In 1962 I was a First Lieutenant nurse in the United States Air Force, stationed at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines — ninety percent of all Vietnam casualties came through Clark.

One day, a Second Lieutenant and I were ordered to transport four naval patients to Subic Naval Base.  Despite losing a motor on our twin-engine plane during flight, we accomplished our mission, then hailed a cab to the Officer’s Club.  On our way, it started to rain heavily and I noticed a soaking wet man in khakis sitting on the curb.  Feeling badly for this soggy man, I instructed the cabbie to give him a lift.  Filled with higher-rank-arrogance, I completely ignored the drenched passenger in the front seat, directing the driver to drop him off at the Enlisted Men’s Club.  Thinking back, I can remember sly looks exchanged between the cabbie and the wet passenger.

Clark Air Force Base2

Later, now stripped from our whites, we exited the ladies room bedecked in civilian clothes and heels.  Waiting for us was a naval officer with a big grin who called me by name and asked me to follow him to the banquet hall.  There, I was greeted with applause and wolf whistles by a room full of Officers yelling “Hey, Mary!”  At the very front of this crowd was the “enlisted man” I had “saved.”  Now fully dry, he was wearing a Captain’s uniform!  He introduced himself as the commanding pilot of this rowdy group.  He and his crew of chopper pilots had just finished a heavy assignment in Vietnam and had landed on the USS Enterprise.  As he was the commander, he got off first, which is why he was sitting on the curb.

I was mortified.  He had told everyone about me — the smart-ass Air Force lieutenant.

The commander and I became good friends, but it was the last time I ever pulled rank on anybody.