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Solon Color Guard at Veterans Day Ceremony. Solon High School.



A message from our Chaplain:

In 1969 fifty years ago two Air Force C-141’s landed at Midway Airport in Chicago Illinois. The first plane landed around 0005 (5 minutes after midnight) Christmas morning carrying about 100 litter patients from Vietnam. The second plane, would land around 0900 again carrying approximately 100 patients. The majority of these patients were all in stable condition. However, some were in serious condition but stable and there were about a dozen or so in very critical condition though relatively stable.

I had volunteered to work Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the day after Christmas so the married men could be home with their families. It would be the first of many Christmases that I would not be at home. I had started X-ray school training that past fall and I was working three 24 hour on-call shifts. I, along with my senior X-ray student and one fully trained X-ray technologist would take any needed x-rays throughout the hospital’s inpatient population, emergencies or urgent care out-patients.

Since, the hospital was short staffed this also meant that as junior student I could be pulled temporarily to work as a general duty Corpsman where ever I was needed. I had gone to bed around 2200 Christmas Eve expecting a quiet night. Around 2330 the phone rang and a voice said, “We have an Air Force medical plane coming in fully loaded. We need you to report to triage, have the rest of the X-ray personnel to stand ready for any x-rays that may be needed.”

I reported to the triage receiving area and was told I would work alongside the attending Corpsman in each bus to help determine the medical needs of the patients. I don’t recall how long we waited but when the buses started to arrive it was fast pace to say the least. The more experienced Corpsmen who arrived with the bus full of wounded had everyone evaluated and it made my job a whole lot easier.

Working together the patients were sent to either stable admit, immediate medical care needed, or priority critical care. Each bus had about 12 to18 patients. As soon as one bus pulled out I started the process all over again. Then we (Corpsmen) would transport the stable admits to their assigned ward, after we drew blood work and collected other require labs. Chest x-rays were required for all patients because the threat of TB and bacterial pneumonia. Since, I was an X-ray student I helped with taking the admission chest films and any other X-rays that were needed before sending the patient to their respective ward. During this time I asked if anyone was from Ohio? If I got a “yes” I would get a name and phone number and I promised each guy I would call their families and let them know they were home. As the morning wore on I collected more names and phone numbers, about 25 in all.

By 0600 all 100 patients would be evaluated, treated, labs collected, x-rays completed and admitted. I went around the hospital exchanging paper money for quarters, dimes and nickels. By then it was 0700, I called the operator from one of the many pay phones located throughout the hospital. I asked her if it was possible for me to make a number of person to person calls each to Ohio and when I was done with all the calls could she tell me how much I owed? She told me this was possible, only if she could stay on the line. I told her it was okay with me. My first call, was to my home. Dad answered and I wished him Merry Christmas and to pass on my wishes to everyone. Then I said, “Dad can you do me a big favor? Get a piece of paper and pen I have some phone numbers to give you. I gave dad around three numbers with the name of the wounded in question with a quick summary of their condition. Plus the phone number to the hospital telling him the switch board would not open until 0900. I repeated this process multiple times telling a mother or father that their son was safe back in the States. After I gave each family the good news and a condition update, I would ask them if a certain town(s) was long distance from them. If not, I asked them if they would be willing to pass on some information on to another family. Without any hesitation it was always “Yes!” Some were willing to make long distance calls but I would not hear of it. When I completed my last call, I asked the operator what I owed. This total stranger said “You don’t owe a thing. I will take care of this bill for you.” I protested but she rejected my protest. This wonderful woman said, “Young man, I want to wish you a very Merry Christmas and thank you.” These last words caught in her throat as she fought back tears.

Loaded down with coins, I headed off to the chow hall for a quick breakfast. Then back to the radiology department’s duty room to get some shuteye. I had no sooner fallen asleep the phone rang around 0900 and a voice said, “We have an Air Force medical plane coming in fully loaded. We need you to report to triage and have the rest of the X-ray personnel to stand ready for any x-rays that may be needed.” As I pulled my uniform on I thought to myself “I wonder how many are from Ohio on this plane?”

Years later, I would move to a small town in Iowa. Then one day while watching our son play soccer a friend sat down next to me. As we watched our sons play soccer, he told me he had been working next to a guy for years who was in his sister company back in Nam and he never knew it until that day. He said, “It goes to show you how small the world really is.” I asked him what branch he served in and when he got home from Nam? He told me he was a Marine and he got home on Christmas day, 1969. He was medivaced to Great Lakes Naval Hospital. I thought to myself, “Well the world just got smaller.”

Merry Christmas everyone. Especially to Pat Zenishek and to all those who came home that Christmas day 50 years ago, and to a very special phone operator, Merry Christmas and thank you.

Please keep in mind this Christmas season the military personnel who are separated from their love ones. Take the time to say a little prayer that these families will be reunited again very soon.

Doug Thompson, Chaplain