January, 16, 2014
We responded for a report of an unconscious person and when we arrived, were updated this would be for a pronouncement of death. Pretty routine event, and with (it would appear) greater frequency during the holiday season.
"Meah" we shrugged, "at least this will be an easy chart" and bring us about a half-hour closer to shift change.
He laid in bed upright in the cold, dimly lit room. Without getting into grizzly detail, it was a safe assumption his passing was recent by his presentation. Unlike so many other DOA's we respond to, his home was impeccably clean, disturbingly clean even. I poked around looking for anything we could include in our patient care report like his medications etc...
A police officer was at my side when we opened his cabinets (sometimes this requires more bravery than one might imagine). The sight in the cabinets now punctuated the pristine apartment we were scouring through. Like the Campbell's Soup Army, each can seemingly stood at attention with it's eyes (label) forward. "This is weird" I thought, "this guy must have O.C.D. or something."
The apartment had modest furniture, absolutely zero clutter, no foul odors, nothing. An open closet finally clued me in to this man's background. His suit jackets were hung to the left, dress shirts hung in the middle, buttoned top to bottom, pressed and facing in one direction, and slacks, geometrically perfect, pressed and hanging to the right. Beneath the clothing a shoe rack, polished, symmetrical and ordered by type (dress, casual, athletic).
"This man is a Marine" I said. The officer replied; "How do you know?" I shined my flashlight in the clutter-free closet and said; "Look." We turned to each other and simultaneously said "squared away." The officer informed me he too was a Marine.
As our search continued, I finally discovered the two pieces of framed wall art in the apartment. Proudly displayed above his TV was a certificate indicating when he joined the United States Marine Corps. The year was 1954. I looked up, squinted and calculated, the president was Dwight D. Eisenhower. The young police officer seemed impressed at my grasp of history. The second piece was evidence of this man's completion of his service to our country, his honorable discharge.
There was a somber tone in the apartment as I revealed my findings to my partner, a U.S. Army veteran and the second police officer. We performed what we came to do and turned over the scene to the police.
My suspicion was that this man had never left the United States Marine Corps despite his age and discharge. He reminded me of the immortal words of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Stanley Kubrick's 1987 blockbuster hit, "Full Metal Jacket."
"Today, you people are no longer maggots. Today, you are Marines. You're part of a brotherhood. From now on until the day you die, wherever you are, every Marine is your brother."
Judging by this man's appearance and household, I believe he died as he lived, and he lived as he was taught - six decades ago - Squared Away.
To all those have served, are serving or will serve in the future, on behalf of my family, and from the bottom of my heart, a sincere Thank You. Semper Fidelis.