Tinker-Tailor, Surgeon-Sailor, Part 1 of a series.
First-person history of a “ship’s Doc” in between wars.
When is the moment that a young student of medicine becomes a “real doctor”?
[It is not when the medical school or The U.S. Navy say you are.
It happens some time later.]
The day I had to put on my big boy surgical pants was twenty months after the date on my diploma and eight months after The U. S. Navy told the World that I was a ship’s surgeon.
On June 5, 1960 The Dean of The University handed me a diploma with beautifully hand drawn calligraphy on sheepskin, declaring that Charles Clanton Rogers was a Doctor of Medicine.
Even more remarkedly, I had been examined by The Arkansas State Medical Board months before graduation and The Board declared to all of the citizens of Arkansas that I was a licenced physician and surgeon [And that I could legally operate on them if they would let me!]
July 1961 the U.S. NAVY put an Officer’s Hat on me [and a Naval Officer’s Sword?] and told all of the sailors that I was: “An Officer and a Gentleman” and [whenever the Navy wished], a ship’s surgeon!
In the Fall and Winter of 1961-1962., I was a “runny-nose” doctor for sailor’s children doing things like well baby clinic and pre-school physicals.
In February 1962, Captain “Hi” Nordstom, my senior medical officer called me into his office. (“Hi”, an MD-flight surgeon’s high achievement was that he was the first medical officer to have flown a jet fighter faster than the speed of sound) So they made him a Top Doctor.
“Hi” told me that the Navy had a dangerous mission which required a ship’s surgeon and that I would be it on THE USS LST 901 within forty-eight hours. This is a small ship with a small crew and except for this mission, it did not rate having a medical officer on board. [And let me say here, That they had made almost no preparation to provide the requirements of Surgery.] Also, the ship usually did not carry a helicopter but one had been assigned and since it was dangerous to attempt to land a helicopter on an LST, they needed me to handle the injuries.
You might think that this picture would illustrate me repairing the injuries of a helicopter crash; bright surgical light, at least one surgical assistant, an anesthesiologist, a scrub nurse, blood bank for transfusion, etc.:
If you are going to be a “Sailor-Surgeon” you want to have completed a residency in Surgery (I had not) and [should] be ordered to a modern Naval ship. To fully appreciate this story, I must show you around the purpose, design, and architecture of some naval war vessels. (You must keep in mind that the mission of the Navy is to go to War; not to practice traditional medical care.)
This is a Modern U S Navy Ship. 1,092 ft long (332.8 m- >three football fields joined together). The displacement is 101,000 long tons (103,000 tons). The beam reaches a length of 252 ft (76.8 m). The draught (max navigational) is 37 ft (11.3 m). It, like other proper sea-going vessels, has a keel (for stability)
This is is a sea-going vessel which is technically a “Ship” because it is too big to be called a “boat”.It is 382 ft. long.
So an LST is roughly the length of a football field (and almost as flat), and four percent its size in tonnage as the aircraft carrier. The LST was designed in England at the beginning of The Second World War.
The British evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940 demonstrated to the Admiralty that the Allies needed relatively large, ocean-going ships that could handle shore-to-shore delivery of tanks and other vehicles in amphibious assaults upon the continent of Europe. As an interim measure, three 4,000- to 4,800-GRT tankers, built to pass over the restrictive bars of Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela, were selected for conversion because of their shallow draft. Bow doors and ramps were added to these ships, which became the first tank landing ships, “LST (1)”: HMS Misoa, Tasajera and Bachaquero. They later proved their worth during the invasion of Algeria in 1942, but their bluff bows made for inadequate speed. After one night on an LST, this my schematic illustrating that BOAT!
“Rub-a-dub-dun, Three men in a tub! And how do you think they got there?”
The LST was one of the most single-purpose boats [I know, it’s called, a ship] BOAT, that ever got wet. It had one purpose: to be able to grounded on a beach in order that tanks and heavy trucks could drive on to dry ground without a dock. This is a one-trick pony. To do its one trick, it must do without the structure ships have had at least since the Vikings: The Keel.
Now, the stage is set for the young doctor’s initiation.”Forty-eight hours after receiving my orders from “Hi”:
“Request permission to come aboard sir, to report for duty.”
Charles Clanton Rogers, MD January 6, 2016
landing ship, tank
 The first-built LST design was HMS Boxer. It was a scaled-down design from ideas penned by Prime Minister Winston Churchill. In order that it could carry 13 Churchill infantry tanks, 27 other vehicles and nearly 200 men (in addition to the crew) at a speed of 18 knots, it could not have a shallow draught sufficient for easy unloading. As a result, each of the three (Boxer, Bruiser, and Thruster) ordered in March 1941 had a very long ramp stowed behind the bow doors.