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A Piece of My Mind
May 24/31, 2000

Who Cares About Tarawa?

Author Affiliations

A Piece of My Mind Section Editor: Roxanne K. Young, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 2000;283(20):2626. doi:10.1001/jama.283.20.2626

Many years ago they called it "seeing the elephant." The phrase has lost much of its meaning, and few today understand what it referred to. But in the days of heavy artillery barrages and frontal assaults, there was no question among those who had been there that they had seen the elephant, a ferocious beast of smoke and fire that could crush and obliterate with a single footstep anyone in its way.

Today I visited a gentleman I had met only once before, an older veteran with four tours of Vietnam who retired from the Army as a first sergeant. He was in a coma and could not recognize me. He was a long-term renal dialysis patient who had had a coronary occlusion, then a cardiac arrest. His heart restarted but his brain didn't and there was no real expectation he would regain consciousness. Afterward, I felt ineffably saddened. The sergeant had been at Phan Thiet when I was at Tay Ninh. Our tours in-country had overlapped, and it only remains to be seen how closely our tours in life will.

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