Wednesday, January 2, 2013

January Excerpt: The Corpsman by Kenneth Weene

The Corpsman
Kenneth Weene
PHOTO: Luis Algerich

They called him Doc. It wasn’t his title or even his nickname, but it was what they called him. He knew if he were ever hit, killed, air-vacced out, they’d call the next guy Doc, too. Doc was better than the other name, “Medic, Medic.” That was what they called when somebody was hit, hit bad, bad enough to need him. Some nights it still woke him–in his dreams, them yelling, “Medic, Medic.” Him paralyzed, unable to help.

He is a bright guy. Career Navy, he’d worked his way up from corpsman to officer, gone to school–college. For all that education, he still didn’t have any insight, no self-awareness. Self-awareness isn’t something that comes easy with PTSD. Too busy reliving, too busy trying to keep his shit together.

Retired, going a bit to gray and pot, he and his wife were on a trip; they were staying at the same Bed and Breakfast as my wife and I. The ladies had gone to bed; so there we were: just two guys sitting in a comfortable living room in small town Arizona.

He starts out telling me that he doesn’t much like being with people, being part of a group, doesn’t really join in, stays to himself. Then he spends the evening talking. Talking and sharing and talking some more. Guess what he really doesn’t like is listening. If the other guy is talking, how can he be back there, back then, reliving?

He starts by telling me about PTSD. I don’t interrupt–to tell him that I’m a shrink–not until he finishes telling me about what a Navy psychiatrist had explained to him–how if you take a cat, nice little cat, and put him in a backyard and start shooting at him and blowing shit up around him and then you take him back into the house, why that cat will be changed
and that was how post-traumatic stress worked.

Then I told him about my background; I mentioned there was usually something else about Post Traumatic Stress–something that cats couldn’t figure–not just the being scared but the guilt that somehow you should have changed things.

That’s when he talked about the ambush. He was supposed to go out with this patrol. They were going to do a sweep and set up an ambush, a standard night operation in Vietnam.

If you would like to read more of this story in Empirical, the January issue is now available at your local bookstore and online at our website.


  1. Interesting story. Short but to the point about the soldiers with invisible wounds. The invisible wounds can be as lethal as any other. Soldiers come back from war and often enough they die a slow death from all sorts of wounds. But they are not counted among the casualties of war.

  2. Thank you for your comment Mark. There is a novel I'm currently reading called "The Yellow Birds" written by a Soldier who served in Iraq. If you enjoyed this excerpt, you may enjoy this book as well: Thanks again, and sign up for a free three month digital copy if you wish to finish reading The Corpsman and other great fiction.