A doctor, in or out of the military, is called on to make life or death
decisions. Many decisions are immediate. Delayed decisions mean death.
Some decisions mean death anyway, despite their best effort. They are
then called on to be the first to inform distraught loved ones. After
it's too late to change anything, the decisions are reviewed by higher
authority. These are the same responsibilities a Commanding Officer
This kind of responsibility is warranted by extensive medical training,
medical experience, and medical testing. This level of responsibility
deserves and requires a senior military rank. However, new doctors don't
have the military experience or know the camaraderie other officers of
their rank enjoy.
Our Corpsman was assigned to my department when I was Navigator. He was
a new, young petty officer. His rank was granted because of his medical
training and responsibility. He was the sole medical authority on our
ship. He had no military experience beyond what a seaman would have, and
had never been on a ship before. He did have the right attitude. This
was the job he always wanted to do.
A new Navy doctor arrived onboard for several months temporary duty.
He was a Lieutenant Commander, the same rank as our Executive Officer,
but had never been on a ship before. His arrival was a surprise to our
Commanding Officer, who spoke with the doctor briefly, and introduced him
to our young Corpsman. It was a surprise to me also. I first saw the
doctor with the young Corpsman, mopping the floor. This made them the
butt of jokes and derision that quickly turned ugly.
Feelings are very important. Courage is a feeling. Hate and fear are
feelings. Words can't express how I feel about what Tony did, and he
did it because of his feelings. Jokes and derision
do nothing good, and they destroy good feelings, like "This was the job
he always wanted to do."
I spent the afternoon talking with the doctor and the Corpsman about our
ship, and crew. They decided how best to end the derision. The doctor
told the officers everyone should blame him, because he had never been on
a ship before, and not ridicule the young Corpsman in any way. The
Corpsman told the Master Chief everyone should blame him, because he had
never been on a ship before, and not ridicule the doctor in any way. It
ended well, but it could have easily become very ugly.
In another incident, described later, a young seaman was being ridiculed by
his shipmates because he attempted suicide. A Marine officer said "Marines
are better than that, or they would follow orders if necessary." I look
forward to the day when we are all better than that.
Since the first good man gave his life, just to save mine, I am immune from
hate. It was so simple, really, and unexpected. He just said "I can't let
you do it (the job) because you're the only guy onboard with good ideas. We
still need you, if this one doesn't work." He arranged for two more guys to
be there, just to drag me away. Afterward, he was offered strong medications
for pain, for sleep, even for death. He refused them all, just so he could
tell me he was still really happy he did it (the job), before he died. He
said I taught him about "love". I would have called it "courage". Minutes
later, he was dead. He was EM1 Anthony B. Nelson. To us, "Tony". You only
have to read Ernie Pyle, or Theodore White, or Winston Churchill, to find such
uncommon courage was a common virtue in earlier generations. Men of courage
are always cheerful, and help one another, even in the most horrible of
That's what I remember from my horrible experiences. Not hate.
In the hope it might someday be useful, I wrote everything down.
See start .