Note and Disclaimer: I will always say this. I don't own M*A*S*H. I hope you all enjoy the eleventh installment of "By the Graveside" though.
It was really the first death that hit him hard and so close too, this man who was buried underneath the retriever. Before, he had grown up on a farm, picking up this thing and that, and always helping his mother. When an animal was close to death, he did everything he could to make it not happen. But when it did or there was nothing he could do, his mother and uncle never let him anywhere close. They swept it all under a rug, sending him maybe to the movies or to the store until all was said and done.
War had changed everything for the retriever though. He had used his skills successfully enough to keep the farm afloat until he was drafted at eighteen. By then, he had no idea what to do. He just followed these nonsensical orders from some green-uniformed man until he was promoted for no reason to corporal and then shipped off to Korea, to be in some war as a company clerk.
Even there, he was so lost and scared. Sure, he did the same things he always did as a kid. But this was different. People were shooting at them. The unit packed up and moved a lot. Death was always a constant reminder, knocking on their doors daily. He saw things that he did not see before. The images could not be taken out of his mind.
But he had to keep moving. His new job allowed him the ability to be himself in a way. With it came a huge responsibility though. There were personnel with a more worldly view of people and places than he did. They depended on him to do the right thing and to recover any supplies they required since it was scarce. Worse, the retriever had to remember all of those fancy medical terms so that somebody knew what he was talking about.
What made it ten times better was Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake. The retriever did not feel worthy of the respect his CO at first showed him. He bumbled through the paperwork, confusing his Cs and Ks and telling the women they were sirs and the men that they were ma'ams. He tripped over bodies and slipped on the blood dripping on the bus, making a huge mess of things and knocking essential items over. He always made mistakes and it showed how bad he was being their company clerk.
Colonel Blake always told him that it was ok, that the retriever didn't need to always be perfect. Even though there were so many people who ridiculed him, this CO told him otherwise. He also sat down with the retriever, teaching him everything he knew. He was like a son to someone again. He didn't grow up with a father, but Henry Blake was close enough that it was almost real.
Things got better, the retriever remembered, once the war wasn't so centered upon Pusan and continued its trek northward. The camp eventually settled in Uijongbu, three miles from the front lines, and dragged its feet through mud, blood, artillery and injustice. The retriever was always there though, grabbing this thing and that and fine-tuning his flair. He soon became known for his resourcefulness, the way he organized everything and how smoothly the hospital ran.
That was something he was proud of. The retriever only had to thank Colonel Blake for it. Without him, he would have stumbled through his Army tenure blindly. He would not have known about VD or sex or any of those adult things. He would not have been able to follow through procedures without knowing which paper was supposed to signed and which was supposed to be initialed or initialed to be signed and signed to be initialed. He also would not have been able to have the confidence to talk to all of those women and check out their chest x-rays.
For Walter "Radar" O'Reilly, this was a big change. From the farmboy who hardly knew about the world to the man that endured war, he saw how much transformation he undergone. It was enough that he had to work two jobs to make ends meet at home and then move away from his mother to become a police officer. It was enough that his marriage was annulled because the woman he loved cheated on him.
And without the war in Korea, he would not have been able to go through those things without the strength he learned from Colonel Blake. His death was the biggest blow to Radar's short life. But it also taught him many things, most of all to hold onto those so dear to you. Radar was not as naïve as he was when he was shipped to Korea. Now, he was tougher, but the world had not taken away his gentleness and compassion.
Radar touched the cold stone with his hands. Tears sprung unexpectedly and trailed down his face. One thing was certain to him. He kept his word. Even though Henry Blake was dead, Radar was able to visit him in the States.
It just wasn't expected that Henry Blake was going to be buried six feet down either. And there was nothing to retrieve from that except the cold reality of death.