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Mary To The Contrary

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A Special White House Memory: The Seat Of Power

A Memory By Mary Wenger

Nixon White House

It was November 8, 1972, the evening of President Richard Nixon’s re election. My husband was head of Nixon’s news summary staff –  Pat Buchanan was his boss. In the future I would be working for two other presidents, but for now, I was a ‘go to’ gal for the Republicans, and I was about to have a singular adventure in The White House.

On this evening, I was alone in the Old Executive Office Building, running back and forth to the main white house all night, carrying papers and messages to the employees who would later be bussed to the Shoreham Hotel. There, in front of his family and loyal staff, The President would accept his second term, a landslide victory against George McGovern.

The White House was deserted, except for a lone guard who stood outside the President’s office. He was a young man, and he looked quite tired like me, having been there all night, like me. I asked him if I could look inside.  He said yes.  I asked him if I could go inside, and he just turned his back and yawned. So in I went.

The room was large and beautifully furnished.  On one side stood an enormous desk with nothing on top except one book, “The Winds Of War “by Herman Wouk, a famous writer of the times.  

Across the President’s desk was a huge color television set.  There I was, sitting in the President’s chair, casually dressed in slacks and loafers, watching him once again accept the position of President of the United States, and in color! A color TV was not all as ubiquitous as it is today. I was also sitting where few (if any) females had sat before, much less anyone other than the President himself.  This moment was special.

I stayed there as long as I could – the guard left his post for a snack – which was more than an hour.  The bus was bringing everybody back – it’s now nearing 1 AM on November 8th – and Mrs. Nixon had invited all of us to a celebration in the White House’s family rooms, but I did not go. My night of wonder was complete.  

I have many special memories to recall when I am down or unhappy, or ill or lonely. This is one of them.

NIXON

TEARS

During the Vietnam War, I was a 1st lieutenant nurse stationed at Clark AFB hospital in the Philippines. During my tour, more than 90 percent of Vietnam casualties were routed through Clark.  They were treated immediately or they were rerouted to other military establishments throughout the Continental United States to continue their care.

My first year at Clark was spent in charge of two operating rooms.  They were the most bloody of all the rooms; all of the surgeries done in these rooms were performed on multiple casualties on individual men.  Most days I was so glad to end my 12-hour shift,(my feet, back, hair, knuckles, brain hurt) except that this was the week before Christmas and all hands were on deck.

Christmas carols were blaring in the halls throughout the hospital. After my shift, I walked down to the huge recovery room to see if the staff needed extra help. At first, the recovery room looked empty.  It WAS  empty, except for one stretcher in a corner, with the sun still streaming on the face of the patient.   I walked over to the Marine Captain, (his chart was at the foot of the bed.)  All the recovery staff were at the nurses desk, singing White Christmas. Apparently, all The other patients were sent to the wards.

The staff had checked on my Captain within the last few minutes.  At first I thought they were taking the rest of their time on duty to relax from a very busy day.  As they had only one patient left, I wondered why they were all still there. They were softly singing White Christmas, all with tears in their eyes.  I thought they were homesick especially since it was a holiday… I went back to the only patient they had left.

clarkafb

Clark Air Force Base

The Captain was lying quietly, his young and handsome face bathed in the sunlight.  As I approached the head of his bed, I saw the tears.  The sheets were wet with tears. Apparently  the Captain had been weeping for quite a while. I read his chart.  It was easy to see why this veteran marine was crying. I too, cried unabashedly.

It’s not as though this was the first patient I wept over, and he would certainly not be the last.  War, disease, accidents- many reasons to cry  for any nurse during his or her career, and especially at a military hospital in the middle of a war. However, the Captain’s situation was heartbreaking.

My Captain, a Father of 2 little boys, had spent 4 years in the midst of the war in Vietnam. He spent those years in the middle of the severest fighting. He was being decorated for his bravery just prior to stepping onto the plane to take him home forever.

A stray bullet from a nearby firing range on base made the Captain a quadriplegic; he would be forever paralyzed from his neck down.                                                    

The Captain never said a word while I stayed by his side until he was transferred to the ward.  

And the holiday music played on…

 

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