"Show Me Your Scar" by Edwin C. Larson

We were nicely settled in our new home, the two boys were in school, and I felt good about the challenges of my work at the hospital. I was not up for another overseas tour for some time as a couple of men of the same rank and MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) had been back stateside longer than I.

One day in August 1956, the Hospital Adjutant sent for me. "Larson," he said, "I know you're not due for overseas assignment. but I'm sorry to tell you that you have been levied by the Army Security Agency for their hospital in East Africa. On request by the Department of the Army, we submitted three names with their clearances on file." He nodded toward Hospital Sergeant Major Jones, who stood nearby with a satisfied smirk on his face. "Jones should have been the one selected to go, but you, Larson, unfortunately have a cryptological clearance, one of the highest for an enlisted man that was granted when you attended Army Language School. The Agency requested that we send you."

I went home that night with a long face to break the news to Margaret, two months pregnant with Keith.

On post nobody knew how to process me for this super secret outfit. I had made up my mind with the lack of information on travel of dependents, that Margaret would stay home. I was not about to subject her to the stress and red tape of trying to travel to this unknown African station.

Finally orders came direct from the Department of the Army ordering me to Kagnew Station, Asmara, Eritrea for a two year tour with the ASA. Now I was able to look up this obscure country in a world atlas. I found Eritrea was a Greek word for red. It is bordered on the north and west by Sudan, Ethiopia to the south and the Red Sea coastline to the east. It was officially named Eritrea in the 19th century by the Italians and was part of of Africa Orientale d'Italia, or the Italian East African Empire. Eritrea was federated with Ethiopia by the the United Nations in 1950.

It was a sad day of farewells when I said goodbye to Margaret and the boys.

A scene that continues again and again to this day. (We would experience it once again when we said goodbye to Eric in uniform on his way to Vietnam). I was to report to Fort Devens, Massachusetts to await passport visas for Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia.

After a long trip via Azores, Cairo and Dharan Air Force Base, Saudi Arabia, I finally embarked on the last leg of my journey flying over the Arabian desert, across the Red Sea, landing at Asmara airport at the top of the Eritrean highlands.

I reported to the Commander of a small, twenty five bed hospital at Kagnew Station, a former Italian communication center. (The current Hospital Sergeant Major was rotating stateside, so I was his replacement). Although the mission of the Agency was classified, it didn't take much observation on my part to deduce that this was a listening post for radio intelligence traffic gathered from air waves throughout the Middle East and the Soviet Union.

Asmara was also the headquarters for the Sudan Interior Mission. Their compound was also a rest station for missionaries from various denominations working in the heat of the lowland of Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia.

Sometime in July 1957, I received a call from an excited mission official of the S.I.M., who said there was a medical emergency at a remote mission station at Nakfa, some 200 miles north of Asmara. Only one American family was there and their baby, eighteen months old, was having difficulty breathing. He explained that the mother and father were on their way traveling in an old jeep of uncertain reliability. They in turn were dispatching a Land Rover to meet them as they would have to cross a desert before reaching Cheren to begin the long, arduous climb from the desert floor to Asmara, 7,800 feet above sea level. Could they bring the baby to the army hospital? Ordinarily missionary families went to the native hospital where there were still a few Italian doctors on staff, but in this case permission was granted.

Our Commanding Officer was a young Medical Corps captain fresh out of residency. The surgeon, also a young captain, had just recently arrived fresh from training. I relayed permission to the mission station and we sat back to await the arrival of this special and unusual patient.

Shortly after 3:00 o'clock in the afternoon, the disheveled and distraught parents with their barely breathing infant arrived. Their old jeep had broken down in the noon day heat of the lowlands before the Land Rover had arrived to meet and pick them up.

The two young doctors discussed with the parents the possibility of brain damage due to lack of oxygen. In the operating room as the surgeon made the incision for an emergency tracheotomy, he discovered a mucous plug, apparently from an unknown small foreign object that had been swallowed by the infant. After the plug was removed and the tube inserted, the breathing and recovery were dramatic.

The next problem was financial. While waiting for a commissioned medical administrative officer (MAC) to arrive, I had temporary custody of hospital accounts, which was actually illegal for an enlisted man. I told the hospital commander to inform the parents they would have to pay $45.00 per day, a considerable sum at that time as the baby was to be hospitalized a week. I spearheaded a a collection campaign among the officers and men on the base, to which they responded generously.

When the family was ready to leave, they asked about the cost. The hospital commander was able to tell them the money had been raised so there would be no charge, and what was left over would be donated to their work.

Sometime in 1972, 1 was browsing through the HERALD when an article caught my eye concerning the sale by my old friend Geope McConnel of his Monterey Bible Book Store. The store was located on Webster just down the street from the Monterey Post Office.

The name of the purchaser seemed familiar, but I couldn't place just where I had met the person.

A few days later with newspaper in hand, I called at the store. A man came forward to greet me and I asked if he were the Harry Atkins in the article. He replied that he was. "Are you by any chance the Atkins who was a missionary in Eritrea?" "Yes," he replied. "And did you bring your son who was nearly dead to our hospital for an emergency tracheotomy that saved his life?" "Yes I am," as he took my hand, "And who are you?" "I was the Sergeant Major of the hospital and handled all the paper work. That's how I recalled your name." Atkins was pumping my hand as he remarked, "Were you the man who raised the money to pay for our hospital bill?" "Well," I said, "As I remember we were all happy to pitch in and lend a helping hand." Atkins released my hand and called toward a back room, "Blanche, Andy, come out and meet one of the men from the army hospital in Asmara." His wife and son came out to meet me. "This is the boy you folks saved at your hospital, Andrew, this is Mr. Larson." I turned to greet a fine looking young man of sixteen. Instead of saying how glad I was to meet him, I said simply, "Show me your scar." He looked startled, but then he opened the collar of his shirt to expose a small scar on the front of his neck just below his Adam's apple.

Today Harry and Blanche Atkins along with their daughter still run the Monterey Bible Book Store, which moved to Alvarado Street in Monterey. Andrew is Director of Emmanuel International Missions of Canada.