Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Hospital Ghost

     For about six years I roamed the abandoned Fort Ord slipping into empty buildings searching for murals to photograph. The Army base is essentially a small city spread out between Marina to the north, and Seaside to the south. On this autumn day I was working the older part of the base on the Marina side. It was built during WWII, and added onto as the base grew. I had parked my truck in a parking lot in the area of the old base hospital. I grabbed my Canon and headed off into the maze of wooden buildings.

     When I was about a half mile away I realized I’d left my extra film on the floor of my truck. I turned around cursing myself, and walked back to the truck. Sneaking into buildings requires timing and luck so this mistake was throwing everything off. Closing in on the parking area I see a man sitting in the passenger seat of my truck. “Oh great, some asshole is robbing my truck!” I think. I change my angel of approach so that I come up from the blind spot. I pull my multi-tool from my pocket, and open the pliers.

     Why not the knife? Great question, I don’t know how to fight with a knife. Knives complicate things. Pliers make better sense for the tactically less inclined because all one needs to do is jab, and squeeze hard. It doesn't matter where you grab someone with the pliers, they will scream, and they will comply. I ran scenarios in my head as I made my way to my truck.
Then I stopped. The guy wasn't moving.

     He was sitting in the passenger seat looking straight ahead. He had short hair, and a thin light-brown mustache. He wore a white, short-sleeve shirt. He wasn’t rifling through my glove box, and he was alone. My truck was the only vehicle in the lot. I put away my pliers. This guy obviously had mental problems, and a violent confrontation would have been a bad idea. I stepped to my right until I was in his view. He turned to look at me. The sadness on his face was profound. He made eye contact. There was a moment of shock as he saw me.

     He vanished.

     I stood there for a few seconds not sure what to do. I opened the door just to make sure he hadn't I don’t know…slid under the seat or something. He was gone. I grabbed my film, locked the door, and walked around my truck to make sure it was secure. I resumed my hunting, but my mind dwelled on the guy I’s seen sitting in my truck.

     I had a ghost in my truck at Fort Ord once before. He was invisible, but I could smell him. The odor of boot polish and chewing tobacco was over-powering. I decided to play it cool. I started talking to him as if he were there. I told him he could ride along until I got to the front gate, but he’d have to leave there. Then I gave him a guided tour of the new CSUMB campus, and the various changes going on. At the front gate the odor went away.

     There was no scent in my truck this time. When I’d finished my jaunt I sat in my truck for a while looking in the same direction my guest had been looking. What was he seeing in his world which could bring such sadness? I turned the key, and drove home.

     A few weeks later I bought a copy of “The Soldier Factory” about the author’s time at Fort Ord in the late 1960s. He told about working as an orderly at the base hospital, and how it would fill after large battles in Vietnam as the hospitals in Hawaii and San Francisco overflowed with seriously wounded men. It turns out many of the men whose names are on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. actually died at Fort Ord.

     The man sitting in my truck was wearing the white uniform of an Army medic or orderly. I now understand the sadness in his face. The horror he must have seen, and the suffering must have been too much. Of my many ghost encounters this one was the most heart breaking for me. My dad was a medic around the same time, my mother was also a medic, and I have five cousins who fought in Vietnam.

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