major Burns made a face and began to retort back, but Colonel Potter cut in. “Kids, this is First Lieutenant Galena M. Trepp. She was just transferred here from the states, so she's not used to all this excitement yet. Seeing as this is no time for introductions, I'll keep this short and sweet. She's young, but she's a promising doctor and the daughter of one of my old war buddies, so give her some slack for today, eh?” Colonel Potter rolled off his speech as he was fitted with new gloves. Momentarily locking eyes with Hawkeye, he moved to his table and prepared for surgery. “Houlihan, would you mind a bunkmate for a bit—just until we can straighten out the living situation?”
Margaret was busying herself with Frank's patient so it took a few seconds for the half-hearted request to sink in. Temper all at once surged and a light shade of pink decorated the skin above her mask.
“Colonel! Absolutely not, I'm a Major for goodness sakes.” She clamped off the artery Frank was working on and shot an offended look towards Colonel Potter. “Have her bunk with the nurses.”
Potter gave a weary sigh and picked up his scalpel, “Oh horse-hockey. Now Margaret—you know as well as I that the nurse's quarters are already full to the brim. Now, I wasn't really asking so much as telling--”
“Colonel Potter!” The indignant appeal came once again, cutting off the old man mid-sentence. Houlihan's blush had deepened and she now fervently moved around Frank's hands, desperate for the red to disappear. “Surely there are other places available,” She glanced up at Lena quickly, “One that the doctor would feel more at home in.” The cynical way in which `doctor' was said caught Lena's attention immediately.
“Well, I'd offer her the bunk next to Frank, but I wouldn't willfully subject anyone to that sort of cruelty.” Hawkeye glanced up towards Lena and apologetically smiled. “The war is hard enough, why suffer more by smelling his feet at night? Clamp!” Hawkeye went back to picking out the shrapnel from his patient's wound. “Nurse, clamp!”
Lena began to say something, but Margaret cut her off and once again chirped her disapproval. “Perhaps she could bunk with Radar then--they look to be about the same age.”
“Now Margaret--” Colonel Potter began, trying to be as reasonable as possible while elbow-deep in a young boy's abdomen, “I know that you are a Major and all, but--”
“Why doesn't she just stay with me?” I like a fool suggested without thinking—eliciting several surprised reactions from around the room, including my own. I immediately regretted saying a word, as even Major Burns looked stunned at my impulsive offer. To go from hardly noticed to the center of attention so quickly, I found myself trembling from all the shocked faces staring back at me. Stumbling over abstract ideas, I frantically attempted to piece together another proposal. Anything. But when none came, the hushed silence in the OR overwhelmed me and I couldn't help but avert my eyes out of shame.
“Padre—I know you just want to be helpful, but really, she'll be fine with Houlihan.” Colonel Potter finally broke the awkward pause, laughing off my foolhardy suggestion as he closed up his patient and gave a swift look to Margaret. “And I won't hear another word about it. Next!”
Outside the OR, I caught another fleeting glimpse of Lena as she carried her bags into Major Houlihan's quarters. She disappeared into the doorway behind a visibly upset Margaret, while I forced away a smile walking to the mess tent. Lunch time it was, and who was I to miss an opportunity to eat army sanctioned gruel? Maybe a little lunch was all I needed to get my mind off of things.
Hawkeye and BJ were already seated when I entered, cycling through the normal Frank Burns jokes and prodding the grayish brown goo on their trays. Food in Korea wasn't exactly edible so much as it was nauseating, so you can guess the selection wasn't great. Hawkeye said once that if the war didn't kill you, the food certainly would. I never disagreed.
“Did you see that new recruit we have? I think I just might have to perform a personal physical on her later tonight.” Hawkeye quickly chewed, making curves with his hands that resembled the female form. “I mean, have you ever seen such deliciously tempting proportions before, Beej? What I would give to sample that. I might even wear my dog tags this time, make the examination official.” Chuckling, he set down his fork and continued shaping the air in eager anticipation. “Magnificent.”
“I dunno, she looked a little young for you Hawk,” Captain Hunnicutt pretended to reason, causing his once elated friend to stab a green blob on his tray out of protest. “This one might just be better appreciated from afar.”
Disappointedly setting down his hands, Hawkeye faced his challenger with strong conviction. “BJ, BJ, BJ...you don't understand. I've been waiting all of my life for someone like her to cross my path. And now that she has, I have no choice but persuade her to be mine. Well, for tonight at least.” Hawkeye ended his speech with an unconcerned laugh and sat back, pleased with himself and his power over women.
“And to think, of all the M*A*S*H* units in Korea, she had to walk into yours.” Hunnicutt teased as Hawkeye waved his arm unimpressed in his direction.
“Eh, you'll see, Mr. Skeptic.” He continued, describing Lena in risqué detail as I walked silently towards an empty table. My head was pounding, picking up traces of the mischievous conversation as I quickened my pace. I thought it was best I leave.
I was almost in the blue when BJ called out to me. “Why don't you sit down over here Padre, there's enough room—if Hawkeye can deflate some of that ego of his first.”
Hawkeye waved me over. “Yes Father, come over, stay awhile. Don't mind him though—he woke up on the wrong side of Korea this morning and hasn't been civil since.”
“No I--I should be going. Maybe I'll eat lunch in my quarters today. I still have to write up tomorrow's sermon after all.” Smiling to dissimulate my urgency, I turned swiftly towards the exit and came to an abrupt halt where I stood in the aisle.
The door to the mess tent opened and in she walked. Still in uniform with hair tied up tightly, Lena paused in the threshold taking in her surroundings. Smiling, she exchanged quick glances with some of the enlisted men and walked to over to the table of food, grabbing a tray and proceeding to examine the choices carefully. She didn't even seem to notice me standing there, but to be fair I wasn't exactly as prominent as I could have been. Dazed, I sat down next to BJ and instinctively broke my gaze on her. My ears were burning again, the familiar sting back full force.
“Welcome to the 4077th. Watch what you eat here,” Hawkeye stood up and playfully strolled towards her, pointing to the unidentifiable mush she was about to take, “this stuff will turn you into a statistic over night if you aren't careful.” Beaming, he held out his hand to her. “Captain Benjamin Franklin Pierce—Hawkeye for short. But certain nurses around these parts just call me `Handsome'.” Winking, he enclosed her hand and watched her face brighten into a smile.
“Galena Marie Trepp, nice to meet you Hawkeye. Like the Last of the Mohicans, right?” Her smile never faded.
“That's right! Wow, most people don't get that reference.” Astonished, he helped fill her tray with food and sashayed her towards the table. “This is BJ Hunnicutt, also a Captain, but don't hold that against him.” Hawkeye sat down and waited for Lena as she shook BJ's hand politely and exchanged pleasantries. “Oh—and this is Father Mulcahy. He's our resident Holy Man.”
Turning her warm gaze onto me, she held out her hand and paused. “Nice to meet you Father.”
Hesitating, I slowly took her hand into mine and returned the gesture. I was still a bit nervous to have her so close to me after my inappropriate reaction earlier, so I was careful not to sustain eye contact for too long. I knew I should be polite, but I would only allow that to go so far. “Yes,” I began timorously, “it's good to have you here, Galena. You seem to have a lot of...promise, to borrow a term from Colonel Potter. We could use another surgeon at the 4077th.”
I immediately noticed a shiny silver object dangling from her neck on a delicate chain as she leaned into our handshake. It was a small, simply fashioned cross that contrasted brilliantly next to the dark olive of her uniform. How quickly I forgot myself! Brimming with excitement, I was about to inquire about it when she spoke first, sheepishly wrinkling up her nose and shaking her head.
“Call me Lena, please. Galena just sounds so...pretentious. I don't know why I introduced myself that way, my fault.” Letting out a small giggle, she sat down next to Hawkeye and tucked a small strand of loose hair behind her ear. “Colonel Potter tells me that you volunteer at the local orphanage, Father.” She took a small bite of food and chewed slowly. “Do you happen to need another pair of hands over there? I'd love to help out if I could.”
Pleasantly surprised, I smiled and nodded briefly. Maybe her presence here wouldn't be so bad after all. “Well thank you, Lena. We could always use more help with the children.”
Looking away from me and back onto her food, she took another measured bite and swallowed. “Back home I ran the Sunday school activities at Saint Joachim's. It would be wonderful if I could help out with something like that again. It would give me something to look forward to at least.” A bittersweet smile formed on her face as she took another bite.
I could tell there was something bothering her, but I didn't know whether to press the subject or not. “You know,” Lena suddenly looked up at me, captivating me with her eyes, “Colonel Potter told me you also hail from Philadelphia. I'm from Frankfort myself.” Smiling warmly she continued eating, looking back at her meal and scooping up a forkful of gray mush.
I was so excited to ask about home that I nearly knocked over my coffee onto BJ's tray. Recomposing myself and apologizing quickly, my moment was once again interrupted when an announcement boomed over the PA system.
“Here we go again, boys and girls.” Hawkeye quickly stood up from his seat, leaving his tray behind and finishing his coffee in one large gulp. Stretching out his arm in comical grandiloquence towards Lena, he lingered in pose and beamed. “Lady Iris,” Hawkeye beckoned lightheartedly, still reaching out to her, “Your carriage awaits.”
“Always with the dramatics.” BJ stood as well, looking at his partner in crime and chuckling. “Don't scare the poor girl too much on her first day.” He smiled warmly towards Lena, trying to calm the panic rising in her expression. “Don't worry, you'll get used to his sense of humor soon enough. We all had to.”
Slowly rising from her seat, a hint of terror in her eyes, Lena paused for a moment and nervously spoke. “You sure get a lot of wounded around here, don't you?” Remembering her reaction earlier in the OR, I thought to console her but Hawkeye was too quick for me.
“Oh, right now this might seem like a lot to you, but don't worry. Later on—it'll seem like a whole lot more. After all, this is the Theatre of War, folks.”
So, that was chapter 1, I hope you liked it ^_^. I love M*A*S*H* and especially enjoy Father Mulcahy's character. He's one of the underdeveloped, underappreciated characters in the series that I really wish would have had more play. Hopefully I can flesh him out a bit in this story!