"Boy, will I be glad when I'm done with airports," Radar grumbled to himself. It was his third flight in the last two weeks, and he still had one last installment before he landed in Des Moines. Then he was only a bus ride away from home, a jaunt that could be considered almost short when compared with his last jeep rides. It was guaranteed to be smoother. Safer too.
Walter O'Reilly smiled at the flight attendant directing the exiting passengers through customs. It was his first time back on U.S. soil in two years, and the closer he got to home the more he looked forward to settling in and never leaving.
And while he was sick of waiting in airports, he had to admit that some of those layovers had been well worth the time. The little sleep he'd gotten flying over the Pacific has been filled with dreams of a pretty blonde nurse named Patty Haven.
Radar wouldn't be alone in this airport either, but this was a scheduled visit not a surprise one. Though he knew that B.J.'s family would probably be as welcoming and nice as the friendly surgeon, he was still apprehensive about meeting them. How would he even know which lady and kid were B.J.'s? Radar had seen enough snapshots of the pair to pick them out of a lineup, but suppose one of them had gotten a haircut or something?
The young man stepped out into the wide and crowded waiting room. He was far from the only soldier transferring flights in San Francisco, and there were enough uniforms around to make it feel homey. Everywhere he looked there were joyful reunions between returning service men and women and their loved ones.
The picture made him smile again as he imagined how his own mother would react to seeing him in his class A's. His sharp hearing picked out the sound of his nickname, and he spun to his right. A pigtailed toddler was helping her mother hold a sign with big, bold letters: Welcome Home, Radar!
He chortled aloud at the thoughtful gesture and lugged his suitcase and duffel over to join them. The woman gave him a big smile, and he maneuvered his gear so he could accept her welcoming hug. "Welcome home, Radar," Peg told him warmly.
"Uh, hi, Mrs. Hunnicutt, ma'am," he greeted her, and he waved at the small little girl gazing curiously up at him. He'd always seemed to get on better with children than with more grown up people. "Gee, you must be Erin."
B.J.'s wife bent down and scooped up her little girl. "Say hello to Radar, Erin."
The two year old broke into a toothy grin. She chewed thoughtfully on a finger, tilted her head, and said, "Hi, Daddy."
There was a moment of surprise for the two adults. Radar's eyes widened to fill his glasses and Peg laughed. "We've been practicing that for later. Guess she was a little eager to use it." The trio made their way to one of the benches lining the hall.
The company clerk licked his lips and stuttered out a quick denial. "Oh, I'm not your daddy, Erin. I…I know him though. He's a real swell guy."
The child sat on her mother's lap, still staring at Radar. "This isn't your daddy, honey," Peg explained patiently. "He's your Uncle Radar."
Radar's wide eyes moved to the child's mother. He'd never even met Peg and Erin, but he could hear the genuine offer in those words. The 4077th had become a true family to him, and Radar was glad that leaving didn't mean losing that.
"Hey, I do have a present from your daddy." He dug through his perfume soaked duffel and pulled out the brightly wrapped present B.J. had purchased in Tokyo. "Here it is." Radar gently handed the package to the child, even helping her unwrap the pretty doll inside.
Erin hugged the doll close to her, and Peg thanked him for delivering the present. Radar was reminded of another delivery he was supposed to make, and he felt his face turning red. "Uh, I was supposed to give you something else, too." He leaned gingerly forward and gave Peg a quick peck on the cheek. "That's from your Captain husband."
Peg laughed again, and Radar thought it was a good thing that B.J. had married someone with such a pretty laugh, since he was always so good at making people laugh. "Thank you for bringing that with you, Radar."
The corporal shrugged. "Well, I was coming this way." Erin, inspired by her mother's laughter, was giggling too, and the sound put Radar at ease. "Here, he sent one for you, too, Erin," he said as he gently kissed the little girl's cheek.
Radar and Peg talked for a while longer about his flight and their drive while Erin played contentedly with her new doll. She sat between them on the bench and moved slowly and steadily closer to Radar's side.
"Will you be home tonight, Radar?" Peg asked him.
"Probably," he answered. "Either late tonight or tomorrow morning." He again pictured the coming reunion and smiled. "It'll be great to see my mom again." Sadness crept into both his smile and his voice. "Just wish I wasn't going home because of why I am."
Peg's voice was tender. "I'm sorry about your uncle, Radar. We only met once - for that weekend in New York - but he was a special man."
Radar had completely forgotten that B.J.'s wife knew his family. It comforted him a little that there was some connection between his Iowan family and his MASH one. "Yeah, he was terrific. Best uncle I had. Closest uncle, but even if he wasn't he would have been the best." He sighed, causing Erin to look up from her play at him. "I'm gonna miss him."
Peg nodded. She didn't try to pretend that he wasn't sad or that he had no reason to be. "He was proud of you," she said simply.
Sensing his sadness, Erin pulled herself into his lap, lending her small presence and baby touch as a comfort. Radar had never had much direct experience with children outside of the Korean orphans, but he welcomed the new and innocent feeling of childlike love and wrapped timid arms around the toddler.
"I was always proud of him," he said, trying not to sniff too much with the words. "It'll be good that I'm there for Ma."
"Yes, it will," Peg agreed. "Tell you're mother that we're all here for her, too. For both of you."
By the time Radar's next flight was ready to board, he and Peg had told stories about everyone from his Uncle Ed to Erin to Colonel Potter. He'd found himself hooting over Peg's retelling of Uncle Ed dancing the foxtrot with Mrs. Winchester, and his account of the time B.J. dyed the entire camp red had her nearly in tears. Erin even added in a story of her own, in which the only decipherable words were mama, cat, and spoon.
Radar began gathering his things to leave, at once eager to get home and reluctant to leave this new friendship. "Thanks a ton for keeping me company. I sure am glad I got to meet you."
"Me too, Radar. Don't worry, we'll see each other at family reunions."
He nodded. "You bet. I'm having a party at the farm when everybody else gets back. You ought to come."
Peg smiled and jiggled her daughter's hand. "We wouldn't miss it."
The three of them stood, and the Hunnicutts walked Radar to the gate. "Look, you should know that, uh, you can be real proud of B.J. He's the best there is, and I don't mean just as a doctor either."
There were tears glistening in Peg's eyes, and Radar was almost afraid of what he'd done to put them there. But he figured they were the same sort of tears his mother was going to cry when she saw him. Tears of relief, and love, and pride.
He knelt down to be level with Erin. The child smiled at him, pleased that he'd shrunk down to see her. "Hey, Erin." He knew that she couldn't understand everything he said to her, but he'd learned that with animals, and with people too, sometimes they heard more than folks thought.
The girl pointed a sticky finger to his chest, fingering a bright button on his uniform. "Unca."
Radar's face creased in a surprised yet happy smile. "Gosh, I guess I am your Uncle Radar. I've never been somebody's uncle before. I don't have any real nieces or nephews, no brothers or sisters even, but…but I had a real good uncle of my own." He felt his own tears burn. "And I'm gonna try to be that good for you. So you can call me or write me or visit me. And when you get big enough, I'll teach you to milk a cow, and let you drive my car, and do all the other things uncles are supposed to do."
The child stood patiently listening and playing with his buttons. "And, Erin, you can't go around calling just anybody 'Daddy.' Cause you've got a daddy who … boy, does he love you, Erin."
The former MASH clerk stood again, brushing a few tears from his brown eyes. "I hope you see him real soon."
Peg gave him a farewell hug, and Erin latched onto his knee in her own goodbye. With only a few more tears and promises to write, Radar was walking through the boarding gate. He glanced back to see Peg holding Erin on her hip, the two of them waving. Radar waved back.
He was somebody's uncle, and it felt good. He couldn't wait to get back to the farm, to his mother, to being less than one hundred miles from a girl named Patty, but it was good to know that he'd never be without the large family he'd made at MASH.