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A Bear's Work

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In the days, weeks, and months following Radar’s departure, life goes on at the 4077th. The wounded come through the door with depressing regularity. Some of them don’t make it, but the majority wheel, crutch, limp, or walk to the 121st or back up to the line. In between lengthy OR sessions, the doctors and nurses spend time doing rounds in Post Op, filling out the requisite paperwork, griping about the food, writing letters home, fraternizing with one another, and self-anaesthetizing with copious amounts of alcohol. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before the ambulances roll in and choppers appear in the sky once more. Then it’s back into the operating room, trying to save as many lives as possible.

BJ isn’t sure when it started. All he knows is one morning after a particularly grueling session, he returned to the Swamp to find Hawkeye curled up on his cot with his arm draped over a brown lump that on closer inspection proved to be Radar’s teddy bear. Too tired to do more than smile, BJ merely pulled a blanket over his best friend before crawling into his own bunk. Since then, there have been several times after long or hard sessions where he has found Hawkeye curled up with the stuffed animal.

**********

It isn’t just Hawkeye. BJ spends an entire six-hour session on one kid, followed by a six-hour shift in Post Op monitoring him and another half-dozen patients. He returns to the Swamp to find the teddy bear sitting on his pillow, and as he drifts off he clutches at it as a drowning man clings to a life jacket.

**********

Margaret becomes rather close to a young private who arrived with enough scrap metal in him to, in Hawkeye’s words, build a spare Jeep. Post-operative infection sets in, leading to a lengthy stay at the hospital. After the third straight day of trying to keep the boy’s temperature out of the danger zone, Margaret returns to her tent physically and emotionally exhausted. She doesn’t even bother to change out of her fatigues before collapsing on her bunk. She wants to sleep but her mind keeps running in circles. Eyes closed and lost in thought, she barely registers the sound of the door opening before something small and soft is placed in her arms. She opens her eyes in time to see the door close behind a red bathrobe before focusing on the teddy bear she now holds. It’s a signal for the tears to flow, and she hugs the bear tightly as she cries herself to sleep.

**********

Since he took over the job as company clerk, Klinger has rather gotten used to dreaming of paperwork. The last few nights however, his dreams have returned to his home in Toledo. Except in the dreams things are wrong. Tanks drive the streets, and soldiers wander through with a variety of wounds. The visions lack the heart-pounding terror of a nightmare but still produce enough tension that Klinger’s sleep is anything but restful. He can practically feel the bags growing under his eyes, and he can barely make it through the day without tripping over his own feet. Four nights on, he stumbles towards his cot and pulls back the covers to reveal the smiling face of Radar’s teddy bear. “Hey little fella,” he murmurs. “Did you miss your old bed?” He glances around. “Well, I suppose I could let you stay one night.” Without a second glance, he climbs in and slings an arm over the bear. That night, he sleeps like a baby.

***********

Another letter from Mildred brings more news of the grandchildren. With no wounded or paperwork to distract him, Colonel Potter has nothing better to do than sit in his tent and feel nostalgic. How the kids are growing! It galls him that he can’t be there to see it. He missed so much of his own children’s formative years, and he’d hoped that by the time he had grandkids he’d get a chance to experience what he’d only read about. Unfortunately, the world had other ideas.

A knock on his door pulls him out of his black thoughts. “Enter!” The door opens enough for a small furry head to peak in. A stuffed arm waves at him and the colonel feels a grin spread across his face.

***********

Charles feels a black cloud around his head as he enters the Swamp. Another month gone by in this hellhole, and nothing to show for it except more hours than he ever thought possible standing at an operating table. Letters from home only serve to deepen his melancholy as Mother, Father, and Honoria regale him with the happenings of Boston. Lately, even his opera and symphonic recordings don’t even lighten his mood. It’s a small relief that neither of his bunkmates are around at the moment, as Charles may just give vent to these feelings by telling them off about the atrocious mess on their side of the tent. As he glares at the piles of clothes, he spots a small brown ear poking out of the sheets on Pierce’s cot. Memory stirs: A white bear so well-loved it turned grey, always with him, a constant companion… For the moment, Charles doesn’t care if anyone is watching. He carefully extracts the bear from the mess and hugs it to his chest.

**********

When Margaret announces her intention to create a time capsule, Hawkeye thinks it sounds like a great idea. Sure, he suggests certain things just to get a rise out of the major, but he does put a lot of thought in to the project. It seems only natural to include Radar’s bear. Not only does it symbolize the boys who went home as men, but it also represents a safe haven for them all.