|Letter from Rhona Prescott to Eleanor Grace Alexander
July 7, 1991
This letter was begun in December, 1968, meant for
your Mother, but never completed. She died about two years
ago. I wrote your brother over Christmas, 1989, but it is
you to whom I must speak.
We met in Qui Nhon, June 29,1967. You outranked me by
a few months, you, "supernurse", the backbone of the O.R.
there. Our supervisor, the Major, seemed to have some
problems, the main one being her absence during the
"pushes". So you and I informally worked it out that we
would alternately function as supervisor. I thought you
were top notch; you never got rattled, never made mistakes,
even managed to look well groomed. I, on the other hand,
struggled daily with the tattered lives before me, with my
anger and with my frustration and with my frizzy hair. How
did you keep it together? You know, the guys really leaned
on you. You and I triaged, organized, drove the men and
prayed. I screamed at people but you didn't. I really
admired your strength and envied it.
You told me many times though, that you wished you had
the chance to do what I did before Qui Nhon - work under
tents, get the casualties right off the choppers; be in the
middle of the heat. When they assigned me to the emergency
surgical team, you wanted my spot. We were to be available
24 hours a day, while on that team. When they called but
couldn't find me, you grabbed my gear and jacket, and went
in my place to Pleiku, near the intense fighting and lots
of casualties. When I found out I was secretly glad for
Six weeks later, after the mission was over, your
plane went down while coming back to Qui Nhon. It was so
windy that day. Ironically, I was in a plane on the same
flight pattern behind you. You crashed into a mountain deep
in v.c. territory. There were bullet holes in the fuselage.
Days later, after the monsoon rain let up and the area was
secured, your body was recovered. At least you weren't
taken prisoner. Did you die instantly? Were you in pain?
What did you think?
I couldn't keep it together to go to the memorial
service. My way of coping was to get tranquilizers. After I
took all the pills I slept and slept. Why did I survive and
you die? Eleanor, I cry when I go to the Wall. I cry about
your death. I think about it a lot, twenty-three years
later. Was it God's Will or did I screw up your destiny and
along with it mine? I don't know if I should feel sorry,
guilty or what. Did I deprive you of life? Or did I
recklessly allow you to live the experience of doing the
ultimate in nursing, as part of that team? I wish I knew;
maybe I don't wish to know. You are a hero back in New
Jersey. I think they even dedicated a little park to you.
I remember your bringing your "reel to reel" tape deck
over to surgery for everyone to enjoy. I remember the song
you played over and over.. .Roger Whit taker singing the
lyrics, "That's O.K., Rose would say. Don't you worry
none". I think you felt those words. I didn't think it was
"O.K." at all. Later, the Major couldn't remember where the
tape deck came from. No one would tell her. I lost
composure... I screamed, silently, "how could she not
As I marveled at your organization and inner peace,
you envied my experience in that Clearing Company, doing
surgery, I. V .'s, debridement, everything. You told me you
wished you had the chance to do something like I did-
really significant. I always thought that you did your job
at the 85th better than I did at the 616th. Well, however
it really was, Eleanor, you got your chance before you
died. It was because of me... both of these things, you
getting your chance and you dying, not really, I tell
myself, but yet, really.
I am struggling, still trying to make an impact,
imperfectly as ever. I must succeed in helping other
survivors like me, and I must do it for you.