Two years in The Big Pink

I bought this handsome bird this morning beside the road in Golden Valley. Local juniper, hand-carved by Scott “Doc” Lee. He picked up the nickname more than half a century ago, doing a two-year tour as an Army Medic at Tripler Medical Center, the huge military hospital overlooking Honolulu they call “The Big Pink.”

Hard to think of an MoS scarier (or more respected by the 11 Bravos carrying the fight) than 68 Whiskey, Combat Medical Specialist. When somebody gets hurt, you’re the guy who has to go out in harm’s way to get him, render first aid and bring him back. Takes a level of courage I’m pretty sure I just don’t have.

During 1969-’71, the two years Lee was posted there, Tripler was the busiest military hospital on the Pacific Rim. Of the more than 300,000 American Wounded In Action in Vietnam, 153,372 required hospitalization. As a percentage of total casualties, amputations and crippling wounds were 300 percent higher than in WWII and 70% higher than Korea. Only those who required advanced treatment not available in Vietnam got sent out of country. Most of those most seriously injured passed through the Big Pink, or ended their journeys there, in the pink coral hospital overlooking Honolulu.

And every month a levy came down from the Pentagon, listing the number of each MoS each command was required to transfer to the combat zone. So Doc spent his time in Hawaii — any American boy’s dream duty station — but Cam Ranh Bay was always just over the horizon, and he spent his days helping to treat some of the most horrifically injured boys coming back from there.

Now he lives in a battered old RV, still dressed in old camo fatigues, carving wood figures and selling them by the highway. Just another ‘Nam casualty, left behind when all the rest of us Boomers moved on to the new beat of disco music.

One Reply to “Two years in The Big Pink”

  1. Nice carving. Western juniper or cedar is a nice wood to carve. Relatively soft to carve and holds detail fairly well. It’s also very nice to turn. We have quite a lot of it in New Mexico, and also the larger variety of alligator juniper. The alligator juniper has a lovely cedar aroma when it’s cut, and looks beautiful with the contrast between dark red and cream colored grain.


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