The voyage of the Aircraft Carrier USS Enterprise
January 5, 1988 – July 2, 1989
Lieutenant James Patrick Murphy (that’s me) was one of two Carrier Air Wing Eleven flight surgeons assigned to the USS Enterprise battle group. I was the “attack doc” from Naval Air Station Lemoore California, and my counterpart, Lieutenant Commander Michael Menendez was the “fighter doc” from NAS Miramar California. I was twenty-eight years old, fresh out of training at the Naval Aerospace Medical Institute in Pensacola, and preparing to leave my beautiful wife of two years to deploy with five thousand men for at least six-months.
It’s been 28 years since I made my first journal entry on July 5, 1988. Incredibly, I managed to write in in it every day… right up until the “Big E” pulled back into homeport Alameda, California on July 2, 1989.
Come along with me now. I am adding more to this retelling every day…
Over the next six months, with the help of this recently salvaged musty green three-ring binder, I will recount my journey on board the most powerful nautical vessel mankind has ever known… and by looking back, perhaps chart a course for journeys to come.
January 5, 1988 (0545) It is impossible to describe how I feel right now. I’ve never had to say goodbye and really mean it. It’s a damp dark Alameda morning, which in a way makes is easier… The glad handing and the “How’s it going?”s haven’t begun in earnest yet…only a matter of time.
(2040) Quickly the real world dissipates. It was surreal today. A state of mild shock. No energy on my part. Now is when I really need to understand the “one day at a time” mentality. These people will become my family. There is a sense of “This is really it,” which can be felt in the demeanor of everyone.
I went out on the flight deck and watched the preparations for departure. At 0700 the theme from “Rocky” was played on the 1-MC. We were really leaving. This is one of the few times I’ve really had to suppress my emotions. The best thing I can do, depressed as I am, is just to go to bed early.
January 6 (1402) The latest key issue revolves around the little refrigerator I mentally beat myself up trying to decide whether or not to buy. It seems the XO (executive officer) has outlawed all stateroom refrigerators. This means that for the first time this cruise I will have to live above the law.
(2134) I was looking our over the sea, watching the flight ops. The ship began a 360-degree turn, slowly, as it does on occasion for no apparent reason (for turning’s sake). The sun was reflecting brilliantly off the ocean and the light, the warm sun, shone in my face and fell across my body. I felt the warmth and at that moment a sense of relief tempered my low-grade depression, and I felt good for the first time since I stepped on the ship. Perhaps it was God’s doing. I’m not sure, but I did feel something at that moment. I felt a sense of relief that this ominous task was finally being done. I’m really doing it. The worry is over. The doing has begun.
January 7 (1044) We go off Spuds time at 1900 today. “Spuds time” refers to the Pacific time zone. Adele and I each received “Spuds MacKenzie” watches for Christmas. We synchronized them on 4 January, and I have vowed not to change it until I return. So in about eight hours I’ll officially be on “cruise time” from a Spuds standpoint. I’ll take off the watch now, and when I ceremoniously put it back on it will be a happy day.
January 8 (2016) Sometimes I really feel like I’m in a prison. Other times I think I’m lucky to get the chance to have the experience of a lifetime. I ate dinner tonight with three daddies-to-be. When I said I had been thinking about Adele and having a baby, they all laughed and agreed: “Well if she has a baby now it won’t look like you.”
January 9 (2105) I participated in a FOD (“foreign object debris”) walk down today on the flight deck. I began to feel good about being on the ship (Feeling “good” means merely not feeling “bad”). Then just as quickly I realized how fragile my world really is – how helpless I am to change things back in Hanford (CA) – how impossible it would be for me to come to Adele’s aid.
And just now I’ve realized that I am coming to her aid, and to the aid of millions of others in some way, by being where I am. My job here keeps her free there. It keeps my (unborn) children free – just as my father’s four years in the Navy and his cruises helped keep me free and allowed me to be who I am. Let me not forget. I am always connected. My efforts always count for something.
January 10 (1144) I was saddened as I pondered the world map that was on the wall of the makeshift chapel (the library, actually). I was saddened because I realized again that I have only been given a tiny slot of time to live in the evolution of time. When I thought about how early explorers (e.g., Christopher Columbus) must have viewed the world, how much it has changed, and how much it will continue to change, it makes me want to be there. Be somewhere. For more of it.
I was standing on the bow of the ship yesterday. It was cold, damp, and windy. But there was a warm moistness in the air as well. Anyway, I observed how much the Enterprise rocks up and down, side to side, in the water. I must say it is incredulous that anyone even resembling a Viking would have tried to venture out across the sea in, of all things, a wooden boat! And the most amazing thing is that this all happened not too long ago – from a world history sense.
We haven’t even been gone a week yet.
January 11 (1410) I have just crawled out of my little time machine – a two and one-half hour nap. Fact: the more you sleep, the less time you are on cruise. I had been dreaming when, I guess, another “cat shot” from three feet above my head (i.e., my bunk is situated just below the flight deck) woke me up…but only slightly. I kept on dreaming. In my dream a high school friend, Dale, came to our house, and I heard him tell Adele of a “revelation” he had after reading a book that day. The revelation: “I don’t want to die alone.”
January 12 (1130) Eat less, sleep more. That’s the slogan for the day. That’s going to be the theme to this cruise. We’re pretty close to Hawaii now. The sky is crystal clear and the sea is deep dark blue – a log flume at Six Flags sort of blue. Shimmering like sapphire.
“Distinguished visitors” are onboard and that means a number of things. That means the food will be better. It means we’ll have a break from all those general quarters drills. It means there may be one or two women on the ship, which means you can’t be a carefree man and run around in your underwear.
Yesterday I got my first letter from Adele, dated January 5th – the day we left port. It made me feel so good. Today, most importantly marks the end of the first week away. Only twenty-five more to go.
January 13, 1988 (1242) The Beach Doc rides again! I’m taking a helo off to Barbers Point, Hawaii on the island of Oahu, in order to take in a suicidal patient. And bring back as much medical supplies as I can get my grubby little con-man flight surgeon hands on.
Only fitting that I go to the beach (i.e., any land is considered “beach”) on the very day that the parachute rigger of VA-22 gave me my new nametag sporting the call sign: “Dr. Sun E. Beach.”
January 14, 1988 (0956) Well, the Beach Doc did NOT ride again. The helicopter did not come out to get us because we were greater than 70 miles off the coast. The “Distinguished Visitors” sure got off with ease though… and the helos that came to pick them up sure didn’t bring any mail.
It’s a belly-aching sort of day. The ship is rocking side to side and I can’t understand why. The sea is as smooth as glass. I went out on the catwalk with my dentist friend, Dick Koo. We marveled at the sea. I’d never seen it so placid, so blue.
The best thing I did yesterday was talk to Seaman _______. The chaplain sent him to me to “evaluate” for depression. I believe he just misses his wife. And, by the way, she laid it on him before he left to the tune of “If you go on that cruise, I won’t be here when you get back.” I managed to talk him into a good mood. I’m not sure how. But I did.
Two days ago I was up on one of my favorite places on the ship – the “Admiral’s bridge.” There’s really not much on the Admiral’s bridge but an exercise bike and a big bay of windows.
So I’m up on the Admiral’s bridge where I can usually be alone, but this time there’s this regular looking guy on the exercise bike. I didn’t recognize him, so I kindly asked him who he was and whether or not he was civilian or military. He kindly told me he was the ADMIRAL (i.e., RADM Glenn). Definitely military. Not a good start for me. But by the time we parted we were the best of friends. I’ve got a way with Admirals.
January 15 NO JOURNAL ENTRY – GONE TO BEACH
January 16 (1426) I can’t write anything else until I that mention Airman ________ from VA-22 lost his life this morning at approximately 0100, when the A-7 in which he was sitting broke free and slid over the side. I don’t know all of the details. I will, soon, as I will be the flight surgeon on the mishap board. But, I knew this kid. And he’s dead. And that’s not good.
Regardless of what might be written soon, today is a downer day.
January 17 (1022) That Old Man Cruise. He keeps on rollin’ along.
January 18 (0148) It’s starting to sink in that this is going to be my home for a long time. But it was simply fantastic to get off the boat (to Hawaii) and be a real go-getter on shore for awhile.
To summarize: We finally left the Enterprise (January 14) by helo at around 2:30 pm (1630). Two hours later we were landing at Barbers Point Naval Air Station. My psych patient and I then had to fend for ourselves. I found us a ride to Pearl Harbor medical and transferred his care to the shore medical team.
While at Barbers Point, as fate would have it I ran, almost literally, into, Lt. Kevin Coakley – a fellow intern with me at San Diego – now turned “General Medical Officer” at Pearl Harbor. Well, I invited myself over to his house to eat and to stay. His wife, Lisa (a Hawaii native) and their two little kids were charming. They fed me and we conversed. I slept on the couch and it was marvelous. No turning jet engines, no catapults, no “Purple Shirts” dropping chains on the steel deck above my head. Most importantly, I got to call Adele – our first phone call of the cruise. We were both ecstatic.
Kevin took me to the Pearl Harbor clinic the next day (January 15) and I ripped off as many drugs as I could get my hands on. (Note: They were friendly, but not really generous there.). Then I caught the van to Tripler.
Tripler Army Medical Center is like a spider web of pink buildings from a different era. It’s huge. Delores at the front desk became my lookout – an amazing task, as she we visually handicapped. She would be the one to guard my stash of procured medical supplies, as the pile grew and grew. I went to the lab, ortho, the cast room, the brace room, the pharmacy, radiology, internal medicine, the medical wards, and to ophthalmology.
At 1530 Karen Barnett (wife of Dave, a fellow flight surgeon – also from my internship class) showed up to help me make my getaway. With the help of a wheelchair, we piled everything in her car. All in all, I was able to get out of there with at least $5000 or more in medical supplies for the ship and never once had to show my military I.D. It’s amazing what can be accomplished when one acts like it should, could, and will be done. Karen and her baby girl “Miss Jennifer” gave me a quick tour of Waikiki, fed me steak, gave me another couch to sleep on, and a ride to the base the next morning (January 16). Then after another two-hour helo ride, the Beach Doc was back on the Big E.
It’s either very late or very early, but before I stop writing tonight, I want to comment on the beautiful day we had today. I ran on the flight deck for the first time. I hope the I.O. (Indiana Ocean) is kind to us and we have many runnable days. Mike and I are currently digging on my first two care packages – Adele’s brownies and the Hickory Farms stuff. Those brownies especially have a lot of love baked in and it really enhances the flavor.
(1534) This morning I went to the memorial service today for Airman ______. It was held in the hangar bay, just inside the huge elevator platform where his aircraft fell overboard on that cold wet night into the jet-black water of the immense, unfeeling Pacific.
During the memorial service, at precisely 0800 a destroyer (or frigate or something like that) came along side the ship and steamed astride the Enterprise so that it was fully visible to all of us through the massive hangar bay door. The deck of this ship was lined with evenly space sailors standing at attention – really quite impressive. When the service ended the ship sped away, symbolizing to me the Airman’s spirit steaming off into infinity.
Why did he have to die? This was the same nineteen-year-old kid who, just eight months ago, sat with me at the Lemoore Naval Air Station medical clinic, feeling awkward and depressed. We talked for about an hour that day. I think it helped. And over the course of the ensuing months he seemed to be getting his life together. I didn’t know him as well as I would have liked. But he was a nice fellow, always courteous to me.
Was life kind to him? Hard to say. His death points out how frail my own life really is. Again, my well-being is very fragile out here. I know that. But I don’t dwell on it. And I don’t dwell on my own death, which is inevitable – although I really don’t believe it. I’m alive today. Very alive. Thank God. It’s a beautiful day. I ran on the flight deck for the second time in as many days.
Hear me now and believe me later.
January 19 (1454) One of the things that bothers me is my not being able to lead a normal life. Sure, shipboard life is not all that bad, but it’s not my life.
My motto: “Don’t get too excited or too low over anything.”
I had steak for lunch today. I have to eat less!
Twenty-four more weeks to go.
January 21 (0643) We lost a day. We also lost another plane last night. Around 1745 “Hormone” from VA-22 was engaging in air combat maneuvers about 70 miles from the ship and had to eject from about 3000 feet altitude. As soon as the call came in I climbed into the second SAR (search and rescue) helicopter.
I was anxious. Two class “A” mishaps in three days, already with one fatality. The cruise was officially a disaster for VA-22. My mind was racing, but I was surprisingly calm. I seem to get that way in crisis situations. I’m not the most skilled doctor, but I’m disciplined enough to know that I can’t get flustered if I want to be effective.
I really wanted to be the one to find our pilot – to be the first to know he was okay. But the other SAR helo came right to the spot where Hormone’s radio led them – and a good thing, because it was getting pretty dark by the time we got to the area where the plane went down. I watched as they hoisted him up, and when I heard the report, “Survivor is okay,” I had a surge of joy and relief. And then the thought of the massive paperwork this event would generate slowly crept into my mind.
After we landed on the ship I walked down into the HS-6 ready room and found them celebrating – applauding the SAR heroes and waiting for the ice cream that was on its way. Down in medical, Jesse Dunn, another flight surgeon, was busy examining our pilot – who was literally as white as a ghost. In a way, he was a ghost. He had come face-to-face with death and walked away. He was visibly shaken, still wet, and looked like a little boy who’d just been rescued out of a yard full of Dobermans by his mother.
He probably wanted to cry or hug someone. But Hormone is a very compulsive, meticulous guy. I liked him. He was real. He was a classic pilot. His first words to me after the mishap were, “I lost a plane, I guess my career as a pilot is over.” Hormone is a perfectionist and a good pilot – one of the best, in my opinion. It would be a terrible shame and a waste if he is taken off of flight status – even if pilot error was what caused the mishap. In my book, Hormone is alive and well. It was a good day.
I heard someone say that if the squadron keeps up this pace they’ll have to change the name to SUBRON-22. After the relief of Hormone’s well being wore off, it became a very bad day for VA-22 in a very bad week, early in a very bad cruise.
As for me, I’ve got another adventure cooking. It seems that somewhere about 700 miles away there is a Japanese fishing boat with a sailor who sustained a compound fracture below the knee. They need help and we’re going to give it to them in the form of me.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention, Hormone got some of Doc Murphy’s special coffee last night… And who says alcohol does not have medicinal purposes?
January 22 (2255) Submitted to Admiral Zoeller:
Today at 0730 we intercepted the Japanese fishing vessel. Thanks to our interpreter, AE-2 Rosales, who diligently maintained radio contact with the Japanese, we knew that there was a sailor on board the vessel who had been injured five days earlier. The sailor had sustained a compound fracture of his left lower leg, had bled a great deal, and was in critical condition.
At 0800 our helicopter was piloted by LCDR Phillips and LTJG Wallace, with aircrew consisting of AW-3 Dion and AW-2 Guntner, along with interpreter Rosales and myself. We left the pitching deck of the USS Truxton.
In the high seas with twenty to thirty foot swells, the fishing vessel rocked and bobbed like a cork in a barrel. Our helicopter hovered as near to the boat as possible, but since the boat was so small it often rocked and dipped out of our field of vision. To compensate and serve as an extra pair of eyes, Gunter dangled his body out the rear cargo door.
Eventually we were able to drop a line onto the deck of the fishing boat. The other end was attached to the hoist, which was attached to a rescue collar, which was attached to AW-3 Dion. It was an incredibly dangerous situation that required precise coordination between aircrew and pilot.
The helo hovered just off the port side of the vessel as AW-3 Dion left the aircraft. Slowly he was lowered on an incline and eventually onto the waiting deck; but not before what seemed like dozens of large ocean swells pitched the fishing boat up and down, rising almost parallel with the hovering aircraft (the boat’s mast coming within four feet of the helo during one large swell).
As AW-3 Dion reached the nadir of his parabolic course a large swell engulfed him momentarily. He rose from the wave only to come crashing into the side of the teetering boat. Somehow, he made it onto the deck of the boat. As we had planned, he took the air splint and applied it to the victim’s injured leg.
A small whaling-type lifeboat had been launched from the Truxton. The small boat battled the waves and eventually reached the fishing vessel. From onboard, AW-3 Dion accepted a transport litter and secured the victim. What came next was the very difficult transfer of the splinted and secure injured fisherman onto the Truxton’s lifeboat.
Now it began to rain, adding to the already treacherous conditions. The USS Truxton, CGN-35 (a nuclear powered cruiser) was rocking port to starboard, threatening to crush the lifeboat as it was hoisted up the port side. But they managed to make it back in one piece. Despite the high seas our pilots were able to land back on the Truxton as well.
We attended to the Japanese sailor in the Truxton’s hangar bay. He was semi-conscious, in hypovolemic shock, and indeed had a grotesque fracture of his left lower leg with the broken tibia exposed to the air. We gave him oxygen, and then started two large IV’s to begin the task of restoring his lost fluids. Thankfully, his blood pressure did respond – a good sign. We re-splinted his leg, cleansed and dressed his wound, catheterized his bladder, ran an EKG, and checked his hematocrit. From the Enterprise, I had brought two powerful antibiotics (ceftazolin and gentamycin), which I administered. He responded enough to resuscitation that I was able to give him some morphine for the pain. He was stable for now, but would need emergency surgery, as soon as possible. That meant getting back to the Enterprise right away.
The Enterprise was approximately 150 miles away by that time, and thankfully – with the help of a few more liters of IV fluids, the Japanese sailor remained stable for the flight.
Now in the Enterprise medical department, the injured fisherman was promptly taken to surgery. Our ship’s surgeon, LCDR Marfing, went to work and discovered that, in addition to the life-threatening open fracture, the victim had ruptured his spleen and was on the verge of bleeding to death, even as his blood volume was being restored. LCDR Marfing performed an exploratory laparotomy, removed the spleen, and debrided the necrotic tissue. The Japanese fisherman is still in surgery as I write this narrative.
There is no doubt that the patient would have died had he not been rescued today. The teamwork on the part of battle group was superb. The fact that this Japanese fisherman is alive is nothing short of a miracle. His condition is guarded. There is a fifty percent chance he will eventually lose the bottom portion of his left leg to amputation. The next few days will be critical, but with a little luck I expect him to pull through.
James P. Murphy
January 23 (0753) As I was packing to leave to go the Truxton two days ago I looked for the silver cross that my cousin Robin gave me back in college. I’ve made a habit of wearing it for good luck on the cruise. I knew this mission would be difficult so I wanted all the help I could get.
Well, I looked and looked and could not find it. So reluctantly, I slid my dog tags over my head and around my neck and off I went to the ready room. Time: 0645.
Later that evening, after an exhausting day of rocking and rolling, worrying about my safety and about the impending rescue attempt, and fighting the urge to throw up, as I was undressing I noticed that around my neck was not only my dog tags, but my cross as well.
How’d it get there? Who knows, but I believe a little more strongly, somehow, in what it means now.
(1227) I guess I’ve never been more scared in my life. I really expected to go down into the water in that helo.
It was late on the 21st (Thursday). At around 2230, Homer (the Senior Medical Officer, CDR Homer Moore) called my stateroom and asked if I’d be willing to take on a mission of retrieving some injured sailor in a Japanese fishing vessel some 700 miles away. Homer and I briefed the CAG (Commander of the Air Wing, Capt. “Bullet” Bob Canepa) and he wasn’t overly pleased. The CAG likes me. He likes having me around for advice, as a sounding board, and just to have someone who has a feel for what the pilots and air wing crew are thinking.
The CAG really didn’t want me gone for 4 to 5 days. But Homer (Ship’s Senior Medical Officer CDR Homer Moore) convinced him that I was the man for the job.
All I know was that some Japanese sailor on a fishing boat had a compound fracture of his lower leg and was allegedly bleeding to death. I wracked my brain trying to imagine the scenario and what I might need in the way of medical supplies. By around 2:00 a.m. I was finally in bed.
We launched at 0900, two hours late due to the heavy seas. The Enterprise was converging in the Truxton, which was converging on the fishing boat. One hour and 30 minutes taking off from the Enterprise we were landing on the pitching deck of the Truxton.
My first impression of the Truxton (a nuclear guided missile cruiser) was that it was quite the rocking boat – literally. The seas were high and I rocked all over that ship; right up to the “Flag Cabin” which they gave me as a stateroom. Nice. Several of the sailors and a few of the officers referred to me as “Commander,” so I think they thought I was the Enterprise Senior Medical Officer. I politely corrected them (when it was convenient) and took my place lying flat on my back in the rack. I was seasick and tired.
Throughout the day and evening we received messages from the little Japanese fishing boat. One time I went up into their communications center (the CVIC), and after hearing that the sailor had sustained the injury five days earlier and hearing the description provided by our interpreter, I made the decision (based on the weather conditions, the patient’s condition, and input from the pilots) that we would wait until the morning and attempt the rescue in the daylight.
Let me mention here that I found myself suddenly the key deciding figure in this entire scenario. I was making the decisions that involved this nuclear cruiser, the Enterprise, the helicopter, and the rescue personnel. I’ve never felt such a sense of real life and death before. My decisions were really meaning something to a lot of people, not to mention the poor nameless victim on the Japanese ship.
Sleeping was an adventure too. The ship rocked to and from quite drastically, so it was difficult to sleep. And when I did fall asleep, it was only for about an hour at the max. Lying down, strapped to the bed, was all I could do to calm the nausea caused by the rocking ship. It was horrible.
One literal silver lining was that I discovered the silver cross my cousin Robin had given me. It was around my neck. I thought I’d left it back on the Enterprise. How it got around my neck I can only speculate. Our ship’s chaplain, Jay Magness, would late tell me. “God has many ways of revealing Himself.” All I know is I felt better having it.
When morning came I managed a shower and convinced myself I’d gotten used to the rocking boat. I hadn’t.
LCDR Tom Phillips (pilot) came to my stateroom and calmly briefed me on where the fishing boat was – only a quarter mile away now, bobbing like a cork in a barrel, sometimes disappearing behind the thirty foot swells of blue Pacific Ocean water.
The last thing I did before I hopped into the helo was grab a small garbage bag in case I had a gastrointestinal emergency. AW-3 Dion gave me a Certs candy mint. I told him, “This is too much like a Certs commercial.”
He said, “Yeah, pop one before every rescue.”
At around 0800 we took off from the Truxton. When we reached the fishing boat it was obvious that transfer would be extremely dangerous. The boat was only 87 feet long and it was rocking back and forth and bouncing up and down on the waves. Waves were engulfing the deck. The boat’s antennae and masts several times came within feet of our rotor blades – any contact would have sent us crashing into the churning hungry ocean. I was scared. Really scared. My heart was racing. My eyes were as big around as saucers and I was airsick to boot.
AW-3 Dion and AW-2 Guntner talked to the pilots and decided to throw a line down to the deck and have Dion slide down the line by way of the helo hoist at an incline. I remember thinking, “This is crazy,” as Dion slid out the door and down the wire.
Dion made it to the deck, but not before being engulfed in the large swells that rhythmically pounded the fishing boat, raising it up and down out of the troughs – bringing its deadly masts perilously close to the helo blades. The frightening moment was when Guntner, acting as the pilot’s eyes (as they no visual reference due to the boat’s size) screamed over the intercom, “Altitude! Altitude! Altitude!”
Dion eventually was pulled onto the boat by the fishing boat crew. I thought to myself, “Now what?” About that time I noticed a small whaling-type boat making its way to the fishing vessel. It had been launched from the Truxton and reminded me of what Captain Ahab might have looked like in the high seas stalking Moby Dick. But this was not fiction; it was more real than anything I’ve ever read by Milton. I truly expected we’d have to pull some of these brave Truxton “whalers” out of the water.
Earlier, I had told LCDR Phillips (helo pilot) that they should launch a boat from the Truxton and bring the patient back that way, rather than bring him up to the helo on the litter. He had radioed the ship with that request and the Truxton’s skipper had made the decision to go through with it.
I had given Dion an air splint and instructed him on how to apply it. Dion splinted the patient, secured him in the litter, and with the help of the fishing boat crew lowered him into the bouncing rescue boat. It seemed to take forever. Then Dion himself jumped backward into the rescue boat. He later told me that the rescuers in the whaling-type lifeboat told him not to jump because it was too dangerous. Dion said to me, “ I don’t know what they expected me to do. If I didn’t go then, I’d still be on that fishing boat.”
The rescue boat eventually made it back to the Truxton where it was met with a teetering 60-foot wall of grey metal. “The waves were threatening to bash our little boat against the Truxton,” Dion told me. “The guy was moaning in pain. We were trying to grab those lines. It was a bad scene.”
Surreal is more like it. I kept thinking, “This can’t be happening. This might as well be going on in outer space.” Here we are in the middle of nowhere, and these poor men were literally down there grabbing for lifelines. And to make matters worse a squall came upon us. So the whole evolution was complicated by the extra ingredient of rain.
They eventually were able to get aboard the Truxton. So we tried to land on the deck ourselves. The deck was pitching badly. The squall had really picked up we contemplated lowering me by a hoist. But on the fourth and final pass the deck appeared stable enough to land the helo. We landed. I jumped out and ran to the hangar bay.
The Japanese fisherman was still in the litter, in shock, barely responsive. The Truxton’s medical officer, Lt. Sarosy, had started an 18 gauge IV in the right arm. I started a larger one (16 gauge) in the left arm. Then we literally squeezed two liters of ringers into the patient. He started to respond to the fluid bolus and his vital signs improved. He was still very much in shock so we kept the fluids going.
I ordered a Foley urinary catheter, a gram of ceftazolin, and 60 mgm of gentamycin I.V.; and 4 mgm of morphine. I proceeded with the secondary exam of his other vital organs while Lt. Sarosy tended to the leg wound- a very foul smelling and grotesque compound fracture of the left tibia and fibula. We cleaned and dressed the wound and applied the traction splint I’d brought from the Enterprise.
I knew that this patient would need surgery very soon, so we loaded him back on the helo and away we went to the Big E, now only 150 miles away.
The Enterprise had launched a S-3 Viking jet to act as our escort. The trip took about an hour and forty minutes, during which time I had to push two more liters of fluids in order to maintain the patient’s blood pressure. I also gave him another 2 mgm of morphine and watched him and prayed he wouldn’t arrest on me.
I was drained as I sat in the helo. I had gotten little sleep the previous two nights. I wanted to get back to the Big E in a big way. To me, the Enterprise would seem like the “beach” after this experience.
We were met on the flight deck by a medical team and we transported the patient down to medical via the aft bomb elevator. I had radioed ahead and just as requested, LCDR Marfing (ship surgeon) and the OR team was ready.
LCDR Tom Marfing was great. He really took charge. And just like that I felt myself slowly dropping out of the picture. After relaying the history and aiding in the initial pre-surgical assessment, fatigue really started getting the best of me. My role slowly became less and less crucial.
I had a bit of a sense of loss. I was worried about this patient. After all, I had helped rescue him; poked, prodded, manipulated, and stuck him for hours upon hours. I literally kept my hand on his chest to monitor his breathing during the entire noisy flight back to the Enterprise.
Then suddenly I had to give him up. But he was in good hands. The surgical team of LCDR Marfing, nurse anesthetist LCDR Tony Esposito, Senior Chief O’Neal, and Corpsmen Henderson and Ridley worked until 0300 on the injured man. When the dust cleared he had had an exploratory laparotomy, splenectomy (due to a ruptured spleen), and a reapproximation of the debrided bones and muscle tissue of his left leg.
As of today at 1415, the patient is still on the respirator. His vital signs are good though. His prognosis is “guarded” but improving.
I am back to being a regular flight surgeon now. Back to seeing sick call, standing duty, and filling out mishap reports. I am somewhat of a minor celebrity though. The ship’s captain told and abbreviated version of the saga over the ship’s intercom last night. The ship’s chaplain, Jay Magness mentioned us last night in the evening prayer over the intercom as well. And “The Shuttle” published an article -even calling me a “Commander.” So I’ve been sarcastically called “Commander” a lot today.
I feel good. I feel tired. I wish I could share this with Adele and my mom and dad.
I made it to all of my ready rooms last night. I felt special. I had a story to tell. I was one of the guys. I had done something exciting. By day’s end I had briefed the CAG, the Captain, and the Admiral. I had had quite a day. Still, I wish I had someone to hug.
January 24 1988 (2335) And we’ve only been on cruise for 20 days.
Today was Sunday. I was the duty doc again. Nothing special. No rescues. I’ve gotten a lot of mail in the past two days. It really means a great deal to me. I’m pretty much talked out about the rescue thing. I talked for about an hour with some PhD from Berkley yesterday. He was doing a research project on the workings of large organizations whose margin for error was small, and whose price for a mishap was/is astronomical. He wanted to know how the rescue all came about.
I’m not real organized now. I’m feeling the aftershock of the emotionally charged past few days.
January 25 (2302) Today an irony played out. A young man came to me to ask me to interpret some message he had gotten. Apparently his mother had been involved in an auto accident and was in the ICU at Baptist Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. He said he was confused and angry and tired. His immediate superiors would not grant him emergency leave. Actually the XO (Executive Officer) of the ship would not grant him emergency leave. Apparently, to get leave the Red Cross has to send a message and word it in such a way that the command can do nothing but send the sailor home, e.g. say something like: “The patient is on the brink of death. Son’s presence is needed at once.”
I realize that there have been many abuses of the system in the past, what with fake messages and all, trying to get service members back home from cruise. And the XO has to use prudent judgment when deciding who should be granted emergency leave. I feel in this sailor’s case, although the Red Cross volunteer did not have the savvy to word the message “properly,” the condition of the sailor’s mother warranted emergency leave under all but the most operationally constraining circumstances. That’s what I told him and his supervisors.
What’s ironic is that the US powers-that-be saw it fit to change the course of the battle group and send a nuclear powered guided missile cruiser, a flight surgeon, two pilots, an interpreter, not to mention the air crew and staff of the Truxton in order to rescue a Japanese fisherman… Yet they will not go to any extraordinary measures to soothe the emotional trauma of one of its own “mess cranks.”
I guess helping out a lowly mess crank doesn’t really go too far in furthering the role of nuclear energy.
By the way, I made videotape today for Adele so she can show it to the wives of VA-94 when they have their meeting on February 5th at our house. It’s nice to feel like I am contributing.
January 26 (1448) Paul Blackburn, the flight surgeon who preceded me, once mentioned that he’d seen some guy with an air duct hose connected to the vent and suspended over the bunks in their stateroom in order to direct the precious and probably asbestos-and-pathogen-laden cool air toward the vicinity of where they sleep. Genius.
Well, I brought along one such hose and hear me now and believe me later, this hose is great! Not only can we close the makeshift curtains I suspended to partition off the bunks, but now we can direct the cool air into the confines of the sleeping space. Not to mention that when I’m at my desk (as I am right now) I can let the hose hang down and blow cool air right down my shirt and onto my back. As my roommate Mike so aptly put it: “We’re just a couple of dumb old doctors.”
I also want to document once and for all how ultimately cool the chin-up/parallel bars are that I installed in the room.
I’m in a pretty good mood. The last few days have been so emotionally charged. I really do have ups and downs. I don’t think it’s endogenous. I think it’s because of environmental factors, which I allow to get me down. I’m going to remember my own advice: I own my emotions. And if I feel a certain way, it’s because I choose to do so.
I must say though, knowing I have a tape from Mom & Dad, Adele, and Phil that I haven’t finished – and a Denver Broncos AFC Championship game replay coming on TV at 1500 (somehow I was able to avoid hearing the score of this one), helps make my outlook a little more rosy.
January 27 (1154, or January 26 1755 “Spuds Time”) This morning I sent a mail gram to Adele for her birthday. I already sent her a message via the Flag Intelligence Officer (a “back channel message”), a card (mailed two weeks ago), and a dozen red roses (pre-paid prior to my deployment). She should feel like she’s loved. She is.
CDR Jeff Lipscomb, the Flag Intelligence Officer is a friend of mine. He offered to send a message from me to Adele via the Flag Intel Officer at NAS Lemoore. Back channel messages, as they are called, are unclassified low priority messages sent via satellite. They are not designed for personal use, but hey, if the Admiral’s Intelligence Officer offers, well, I’m not going to turn him down.
Just a minute ago I got a call from Jeff telling me that Adele got my message and all is well at home. I know it’s not a lot, but it still makes me feel really good to know that at least within the last twenty-four hours, all is well.
This is especially good in light of the fact that I dreamed last night that Adele was missing and presumably kidnapped. We had been standing outside a hotel just days prior to deployment. I had gone to get the car and when I returned Adele was gone, and her purse, wallet, money, were still there. I woke up with that on my mind. Adele’s back channel message was just what I needed.
At 1230 I’m going to try to get a look at Iwo Jima from the bridge. Man, I’m really on cruise, aren’t I?
I jogged with the Admiral for a while today. He’s a good guy. He reminds me of my dad. I guess partly because he seems so easy going and gentle, yet I respect his strength and power. My dad has that special ingredient built in though…love.
(2303) The CAG staff are allegedly “hand picked.” Well, I can tell you one guy who wasn’t hand picked. That’s the guy who, by lottery, was awarded the second to last pick in his Flight Surgeon class. Moi.
We had a CAG (Commander, Air Group) staff meeting tonight. The CAG himself, Captain “Bullet” Bob Canepa, left early and “Debuty CAG” Commander Langston ran the show. Well, it seems that the Chief of Naval Operations for the Japanese Navy is coming to the Big E on the 30th. The US Navy Admiral in charge of the Seventh Fleet will also be here. The ship and Air Wing are going to great lengths and burning up a lot of tax payers’ money to put on a good display of entertainment. The fact that they are sending F-14’s to Japan to pick these guys up is fine, but a little out of the ordinary and a little risky.
They have scheduled an ice cream social later in the day on the 30th. One problem: There’s no ice cream on the ship. The Deputy’s solution is to dispatch an S-3 jet to fly to the Philippines to pick up some ice cream. Then the jet can fly the precious cargo back to the ship in the “blivet” -the outside storage tanks- and fly above the freezing altitude. Ingenius. But a little bit on the ironic side, considering the fact that “Seaman Smith” and “Seaman Jones” did not get mail today, because supposedly there weren’t enough planes available to fly to the shore.
I, on the other hand, went flying today. This time in a EA6-B Prowler elecronic warfare jet. It’s a jet used to jam enemy radar. I sat in the back right seat -there’s four seats in all. And yes, I got sick. I didn’t throw up though. The pilot, Steve Lindberg, was merciful. I did get to see Iwo Jima up close -from about 8000 feet up. I could see the hill where the Marines raised the flag – Mt. Suribachi. And yes, I could literally feel the history -almost feel the ghosts of the many men who died on that tiny piece of real estate.
January 28 (1402) Today is Adele’s birthday. This marks the first real holiday I’ve missed on cruise. I’m thinking about her. I hope she’s happy and well.
Today I say flying fish for the first time. I was riding the exercise bike on the Admiral’s bridge and out the port windows I could see them jumping along over the water. They looked like small birds. They’d leap out of the water, glide along the top of the waves for about three seconds and dive down into the water again.
I turned down an opportunity to fly with the A-6 guys today. I simply did not feel like getting ill two days in a row.
January 29 (0935) After twenty-five days of hard labor on board this space station, you begin to lose a little tolerance. The small things really start to bug you. For example, the fact that the water is always off whenever you need it most in the afternoon. Or that the officers’ bathroom just across the hall from me is always filthy. It has that smell of stale urine and about a centimeter of water on the floor with dirt, old hair, and who knows what mixed into fibrous wet slurry. Forget your towel should you let it touch the floor. You might as well chuck it off good ole SPONSON SEVEN.
SPONSON SEVEN is the anus of the ship. It’s where all the trash and garbage and, yes at times, body parts are cast into the sea. It’s only open certain times of the day, and this is heralded always by the same guy coming over the intercom saying, “Sponson seven is now open. Please expedite the dumping of all trash and garbage clear of sponson seven.” And when the party is over (e.g., when the flight ops get underway) one hears, “Sponson seven is closed. Hold all trash and garbage on station.”
Little blurbs over the P.A. system are such stock commands. They have become so much a part of our everyday life -I almost hear them in my sleep. And it is always the same guy giving the command. From the regimented deliberateness of his voice I imagine him to be some big young petty officer, standing in the shadow of he ship’s captain on the bridge -barking out the commands in such a way as to impress the big guy. And at the same time there’s the faintest hint of hesitancy in his voice that makes him seem afraid to screw it up on front of the big guy. It’s that hesitancy, that minute scent of unsureness that makes this fella human to me – and makes me like him. I’ve never met the man.
I got a package from my mom and dad yesterday. In it were: Rice Crispy Treats and a card and a video of the U of L basketball game. I was in heaven. I ate about ten of the treats, laid on my back in my rack and watched U of L trounce UCLA. The card was very special. Mom wrote, “Pat, you are in our thoughts and prayers all the time.” And I could really sense that I truly am. I suppose that was the best part of the package.
January 31 (0015) I need the P.I. like nobody’s business.
(2134) Tomorrow is our first port call. The P.I. “Po City” “The Shit River” …I’m looking forward to getting off this pig.
My roommate Mike may be getting off this pig for real. He has put in for a transfer. Mike is a character. He is the most “type A” person I’ve ever met. And he may be one of the most generous people I have ever met. At times his selflessness amazes me.
I admitted a kid to the ward tonight who says he took seventy Sudafeds because he wanted to die. I say he wanted attention. And he got it in the form of a sternal rub, an i.v., a nasogastric tube stomach pump, and four-point restraints in bed. He’ll still get the better of me though.
And I wrote Bobby Knight a letter tonight:
Lt. Pat Murphy
Flight Surgeon, VA-22
F.P.O. San Francisco 99601-6202
31 January 1988
Dear Coach Knight,
I thought you’d like to hear a story. I’m the Flight Surgeon on board the U.S.S. Enterprise. On January 22, 1988 I was sent on a mission to help rescue a critically injured Japanese fisherman in a small vessel about 700 miles away from the Enterprise. Myself and a helicopter rescue team were dispatched to one of the smaller ships in our battle group and we headed north in the Pacific Ocean to intercept the Japanese boat.
Now, I am a relatively young doctor. I’ve only been attached to the carrier for about six months. I’ve trained and trained for situations such as this one, but had up until this moment only played out in my mind such a scenario. Complicating matters was the storm which hit us that night, kicking up 20-foot waves and tossing the nuclear cruiser about like a toy boat in a bathtub.
As reports kept coming to me via the ship’s radio, I was called upon to make some crucial decisions regarding the rescue, and in quiet moments in my stateroom, I felt the full burden of this responsibility, and had to confront my fears. Would I be capable of handling the victim’s injuries? Would I have the skill and athletic ability to descend from the helo onto the pitching deck of that 87-foot boat bouncing in the angry Pacific?
I’m from Louisville. I grew up on basketball. I believe that sport mirrors life. At least this time it did. I can remember the exact moment when in the relative solitude of my stateroom I took charge of the situation. For some reason I thought about you and your program at Indiana – how you teach that preparation, dedication, and effort are the triad that wins basketball games and furthermore wins in life.
A new feeling of calm came over me. I knew I had prepared, that I was dedicated, and that if I gave it my best effort I would be in the best position to save that man’s life. Much like your pre-game “walk throughs,” I imagined every scenario I might encounter. The next morning we caught up with the small fishing boat. It was being smacked around by the high seas. As the helicopter hovered perilously close to the swinging deadly masts of the boat I guess I was more scared for my life than I ever hope to be again.
Well, we finally got the victim off of the small boat and onto the cruiser. There in the hangar bay we went to work to stabilize the man. He was near death, septic from an infected compound fracture, and in shock due to massive hemorrhage. Fortunately we were able to treat his life-threatening injuries and transfer him to the Enterprise, where our surgical team performed the definitive life saving procedures. And today, barely more than one week later, the man is in good condition, and we expect a complete recovery. The fact that he is alive and well is nothing short of a miracle.
I want you to know that you and the fundamentals for which your program stands are in some part responsible for giving some thirty-six year old Japanese fisherman another chance to hug his kids and kiss his wife.
Coach, we won this one in overtime.
February 2 (1002) It sure is nice to be able to write “February” in the margin.
Olongapo. Subic Bay. Cubi Point. All those words are real now. It was almost glee inducing. It was gleeful. Land. I really love it. Walking off she ship was like Christmas. Talking to Adele was great, but emotionally draining.
(2345) Today was/is my duty day. I really haven’t had true liberty yet. “Liberty” means I get to sleep-in late. That means Wednesday and Thursday.
An “Adult Disneyland.” That’s what they call Olongapo. It’s depressing. I expect a great many beat up sailors, but the LPO of the corpsmen (HM-3 Carter) says the people in Olongapo won’t fight with the sailors because they don’t want the Command to restrict the men to the base. The transfer of funds is the reason Olongapo exists. Sex is the commodity.
For some reason, sexual perversion is okay here. I guess it’s because the women don’t view sex with any reverence, and because the men don’t view the women as full-fledged human beings, it somehow makes it okay to for get your morals.
Drunk #1 tonight was brought down because he was on the edge of the ship (plane elevator) threatening to jump. Everyone screamed, “Suicide attempt!” Except for the cool doctor. I just called it “acute intoxication” and passed him off as a probable personality disorder – which he probably is. I’ve developed some big psychiatric “balls.”
February 3 (2200) I’m on Grande Island. I’m in a cottage, actually a house that has three bedrooms, a full kitchen, and a large living room. And I’m alone. I love it.
I lucked into this. The Admiral’s staff had reserved the cottage and found out the day prior to pulling into port that they couldn’t attend. Then their friendly neighborhood flight surgeon got to step in.
Dave Barnett, a flight surgeon from Cubi Point NAS (across the bay) showed up around 1700 and we talked and visited until 2130. Dave is a great guy. He’s a friend of mine from Balboa Naval Hospital and NAMI (Naval Aerospace Medical Institute).
Dave says the “X.O.” of his squadron calls the Philippines the “Land of the not quite right.” An example of this phenomenon would be a room in town in a nice hotel with a very nice crystal chandelier, but hooked up to a poor circuit making he lights flicker a bit – just enough to make it not quite right.
The first thing I did when I got to Grande Island was take a walk. I walked up the major hill on the island and through some of the woods. It was strange. For some reason I felt exhilarated. It must have been that I finally had some space to myself.
February 4 (0930) Okay, I’ve had my solitude fix. It was nice. I’m ready now to gently merge back into the mainstream of liberty life. I am very glad that I’m able to construct my own personal liberty, make my own schedule, and follow my own path. When you live with five thousand guys on a boat it’s easy to lose your individuality with respect to shore liberty – and then all of your fun is done by committee.
“Surreal” is becoming a key word on the cruise. It’s hard to imaging that in a few days I’ll be as far away from Adele as possible and still be on this planet. I’m already as far away from my parents as humanly possible. As aardvarkly possible or squidly possible too, for that matter.
But what struck me as so surreal yesterday was the scene I observed from the island. Across the channel I could see the coastal mountains and jungle. There was a ridge of smoke. Flying above this ridge was a Marine helicopter. It was Viet Nam, for all practical purposes. In fact, this is very closely tied to Viet Nam. This very island was a Viet Nam refugee camp during the war. The US Navy sailors would have their “down time” her in Subic Bay. I’m close to the realism now. Only trouble is… soon I’ll be even closer.
February 5 (2339) I talked with Adele tonight. I had a good time at the Cubi Point “O” Club. Everyone is safe and happy. All is good with the world.
February 7 (0129) Tonight was a basketball fix. Two U of L games. Four hours of Cards and no “bumming about smartly” with the “hostitutes.”
(1337) CDR Homer Moore is our ship’s “Senior Medical Officer.” Homer is a bit of a type AAA. To Homer, the cruise is a classis “career enhancing opportunity.” He’s a lifer. He wants to make Captain, and I suppose Admiral one day. And he probably will. I like Homer.
Today is Sunday. I overslept today because of a change in schedule. I had a 2000 meeting with the CAG last night and missed the 1930 Medical Department meeting where the change in Sunday morning rounds was discussed. But the way I see it, it’s not my fault so I legitimately got to sleep in and I can’t be legitimately blamed for it. And so what if Homer is a little upset with me. I do such a good job for him that I’ve built up plenty of karma. I know he likes me, too.
Not the same with my roommate Mike and Homer. They butt heads often.
It’s a strange arrangement. Mike and I work for Homer, but we also work for the CAG. I consider myself a doctor first with an obligation to whoever walks in the Medical Department’s door, and I consider myself a flight surgeon second. It’s becoming more and more obvious to me that there is developing an “us” and “them” frame of mind in the medical department. The “ship’s company” vs. the “Air Wing.”
Back in the early days of Homer’s regime, the Air Wing was on equal terms. There were only two doctors attached to CVN-65 and two CVW-11 Flight Surgeons. Whenever Mike and I came onboard with the Air Wing we essentially doubled the size of Homer’s department.
But now Homer has a full entourage. There’s himself, Tom Marfing (surgeon), Jesse Dunn (reservist doctor), Mark Lederer (Physician’s Assistant), and the new kid on the block, a GMO (“general medical officer”) named Gary Gustafson. The Flight Surgeons are really outnumbered now.
It’s strange. About 90% of whom we see in sick call are ship’s company. When a squadron guy comes to medical, his squadron wants to know about it. When a “mess crank” comes to medical, no one seems to want to know why. I guess it’s because it’s obvious. Mess cranking sucks, so why not go to medical once in a while. Even if you get sent back to work you’ve still probably missed two hours of working in the hot steamy mess decks. It makes sense to me. I really feel for those guys. They don’t get the appreciation they deserve.
And the CAG told Mike and me in no uncertain terms that we work for the Air Wing first. He wants us to keep him better informed about what’s going on medically with the Air Wing guys.
The CAG’s temperament is fluid, but he’s always been pretty stable with me. For example, the last night in the Philippines I went over to his table at the Cubi Point Officers’ Club and said, “I got a message to see the cag-a-sap. I know who the CAG-OPS is, the CAG-ASW, the GAG gunner, and the CAG. But I’ve never heard of the cag-a-sap.” He looked me in the eye and explained, “Oh that means see the CAG as soon as possible.”
It was clear that he didn’t get my joke, and when I explained it, well, it kind of lost its mojo. No biggie. That’s one reason why the CAG likes me. I don’t bullshit him. I’m not in this game for good fitness reports, or career enhancement. I’m here to survive. And I’m a professional. I do my job and I do it well. The CAG may sign my leave chits, but my career is not the Navy. My career is my life.
But the CAG is my boss. I respect him and I am genuine with him. I don’t think he knows that that’s why he likes me. But I know it. And I like him too. He’s a very knowledgeable and skilled individual. He’s got a ton of experience in Naval Aviation. He can fly every aircraft in the Air Wing, including the helicopters.
Anyway, also at the CAG’s table in the O Club was the Commander of the Destroyer Squadron, The Captain of the Enterprise (Captain “Rocky” Spain), the Commander of the Battle Group (Admiral Zeller), and some other Admiral and his wife. They all knew me – except for the “other” Admiral, so the CAG enthusiastically introduced me to the “other” Admiral’s wife.
“Hey,” he said, “Here’s one of our Flight Surgeons, Pat Murphy.”
“Oh, he looks like a Flight Surgeon,” she said with a smile.
I was wearing the flowered Hawaiian shirt that Adele had made me while we were in Pensacola and a pair of jams (actually a bathing suit) my parents had given me. My face was red from weeks of flight deck sun. And I had that flushed, messed hair party-animal look.
CAG said, “He’s a great Flight Surgeon. A GREAT Flight Surgeon!”
That kind of stuff makes me feel pretty good.
A few final words about the P.I. (Philippine Islands)…
The first day off the ship I couldn’t believe how good it felt to have liberty. I’d never had “liberty” before. I’d never been in a port. I went directly to the Exchange and then to eat lunch. Then I had a massage at the Subic B.O.Q. (Bachelors Officers Quarters). That was both weird and nice. That was my pampering for the week.
I then called Adele – easily the highlight of the week. Everything was fine. All was good.
I was supposed to go to the Air Wing party at Cubi Point Naval Air Station, but I’d been given the wrong time by Ensign Russ Ashford, the “spy” (Intelligence Officer) of VA-22. So I went on back to the ship alone.
Luckily I found my roommate Mike and made him go out into town with me. First he treated me to dinner at the Subic Bay Officer’s Club. It was nice. Not crowded, actually almost empty. They had live entertainment though – a group of four singers with an eight piece band. They sang a number of All-American tunes with surprisingly good American accents. They were very good. It saddened me a little to see these people, so talented, so “eastern” yet so westernized – all in the name of money and survival.
The worst was yet to come. We went to Olongapo later that night.
Olongapo is everything I’d heard about it. They call it “Adult Disneyland.” Believe me, there’s nothing Disney about that place. I was so bad that I was afraid that if I looked back as I was leaving I would turn into a pillar of salt. The “shit river” was right outside the gate to the base and had to be crossed before you hit the main drag. It’s called that because the Olongapo River is actually a drainage ditch for raw sewage. Kids jump into the river to retrieve pesos the sailors throw. They might as well just cut their fingers off for money.
Women line the streets and often times they will grab you and pull you away with them. They are not “prostitutes.” If you call one a “whore” you can get thrown in jail for slander. John Gately (a VA-22 pilot) calls them “hostitutes,” because the I.D. cards they carry refer to them as “official hostesses.”
We went into one bar. Had a San Miguel beer and left. I didn’t want to go back. But sex wasn’t the only attraction in Olongapo. Crafts were everywhere. One could literally have anything tailored, carved, or weaved and customized within 24 hours – and for a great price. I preferred to buy things on base. That way I didn’t have to haggle for the price. I bought a large gaudy nameplate for my desk (hand carved, of course) for $12. It proved I was once in the P.I.
Day 2 found me on duty. I called my parents – again a major highlight. All was well.
Day 3 was the day of solitude on Grande Island.
Day 4 I did more shopping – this time for little necessities at the Navy Exchange Mall. That night I finally made it back to the O’ Club for dinner. It’s billed as the nicest O’ Club in the Navy, and I’d have to agree. Homer, Dick Koo (dentist), and myself sat at the table reserved for the Admiral (he wasn’t there). We drank “Cubi Specials,” ate filet mignon, and were entertained by the “Gems” – another large show band, very talented; four girls who looked like sisters and sang their hearts out in perfect harmony, of course sounding very American.
Day 5, the last day in port was another shopping day. I bought Adele a sewing basket with her name embroidered on it and mailed it to her for Valentine’s Day. Russ Ashford and I went to Cubi Point to play one-on-one basketball. I called Adele again, another major highlight. Then went to the O’ Club for happy hour and the final dinner.
VA-22 was having the “Red-Green Dinner.” They have two teams and whichever team has the best carrier landing scores gets treated to dinner by the losing team. I expected a party. Instead, what I got was a very subdued sit-down sulk. They had, after all, had a terrible first month of cruise – what with losing two airplanes and a young man’s life. I guess they really didn’t have too much to celebrate.
But I did. I had a good time. I yelled and sang with the band. I was living out a bit of history. I was the young nugget Flight Surgeon on his first cruise. I’d been doing a hell of a job and I was celebrating.
VF-114, “The Fighting Aardvarks” F-14 squadron, was celebrating too. They had a table (a loooooong long table) in the lower portion of the dining room and they were outrageous. Singing and dancing on the tables. Throwing rolls. And when the skipper of VS-21 (The S-3 Viking squadron) led the “Parade of the Fighting Redtails” down to surround and bolster the hysteria of the Aardvark table it was almost like Mardi Gras. The Gems were playing right to the rowdy group and we all loved the show. The Redtails had all tied cloth napkins around their heads and had silverware poking up like antennae. The skipper also had a red tablecloth cape leading the way.
I was feeling no pain when at 2339 I made it up the brow of the Big E. I was back on the ship.
I am back. The cruise may now begin in earnest.
February 8 (2351) I spent the better part of today pissed off. I was upset at the little things. The lack of water in the bathrooms, the intercom intruding on my privacy, the way my toenails need clipping. I was mostly pissed at the ship. At my being stuck on the ship. The exhilaration of having already completed one month out of six was replaced by the depressing realization that I had at least five more months to go. Probably six, if we got extended.
I slowly climbed out of my sorry state of mind by bitching to Mike, by exercising, and by taking a walk on the flight deck. Later, a package from Mom and Dad arrived to solidify my hold on a positive attitude.
Also a major factor was the CAG giving me my fitness report (i.e., report card). He gave me all “A”s and wrote the most incredible narrative about me. He likes me. I think he sees in me the qualities of a good medicine man or tribal guru.
February 9 (1255) I guess I must have been in a quasi-panic mode yesterday. After sick call, I went to the barbershop and got the “cruise cut.” The “I.O. Special” (Indian Ocean). I am really the buzz man now. I’ve never had shorter hair. Never. If there ever was a time to get the buzz cut, now is the time. Part of the reason I got it cut was to make a statement. I can control the way I look, to a degree. Also, by the time it grows out I’ll be two or three more months into the cruise.
It really hit hard, the fact that I’m not going home. I am heading farther away. That bit about the cruise beginning in earnest was more real than I knew. I didn’t realize that I would have to psychologically re-assess my feelings. I had fallen back into the first phase of the “cycle of deployment” -the disorganization and depression stage. I have to weather this storm and carry on.
By the way, I’ve been eating more and sleeping less recently.
February 10 (1005) Not one of my better days. I got a little hot today. I was upset because while I was very busy with sick call – seeing legitimate medical complaints – a corpsman brought me a chart and asked me to see a patient with knee pain. Now, knee pain generally nauseates me, because it’s usually a young guy just trying to get out of work. I was especially miffed this time because I had about three things going on once when the corpsman tried to dump the knee pain on me. So I told the corpsman to try to find another doctor.
Well, he found Dr. Marfing (ship surgeon), who was also very busy. So LCDR Marfing came back and promptly slapped “Mr. Knee Pain’s” chart on my desk. I jumped up and said, “I’ll see this patient when I’m ready. Put it back in the rack.” And then we exchanged glares.
Well, it was a little out of line for a LT to tell a LCDR “No” right to his face. But hey, I was pissed. I felt overworked and it was getting to me. Later, Tom and I made up and I apologized for overreacting – and so did he.
But the really important thing about that whole episode was that I got angry because I was stressed by WORK and NOT because I was depressed about being out here on this pig. Maybe I AM settling in to a routine after all.
(1037) Today we transited the Straits of Malacca. We are now officially in the I.O. I saw Singapore from the observation deck. It’s a beautiful city. It’s strange to see such a metropolitan area in this part of the world. I really am a long way from home.
February 11 (2332) Today was a pretty uneventful day. I took a four-hour nap, because I’d fallen behind the curve in my sleep more, eat less routine. I was exhausted. Tonight I’m staying up late, partially because this is the cool tome of the day when I can enjoy the room, and partly because Mike has the “duty” and we’ve started sleeping in sickbay in the good A.C. when we have the duty. I am enjoying a little room privacy – a very precious commodity.
I feel like I’m getting back in a groove. My depression over having left Subic Bay has lifted. Also my mishap board (Flight Surgeon’s report) is complete.
And old man cruise keeps rolling along.
February 12 (1251) Today is one of those up days. I’m on a high. It’s probably because I’m somewhat rested, and it’s a beautiful day. I went up on the Admiral’s bridge to watch the small ships shoot their cannons. The Indonesian VIPs were up there too. The XO of the ship saw me and told me I had to leave. That bothered me a little. This bothered me a little. I’m the “doc.” I should be welcome anywhere. On my way out I asked the Admiral, “What does it take to get permission to be up here?”
“You’ve got it,” he said. This prompted a quick apology to me from the XO.
Unfortunately I’m only “untouchable” to a degree. The XO can’t screw me career-wise, but what he can to is inspect my room and clip the cord to my contraband refrigerator, etc. I will have to make it up to him somehow.
But nothing is really going to bring me down today. I can feel it. I feel alive. I feel good. I even feel a little good about being on the Big E. My daily workouts are starting to pay off. I can tell when I look in the mirror. After six months of this I should be in excellent shape.
The cruise is hard, but if I make it, I’ll be set for life. And as in the words of KANSAS…
If you expect the freedom,
That you say is yours,
Prove that you deserve it.
Help us to preserve it,
Or being free will just be,
Words and nothing more.
February 13 (1930) I just realized that this is Presidents Weekend. A holiday weekend. Another holiday at sea. Another lost weekend. Strangely enough, I can still sense the weekends. But I try not to. I try not to notice the days and weeks – that makes time go by much too slowly. I’d rather everyday just blend into the next. Don’t get me wrong. I want to live my life to the fullest and realize the value of every second. It’s just that this is not the kind of life I planned for myself.
Sometimes I think about sailors of years gone by, and how they must have lived. I’d say that the living quarters I have now are easily better than even the best Captain’s quarters on the flagship of the Spanish Armada.
Cassette tapes are a must. Tonight I’ve been getting caught up on my cassette tapes from Phil and Adele. Hearing their voices for 30 to 90 minutes at a time really give me a sense of closeness to them. Tonight, for some reason, I really wanted to call Adele. Just call her. To talk.
Maybe another panic is coming on. Maybe the high I’m on will be come a low tomorrow. I’m the on-call “duty doc” tomorrow, which is Sunday. Sunday is the official sleep-in day and I will miss it. I hope I can maintain my “up” status a little longer. A good long run on the flight deck tomorrow will help matters. Plus, Homer is going to the USS Midway tomorrow to speak with their Senior Medical Officer as part of the turnover of carrier duty in the Gulf of Oman. That means that I’m pretty much free to run the “duty” as I see fit. Which really means… I can wear my shorts down to sick call to see the minor emergencies that come traipsing in throughout the day. Great.
Mike went over to one of the “small boys” (a smaller ship in our battle group) to do a little Q.A. (“Quality Assurance” reviews) on their medical department. Good. I’m glad he got to go. It king of spreads the wealth out a little – it seems as though I’m always the one who gets to go do stuff like that.
I did get to be a flight surgeon today, though. A young pilot from VA-22 – has been having a terrible time lately getting his plane aboard. Last night he had one “wave off” (i.e. the Landing Signal Officer made him abort the landing) and two “bolters” (i.e., failed to catch the hook when trying to land). This is not good. Finally on the fourth pass his A-7’s tail hook caught one of the four wires. Every single “pass” is graded. It’s extremely competitive. Everyone knows everyone’s grades. Everyone knows who’s at the bottom. Well, this young pilot is at the bottom.
I took the time today to have a little chat with him about what was going on in his life. I was trying to find out if there were any other pressures in his life which might be taking his mind off the flying. I really didn’t uncover any.
It’s like a “shooting slump” in basketball, I guess. He just needs to get his rhythm back – his “touch”…before he kills himself and everyone around him. That’s all.
He told me, “This flying is the only game in town.” But I know this is really no game. Really.
I want to briefly mention that the first permanent change in my life since the cruise began has taken place. Vera Wise, a very good friend of mine, and especially Adele, died about two weeks ago. She had colon cancer, so it came as no great surprise. Relief, in a way. Regardless, I’ll never get to talk to her again, ever. This is the first permanent change.
I just realized another reason, probably the most important reason why I buzzed my hair down to fuzz. When I look in the mirror, I see a man whose outward appearance has changed greatly, yet I know that he’s the same man he was before. I see the short hair and although I know it looks funny to me now, it will grow out. That’s hope. That’s confidence. Just like this cruise. This boat surrounds me and changes my appearance. But I’m the same guy I always was – here inside this gray façade. And someday I will grow out of this cruise. That’s hope. When I look in the mirror, I know it’s only a matter of time.
February 15 (0015) Today was a “Holiday Routine,” meaning most people did not have to work very hard today. I, of course, had to suffer through the drudgery of another duty-day. Easily the highlight of the day was the squadron Valentines Day box. The VA-22 wives club had sent a care package filled with candy and presents. Each wife had customized a pair of boxer shorts with embarrassing quotes and slogans. Some even had quasi-lewd pictures drawn on them. And of course, plenty of hearts. It was great. Everyone laughing, trying to guess whose shorts were whose. And there was a piece of paper that all the girls had kissed. We tried to guess whose lips were whose. The winner got a big Hershey’s chocolate kiss.
The best thing about it was that for a few moments I really felt close to Adele. Almost as if she and the wives were in the next room and were going to come in and join the party after the jokes had been played. I’m still on a high. Maybe, just maybe, I’m into the groove. Maybe I’m finally on cruise for real.
(0041) Look what time it is! We just got a call from VA-22. They are sending down a poor misguided fellow for a “confinement physical.” You see, at sea, a Commanding Officer can give someone three days “bread and water” as a punishment. That’s cool; that’s traditional. That also means the duty medical officer has to get up at whatever hour to do the confinement physical. Since the three days is calendar days, they start punishment at midnight so that the unfortunates receive the maximum “benefit” from these sentences.
So what ends up happening is that the medical officer gets less sleep so that the bad boy can get a few more hours of bread and water. Now, let’s look at this logically. The little fella in trouble will be sent to the brig and will sleep until morning anyway – so what’s really accomplished by starting it at midnight? Tradition of the sea.
By the way, the bread is pretty good. One thing they go good on this ship is bread. What a system!
February 15 (1121) Some days are diamond. Some days are stone.
Today is threatening to be a down day. Lots of negatives this morning. Try as I might, I couldn’t scam a hop over to the USS Midway for look see. My flight got cancelled.
Oh, but the positives bring me back. The corpsmen continue to show me respect and I can tell they genuinely like me. The patients today were legitimately in need of medical care and challenged me to think – always a pleasure, especially when the work involves more thinking than charting.
Homer is going to Diego Garcia today with a patient. Strangely, I’m not terribly disappointed he didn’t ask me to go in his place. I’ve settled into somewhat of a routine and I’m enjoying it as best I can. Wait, did I just say “enjoy”? Let’s put it another way. I’m anesthetized. Why wake me up just to put me back to sleep?
Truthfully though, I’d go in a heartbeat.
The USS Midway is on the horizon. In about three months the USS Forestall will be on the horizon. That will be a happy happy happy day. It means we’ll be leaving the Indian Ocean and they’ll be taking our place.
February 16 (1145) After awhile, things can really start to suck. One of the best gauges of my mental state has to be my response to the thunder clap of the catapult seemingly right above my head in my stateroom.
When I’m irritable, the rapidly building machine gun noise from the steel deck culminating in a bone chilling and teeth rattling boom as the catapult hits the end of its track, make me shiver with pain – not unlike someone racing there fingernails down a blackboard a two-hundred decibels. But when I’m flying high, the cat shots are the sound of freedom – or a very least a necessary evil.
Today is FAT TUESDAY. Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Last year, Adele and I were making frequent trips all over the Southeast, including New Orleans. That time seem so near and at the same time incomprehensibly far away.
I’ll bet that a work out will be just the thing to make me feel better. Usually when I’m down, the proper medicine is: exercise, sleep and roughage – in other words, doing something positive for myself.
I’ve begun to come to the understanding that on this ship someone is working hard every second of every day. I don’t have to feel guilty at all if I’m not that person. It’s really important to rest when your rest is due you.
I just finished two books: A Season on the Brink
and Kill as Few Patients as Possible by Oscar London (a pseudonym).
Both I recommend highly.
February 18 (0200) I wonder if the “up” days will outnumber the “neutral” and “down” days combined. Today is an unqualified “up” day. Lots of sun in the non-humid North Arabian Sea air. It feels like we’re in the water just off of So Cal. That’s comforting in a way.
I made a tape of all the married guys in VA-22 today. Adele is hosting the VA-22 wives club meeting on March 7. A video of the boys is always a major hit.
I sure didn’t work too hard today.
(…to be continued)