The Nurses and Staff of My VA Hospital
By William Perry, Navy
Writing Type: Prose
By William Perry
One December in the late 1960’s, my Navy P-3 squadron deployed to Adak, Alaska, a naval air station on a small island about half way out the Aleutian chain between Anchorage and the Soviet Union. For the next six months we would fly out of there in some of the most hazardous flying conditions imaginable: icy runways, 70-knot crosswinds, minimal visibility and no nearby alternate airfield.
We had been there less than a week when our duty officer received a mysterious phone call seeking a favor.
“Would you ask your doctor to come down to our boat in the harbor and look at two of our men?” the voice asked. “Oh, and please don’t tell the Navy brass.”
We did indeed deploy with our own doctor, in this case a burly young physician just out of med school. He agreed to go down to Adak’s harbor to see what was up.
Besides being a base for reconnaissance flights along the Soviet coast, Adak also had a dock area that allowed a small civilian factory vessel from San Diego to tie up there. Its workers caught and processed the delicious and highly valued Alaska king crab. The crew seemed made up of about 10 young American couples. The men were involved in catching the crustaceans, and the women then processed them into long, frozen blocks of pure sweet crab meat.
As can be imagined with 20 young women and men living in very close quarters in terrible weather and with few leisure activities, there was some hanky-panky going on. As a result, there had evidently been a knife fight between two husbands. The reason for the mysterious phone call was that they badly needed a doctor to come down and sew up the resulting wounds. Fortunately, our doc was willing to stitch them up without telling the base commander, who probably would have thrown the boat out of the harbor.
As a result of this secret good deed, for the next six months of our deployment, all we had to do was call a certain phone number, and within a short time a 30-pound block of choice frozen crab meat would magically appear at the designated door in our quarters.
Much of the sweet, tasty meat went to our galley, but a surprising amount was consumed by individuals at late night, post-flight poker games. Delicious!
The only problem was that the melted butter for dipping made its way onto our fingers and then the cards, making them difficult to shuffle and deal. We had to replace the decks frequently, but as with the dangerous flying, we were able to endure that challenge with quiet bravery.