Requiem For A Henry Blake
No one wanted to be here, least of all the doctors. For months, they had worked, played, laughed, and cried with Henry Blake. Now, he was gone. Not only had he left them to go home at last, but in the cruelest twist of fate, he had been killed, his plane shot down. Now the men and women formerly under his command sat, bleary eyed, in the mess tent, converted to accommodate a memorial service for their departed leader.
Hawkeye Pierce sat on the edge of an aisle, still hung over, in his dress uniform. Right after Henry's death, he had served mainly to comfort Radar O'Reilly. The 4077th company clerk had been inconsolable since hearing news of the crash, lying on his cot in the fetal position for two days. Between that and almost continuous surgery (32 hours in two days), he had not had time to mourn. On the third day, he did, drinking himself into a near stupor with his partner, Trapper John McIntyre.
"I can't understand something, Trap," Hawkeye muttered to McIntyre during their binge. "Henry stays here for over a year, less than two miles from the action, and except for the latrine blowing up around him, which I grant you was a pretty big deal at the time, he never gets so much as a bruise. Then he gets killed when he's practically a civilian on the way home."
"Steady, Hawk," Trapper said. "Your eyeballs are floating." Trapper tried to stand and slumped back down in his chair. "Wait a minute. Maybe mine are floating instead."
"It's not fair. Henry never hurt a soul, at least on purpose, and he doesn't make it. How can that be and someone like Frank Burns is still striking terror in the hearts of patients everywhere?"
"You know you're talking about our next commander? I think I'm gonna throw up."
"I know. Thanks for reminding me. I guess now we can go to sleep peaceful with the knowledge that our condiments will be in line at the mess tent, our toilet seats will stand at attention, and the wounded will have to salute before going into O.R."
"Here. Have another drink," a dejected Trapper replied.
As Hawk and Trap drank themselves into oblivion, Major Frank Burns was sizing up the former quarters of Henry Blake.
"At last, I'm in charge around here," he giggled to himself. "I'll finally be able to whip this camp into shape. No more unshaven doctors dragging around in their bathrobes, no more perverts wearing dresses, no more stills, no more…."
"Frank, what are you doing in here?"
Frank turned to see Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan standing in the doorway. "Hi, Darling,"
"Frank, can you feel it? Can you feel the power that command gives you? In a matter of days, this will all be yours."
"Yes, I feel it, Margaret. I was just thinking of all the things that I want to change. Blake wasn't man enough to make them fly right, but I'm going to prove that I'm the man to do it." Frank banged his fist on the table by the cot.
"Oh, Frank," Margaret's eyes fluttered as she wrapped her arms around Frank's skinny neck, "I want you! Right here, right now. Take me."
"Right here?" Frank asked, looking around. "In Colonel Blake's tent?"
"Now! Now!" she moaned as she threw Frank onto the cot.
Radar O'Reilly had finally pulled himself up from his cot, put on his fatigues, and decided to go back to work. He knew that if he wasn't doing the work, it wasn't getting done. He walked into Henry's office. It looked pretty much the same except the diplomas, Henry's little doll with the two broken arms, and his children's "Picassos" were missing.
Radar walked over to the desk. Underneath it, he caught a glimpse of something shiny. It was a pen, one of Henry's. As he looked at it, he thought of Henry boarding the helicopter, wearing that goofy suit, thinking that it was all downhill from there. He would be home soon, dancing with his wife at the club. How terrible Lorraine must feel right now, sitting there all alone with the children, one of which had never even seen his father, and now never will.
Walking back to his office, Radar slumped down into his chair, pulled out a notebook and began writing:
"Dear Mrs. Blake,
I am real sorry for the loss of your husband. He was a fine doctor and colonel. His people loved him very much and everyone is real upset that this has happened.
I hope that you and your children will be okay. I know it must be very hard for them, since they are so young. I know that it's very hard for you, too. I wish I could say something to make the hurting stop, but if I could, I would say it to myself.
Col. Blake was a fine doctor and a fine commanding officer. His people loved him and would do anything for him. We are all very upset about this happening, but we know that he wouldn't want us to stay upset about it for long because we have other things to worry about, like the war and saving lives and stuff. While Col. Blake was in command here, almost every wounded soldier who had a chance to live when he got here was alive when he left here. I know he would want us to keep doing that.
Col. Blake was like a father to me. I don't remember much about my father because I was real young when he died, but having your husband here was like having my father here for me. I won't ever forget the things I learned from him on how to be a soldier and a man.
Cpl. Walter O'Reilly"
Wiping a tear away, Radar folded the letter and put it in an envelope.
After their tryst, Burns and Houlihan returned to Henry's office. There was a bag of mail just inside the doorway. "Where's O'Reilly? That little twerp hasn't done a single thing for two days. Look at this pile of mail," griped Frank.
Margaret opened the bag and started glancing through the mail. "I guess you'll be handling all of the commanding officer's mail now, Frank. Why don't you get an early start?" she said as she handed him a handful of mail.
Radar appeared in the doorway, "Sir, I haven't had a chance to go through that mail. Would you like me to sort it so you don't…."
"You've had two days to sort it, Corporal," Frank sniffed. "I guess if I want it done, I'll do it myself."
"Sorry, Sir. I haven't been feeling so good lately and….."
"I know, Corporal, but you're going to have to get over this. Death is a part of war and it affects all of us, some more than others. If it weren't for death, what would be the use in us even having a war?"
"Yes Sir," Radar replied, worried because he almost understood what Frank was saying. "Is there anything else, Sir?"
"Yes there is. I want the daily reports for the last two days on my desk by 0600 tomorrow…..and next time I see you, I want you showered and shaved. You're filthy. Dismissed."
Radar saluted and left, headed for the Swamp.
"Frank, look at this," Margaret handed him a letter. "Sorry, I went ahead and opened it for you."
"Don't apologize, Cupcake," Frank opened the letter and read it. His beady eyes widened and he looked up at Margaret. "Could this be true?"
"I think so," she smiled.
"It has to be a mistake," Frank said. "McIntyre hasn't been here as long as the rest of us. Why would he be discharged?"
"Not discharged, Frank. Transferred! He's being sent stateside! Next week!"
"Well that's just great! First, we lose Henry and now McIntyre. What are we going to do for surgeons?" Frank picked up the phone. "I'm going to get on the horn to General Mitchell about this and…."
"Frank, put the phone down. Don't you get it?"
Frank looked at Margaret with a blank stare.
"He's leaving, Frank! There will be one less burr in your saddle, one less thorn in your side. Don't call General Mitchell."
Frank put the phone down and smiled his lipless smile, "Soon there'll only be one. Two of us and one of them," he giggled. "But, what about surgeons? We'll need two new pairs of hands instead of one."
"We'll be fine, Frank. By the time he leaves, you'll have his replacement and we've done fine the last two days with only three surgeons."
"I guess we had better let him know the good news. I wonder how he managed to wrangle a transfer stateside."
"Don't tell him yet, Frank. If you tell him now, there's no telling what the two of them will do to the two of us before he leaves. I don't have to remind you of all the horrible things they've done to us. You know they're jealous of you because now you're in command of the 4077th. Make it easier on us and wait until he doesn't have time to do anything but pack and leave."
"Yes, you're right, Margaret," Frank smiled. "There's no sense in making things worse than they already are."
"Frank, I took the liberty of inviting General Mitchell to the memorial service tomorrow."
Frank's chin disappeared, "General Mitchell?"
"Yes, Frank. I think it would be a wonderful opportunity for him to see how well you run this outfit, and what a strong commander you will be. When he sees how you have everything under control, they won't even consider moving someone else in."
"Why, that's just wonderful, Dear," Frank said, somewhat unconvincingly.
At the memorial service, Hawkeye rubbed his eyes, trying to get them to focus a little better. "Hey, could you try not to make so much noise doing that?" Trapper complained from the seat next to him. Trapper was also wearing his dress uniform, but was wearing a pair of sunglasses.
"Stop shouting," Hawkeye whispered. "I'm trying to keep them from falling out of the sockets."
"I don't see Radar," noticed Trapper.
"That's strange," said Hawkeye. "I would have thought we would have seen him scurrying all over the place. That's not like him."
"So what's normal these days?" Trapper replied.
"Let's go see if we can find him," Hawkeye said, rising to leave.
"I hope it's quiet wherever he is," Trapper moaned.
Hawkeye and Trapper found Radar, sitting quietly, with his animals. He was showered, shaved, and wearing his dress uniform.
"Radar?" Hawkeye called. "What are you doing? It's nearly Showtime."
Radar looked up. "Oh, I was just sitting here, thinking."
Trapper rubbed his forehead, "Just don't do it too loudly, okay?"
"Radar, what do you think Colonel Blake would do if he saw you doing this?" Hawkeye asked.
"Doing what?" Radar looked puzzled.
"Oh, I don't know….moping around camp….not doing your job….lying around in the fetal position all day long. He'd kick your butt, wouldn't he?"
Radar nodded, thinking about the last thing Henry said to him before he boarded the helicopter, "I guess he would, Sir."
"None of us knew Henry as well as you did, Radar, but I'm pretty sure that he wouldn't want to see you giving up like this," Trapper said.
"No, he wouldn't, Sir," Radar said, fighting back tears.
"Do you realize that if you don't get it together soon, the entire camp may merge with the cesspool? With Frank Burns running things now, we're going to need all the help we can get. The only thing that could be worse would be if the North Koreans were running the place," Hawkeye said.
"Yes, Sir," Radar replied, almost smiling. "I'll do the best I can."
"Good," said Hawkeye. "Now, I believe we have a memorial service to attend."
"Let's go," Trapper said. "I think the rabbits want to be alone."
"Frank, stand straight. General Mitchell will be here soon"
"I'm standing straight, Margaret." Frank was visibly nervous. "Boy, it's really hot today. My pores are opening up. Am I sweating?"
"You'll do fine, Frank. You can't be any worse than Henry was," Margaret said. "When I think of how things will be looking up soon, with you in command and with McIntyre leaving, I get so excited."
"Really? How excited are you?"
"You know that little something I bought back from Tokyo a few months ago?"
Frank's eyebrows rose as he looked around nervously, "You mean that 'little something' you wore when…."
At that moment, General Mitchell's jeep appeared at the edge of camp. "Yes, I do," Margaret purred as the jeep came to a stop.
General Mitchell stepped out of the jeep. Frank and Margaret saluted, with Frank throwing sweat into the general's face as he raised his arm. General Mitchell wiped his face, returning the salute, and glared at Frank, “Major Burns, Major Houlihan."
"General Mitchell," Frank began, sheepishly. "My apologies, Sir. We're honored to have you at the 4077th today."
"Well, Blake was a good man, a fine doctor. I'll not soon forget how well you people took care of my son when he was wounded."
"How is the general's son?" Margaret asked.
"He's doing well. He's back in Seoul, manning a desk, which is where his mother wanted him in the first place. Even a general has to answer to a higher authority sometimes," he winked.
Margaret smiled. Frank looked to be passing a kidney stone. Margaret nudged Frank and said, "Major Burns, we should probably be getting ready to begin the service."
Frank stared blankly at her. Margaret glared, "So we should be going to meet with Father Mulcahy to get things started, don't you think?"
Frank jumped back to life. "Yes, Major. You're absolutely right. General, right this way," Frank said as he led them to the chaplain's tent.
As Hawkeye and Trapper John returned to the mess tent, they walked to the front row of chairs that had been set up and sat at the end of the row. Radar sat on the row behind them. Next to Trapper sat Corporal Klinger, wearing a black dress, dabbing at his eyes with a handkerchief.
Trapper nudged Hawkeye and cocked his head toward Klinger. Hawkeye, rolling his eyes, said, "Klinger, you look lovely. Is that a new dress?"
"Yes, Sir. I made it just for today. I wanted to look my best for Colonel Blake. He always wanted me to look my best."
"Nice," Hawkeye said, looking at Trapper, who shrugged his shoulders.
Hawkeye looked behind him at the gathering crowd. He noticed Dr. Sidney Freedman sitting near the back, looking around. Their eyes met and Sidney nodded. Hawkeye had figured Sidney would have already showed up by now. He figured the Army would have already sent Sidney in to rally the troops, because, after all, the show must go on.
He leaned over to Trapper, saying, "I see Sidney's here."
Trapper looked back, "I would have thought he's already have made an appearance by now."
"Probably had other fish to fry, other heads to shrink, you know?" Hawkeye said.
"Maybe he was giving us a little time to mourn before he came in and opened up our heads," Trapper said.
Hawkeye was about to comment when Father Mulcahy opened the door and walked in. Everyone stood up as he walked down the aisle. Behind him were Frank, Margaret, and General Mitchell. They sat in the four chairs that were set up behind Father Mulcahy's podium.
Father Mulcahy walked to the podium. He cleared his throat, visibly nervous at the large crowd. He had not delivered a sermon to this large a crowd since he came to Korea, so he was a little out of practice. "My friends, we have assembled here today to pay tribute to our fallen comrade, Colonel Henry Blake. We come here today because we are saddened by our loss, but we must take solace in the fact that Henry is now with his Lord. He is at peace. Eventually, his family will be comforted, for they too will realize this, as will we. On the subject of comfort, I would like to read now from the book of Romans……"
Hawkeye's mind drifted to a time several months back when he, Trapper, and Henry were wasting an afternoon in the Swamp, drinking their kerosene martinis. They had consumed a fair amount when Henry looked at the two of them as he wavered from side to side and said, "You guys."
Hawkeye and Trapper looked at each other, "Yes, Henry?" Hawkeye answered.
Henry widened his eyes, as if to focus them, and said, "I love you guys, all of you."
Trapper snickered, "We love you too, Henry. All of you."
Henry shook his head, "No, no, no. I really mean it. Sometimes I just sit and think about how boring my life would have been if I had never been sent here to….to…to…"
"Korea?" Hawkeye asked.
Henry nodded, "Yeah, Korea. I mean I never would have had a chance to work with you guys. You guys are two of the best damn surgeons I've ever seen. And to do the surgeries and procedures that we've done here, I wouldn't have done that in Bloomington in a million years."
"You make it sound like you enjoy it here, Henry," Hawkeye said. Looking at Trapper, he said, "This stuff is stronger than we thought."
"No, no, no!" Henry grimaced. "I hate it here. If I could leave tomorrow, I would." He gazed wistfully into his martini glass. "I just wish that we could have known each other and done these complicated procedures and gotten all this experience in a place where kids who could pass for my son weren't getting maimed and killed." Henry looked up at them, with a tear in his eye. "I mean, I won't ever be able to think of you guys without thinking about all this other mess. You know what I mean?"
Trapper stared at his drink and replied, "Yeah, Henry. We know what you mean."
Hawkeye stood up, sort of, and said, "Here's hoping that we all go home soon and get the chance to try and forget."
The three touched their martini glasses together. "Amen," said Trapper.
Henry smiled, then said, "I gotta throw up," and the doctors laughed as he staggered out of the Swamp.
Father Mulcahy was concluding his remarks when Hawkeye returned to the present. He was saying, “So we shouldn’t mourn Henry Blake’s passing, tragic though it was. Rather, we should rejoice because Henry is now in a far better place than we. For that we can all take comfort. So don’t spend your time in sadness, thinking of how Henry died. Instead, think of how he lived.”
After a short closing prayer by a heavily perspiring Major Burns, the memorial service was dismissed and everyone went their separate ways, Frank and Margaret leaving with General Mitchell to show him the camp, Radar returning to his office to fill out reports, and Hawkeye, Trapper, and Sidney Freedman retreating to the Swamp.
“Well, Sidney. What brings you to the 4077th, as if we didn’t know?” Hawkeye asked.
“Just wanted to pay my respects to a good man,” Sidney replied. “And see how my friends were coping with the loss.”
“We’re coping fine, Sidney,” said Trapper. “But I think our new leader is going to go off his rocker soon. Did you see his color during the service?”
“If he had been any whiter, he would have been transparent,” Hawkeye replied. “I think Hot Lips was propping him up. Sort of makes you wonder how well he’ll hold up when things get a little hectic around here.”
“Now, there’s a lovely thought,” said Trapper. “You should write greeting cards.”
“What about Radar?” Sidney asked. “I know he and Henry were close.”
“Like Siamese Twins,” said Hawkeye.
“How is he holding up?”
Hawkeye shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know, Sidney. Trapper and I talked with him this morning. It’s been tough on him, but I think he’s coming out of it. He’s going to have plenty to occupy his time now that Mr. and Mrs. Military Handbook are in charge.”
“This place is gonna go down the toilet if those two are running things,” Trapper muttered. “We gotta do something.”
Sidney smiled, “Gentlemen, if I know Frank Burns, you won’t have to do a thing. Just give him fifteen minutes with General Mitchell and he’ll do it himself.”
“Yeah, but even if he does, who will they put in his place? Henry wasn’t much, but he was ours,” said Hawkeye.
“Right. We had him trained,” agreed Trapper.
“He went on the papers and everything,” Hawkeye said.
“Hawkeye, take a good look at the situation,” Sidney said. “You and McIntyre are two of the best cutters the Army has. That will go a long way toward anyone that Command decides to put in here as C.O., with the exception of Major Burns, and there’s not a snowball’s chance in Hell that Frank will get this command.”
“You seem pretty sure, Sidney,” said Trapper. “You know something?”
“I was watching the Major with General Mitchell before and during the service. Major Houlihan appeared to be doing most of the talking and directing. Hot Lips was doing everything. Frank was standing there, shuffling his feet and sweating profusely.”
“We’ve seen him do that during surgery,” Hawkeye quipped.
“Now, part of my job is to observe people. A general has to have that same attribute. If I noticed Burns and Houlihan, odds are better than average that General Mitchell did too. Trust me, he is not going to be putting anyone in command of a M*A*S*H unit who is going to be controlled by a woman.”
“I would have figured General Mitchell wouldn’t have a problem with Hot Lips,” Trapper said.
“He doesn’t have a problem with her as a woman,” Sidney said. “His problem with her is as a commander, which is what she would be with Frank in charge.”
“I hope you’re right, Sidney. You usually are,” said Hawkeye, standing up. “Gentlemen, what say we return to the mess tent for the noon Suicide Watch? Today’s special is Mexican War Meatloaf with green beans smothered in formaldehyde.”
“Sure, why not? What’s being in a war zone without the occasional risk to your health?” replied Sidney.
Frank Burns was now approaching cardiac arrest. After a whirlwind tour through the camp, during which he had barely uttered a word other than to repeat what Major Houlihan had told General Mitchell, the three of them had returned to the mess tent for lunch. Frank was just starting to gain a little confidence when Margaret was summoned to Post-Op to help fix a supply problem, leaving him to carry on a conversation with the General. In the past, Frank had always performed capably while filling in for Colonel Blake when Henry was called to Seoul or Tokyo, but there had always been a safety net: Henry was coming back. Now, no such net was in place, and Frank was hanging on by his fingernails.
Finally, he thought of something to say, “I trust the General’s meal is satisfactory?”
General Mitchell looked up, “I’ve had better, Major, but this is a war zone, so it’s understandable. I must say this meatloaf requires a good bit of chewing.”
Silence again. Frank was about to speak again when a strange look crossed the General’s face. He started struggling to breathe, then he began to cough and his face turned very red.
“He’s choking,” someone shouted from behind Frank, who had frozen.
A loud commotion broke out as people tried to gather around the General, who suddenly realized he was in trouble and began struggling even more. Frank was unable to even stand up.
Suddenly, from his left, Frank saw a green blur. It was Hawkeye, who screamed, “Dammit, Frank! Do something! He’s choking to death!” He raced behind where General Mitchell was sitting, wrapped his arm around the General’s midsection, and began slapping him on the back. Finally, after a minute or so, General Mitchell seemed to relax and slumped down on the table. A huge chunk of meatloaf lay on the floor at his feet.
“General, are you okay?” Hawkeye asked.
General Mitchell looked up, red-eyed from his ordeal, and weakly smiled, “Thirty-plus years of service in the military, and I’m nearly done in by meatloaf.”
“Well, if it makes you feel any better, that meatloaf was probably in the military before you were.” Hawkeye said.
“It doesn’t,” the General said. “Captain Pierce, I believe I’m once again in your debt. You saved my life.”
“If you think you’re up to it, General, let’s go over to the hospital and make sure everything is okay,” Hawkeye said.
During the commotion, no one noticed Frank Burns slinking away.
“Well, General. Everything seems to be in working order,” Hawkeye said as he examined General Mitchell in Post-Op. “We can continue the war as scheduled.”
“Captain Pierce. I think this act calls for a reward of some kind,” General Mitchell said. “I’m thinking a week’s R&R in Tokyo might be a just reward. What do you think?”
“A week? Seven days…..and nights?” Hawkeye said, surprised.
“Absolutely,” the General replied.
“I accept, General. That may be just what the doctor ordered,” Hawkeye said.
“Splendid. I’ll find Major Houlihan, I mean Major Burns, and you can leave in the morning,” General Mitchell said as he left Post-Op.
“Talk about being in the right place at the right time,” Trapper said to Hawkeye.
“While I’m in the General’s good graces, I could probably try to add a passenger on this journey,” said Hawkeye. “Interested?”
“Yeah, but somebody’s got to stay here with Ferret Face in case the war starts back up,” said Trapper. “Maybe you can sneak something back to me in a duffle bag. You know, dark eyes, dark hair, 38-24-36?”
“If she has a sister who’ll travel that way, you’ve got a deal,” Hawkeye said.
The next morning, Hawkeye, wearing his blue Hawaiian shirt and cowboy hat, tossed his duffle bag into the back of a jeep.
“That’s not gonna hold what you’re supposed to be bringing me back, Pal,” Trapper joked.
“So, I’ll get her wrapped before I head back. What do you care about the wrapping anyway?”
“You’re right,” Trapper smiled, “I like to tear into my packages at Christmas every year.”
Hawkeye stepped into the jeep, saying, “Well, Trap. I’ll be back in a week. You can reach me at the usual places, Madame Chang’s Whoopee Parlor, The Pink Pagoda, the Pearl Divers’ Academy….”
“You’re such a stickler for culture. There’s your chopper.”
“Yep, I’m a regular Maurice Chevalier,” Hawkeye said. “Keep a tight leash on the Majors, okay?”
“Don’t worry about me. What can happen in a week?”
Hawkeye rolled his eyes as the jeep sped off to meet the helicopter.