Orrin doesn’t want his parents to worry while he’s serving as a corpsman during the Korean War, so he puts a twist on his letters to protect them. His best friend, Rawley Armstrong, shares everything with his twin sister, so she’ll understand what he’s going through. Here’s the second excerpt from Dearest Mother and Dad. What type of letter would you write? If you haven’t already, check out the Prologue here.
23 November 1952
Dearest Mother and Dad,
I know you’re disappointed in me for drinking. However, I am not becoming a drunkard and I did not chase after the dance hall girls. In my defense, I just finished eighteen weeks of basic field medical training at Portsmouth, VA and then specialized combat medical training at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. That’s a lot of studying and it was only a couple of beers.
Mother, you shouldn’t worry. I’m with a great bunch of guys. We always go out as a group, but I will watch out for shady characters wanting to take my money. You should know the Navy doesn’t let us carry a lot of money so even if someone stole my wallet they wouldn’t get much.
Today is our last day of our fifteen-day infantry training with the Marines at Camp Pendleton near San Diego. Sergeant Dixon Mayo, a real nice fellow, said we’ll have an easy peasy day. Then, as a Navy Corpsman, I’ll be part of the Fleet Marine Force.
Enclosed is a picture of me and my buddy Rawley Armstrong. Doesn’t he look like that actor John Wayne from Rio Grande? Rawley acts tough and has a cocky swagger like John Wayne, but he’s a good egg. He did his last run through the obstacle course yesterday. He actually finished before some of the Marines. Anyway, I’ll write more tonight. I don’t want to be late for my turn on the course.
All the love a son can give,
From the doorway of the barracks overlooking the obstacle course, I crossed my arms and shook my head. Easy peasy, Orrin had said. Rawley, it can’t be that bad, he’d told me.
Well, after my turn yesterday, I tried to warn him. Now, the pounding rain blinded eighteen-year-old Orrin Connor as he crawled through the mud. His herringbone twill uniform, also called dungarees, went from olive drab to wet dirty brown. Two feet above the ground, a canopy of razor wire covered the quarter mile area.
For once, Orrin should be glad for his thin frame. He wiped his face, leaving a stream of dirt dripping down his chin. The firing of Marines’ M1 carbines and Chinese burp guns over his head thundered with the downpour. I, for one, would forever remember those sounds.
Orrin’s weapon dipped in and out of the mud while his medical pouch and three bandoliers periodically caught on the barbed wire. With a dozen Marines around him, he crept across the flooding obstacle course. The squad out-crawled him. Lagging behind, he winced when Sergeant Mayo stomped along the outside edge parallel to him.
I cringed as Mayo took a deep breath. “Connor, move your ass! By God, you’re going to do this and you’re going to like it!”
Short and stocky, the solid mass of a sergeant had a chip on his shoulder. His voice boomed louder than the gunfire. Even with all that yelling, he hadn’t once started the day hoarse.
When a piece of razor wire snagged Orrin’s bag again, he dropped his gun in the muddy water. With a groan, he yanked the medic bag, tearing the strap.
Someone howled, “Corpsman!”
From the barracks, I held my breath and watched Orrin raise his head then push the front of his crooked helmet above his brow. Standing at the end of the course, the Marines pointed to a downed man twenty feet in front of him. Leaving his gun, Orrin kept his medic bag above the mud and moved double-time. Cradling the bag, he knelt beside Alexander Marshall, clutching his shoulder. Orrin and I were slightly annoyed by the chiseled private who was a notorious ladies’ man. The women didn’t seem to mind. They still fawned over him and ignored the rest of us.
The thunder of gunfire abruptly stopped. The heavy showers, however, did not. The saturated Marines waited at the edge to the razor wire course. Using his body, Orrin shielded the wound from the rain. Leaning on the doorway of the barracks glad to be dry, I watched the drama unfold. Metal barbs bit into the back of Orrin’s neck as he worked to access Marshall’s shoulder. I’ve been bitten by those barbs once or twice so I knew it hurt.
“Corpsman! Get him out of there!” Mayo yelled, beet red and pacing into a bigger huff.
Orrin ignored him. Our training had taught us what to do and what not to do for each kind of wound.
Instead of acknowledging the sergeant, Orrin spoke calmly to the wounded man. “I can’t move you yet. First, I need to see what the issue is.”
“Connor! Pull him out! Now!” Mayo roared.
Marshall moved his hand. No wound existed. “Mayo’s test to see how you respond.”
With a nod, Orrin crossed the Marine’s arms on his chest, laying Marshall’s gun at an angle atop him, too. Unable to stand up due to the razor wire, he tugged the collar, moving him an inch in the rising water of the lowland course. The sharp barbs snagged his clothes and his straps, yanking him backward multiple times. He had to fix his crooked helmet often. After twenty minutes, he had only pulled him two feet. I thought Orrin could float him the twenty yards in the pond of mud. Apparently not.
Finally, Sergeant Mayo threw up his hands. “Marshall, out!”
The Marine flipped onto his abdomen, splashing the water, and quickly crawled out. Drenched, Orrin sighed and followed. The sergeant looked as though he was gearing up for a dressing down. We both disliked being yelled at, but then who did?
Exiting the course on his knees, Orrin started to stand, but the razor wire caught his pant leg. I cringed as he lost his balance and fell face first into the mud puddle. That had to be a mouth full of grit.
As soon as he stood up, Sergeant Mayo lit into him. The others waited as if Orrin’s reprimand might make up for their soaked bodies in the downpour that had yet to lessen. I had heard that California’s weather would be all sunshine. What a disappointment! Michigan’s weather was better. At least it had four seasons.
“You’re a Grade-A klutz! How the hell do you expect to save my Marines’ lives, you scrawny squid?” Mayo demanded.
“Adapting,” Orrin replied at attention.
I smiled at his answer. Ignoring the rain, Sergeant Mayo did not smile. He stared at him, dumbfounded by the answer, an answer that he had lectured about from the start of our two-week crash course.
Mayo clenched his jaw. “I hope to God you figure it out before your first patrol.”
“I won’t let them down.”
Mayo walked away, leaving a dozen men standing in the rain, probably wondering if they could finally dry off. As the Marines rushed in my direction, I retreated to the back corner of the rows of bunks, two beds high, and jumped onto the top one. I picked up where I left off in my letter beside a snapshot of my twin. At twenty, my sister had blue eyes like me. I’d have wavy brown hair like hers too, if it wasn’t for my buzz cut.
I spoke my mind here, which got me into trouble. My arms were pretty strong now with all the pushups they made me do. I wouldn’t tolerate stupidity, especially if I was drunk and in a bar with men bigger, dumber, and more muscular than I was. Although he was naïve, Orrin had my back and could be scrappy in a fight like a cornered wolverine. I was a bad influence on him. I thought he liked it, though. Just because we came from different backgrounds didn’t mean we can’t be friends…
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Release Date: May 21, 2020
“One hundred and twenty Marines wounded. Eighteen dead. All for one lousy hill.”
Corpsman Orrin Connor’s faithful letters with a touching twist shield his parents from the horrors of war. His buddy Rawley Armstrong’s poignant letters give his sister the harrowing truths. Throughout their dangerous assignments during the Korean War, they debate the consequences of their choices. Orrin gains comfort in downplaying his experiences while Rawley feels a healing purge. As they get to know the Marines in their charge, the corpsmen gather a variety of opinions. Although Orrin and Rawley disagree, their friendship remains true until the bitter end.
“It all happened within minutes. For some, it would last a lifetime.”
Based on her father’s letters to his parents throughout the Forgotten War, author Christina Thompson has produced this work of historical fiction to pay tribute to Navy corpsmen by remembering their service to their brothers and their country. Imagining her father had guarded his parents from the carnage of war, Christina elaborates on what could have happened while staying true to the dates and experiences her father shared in his actual letters.