University of Minnesota

“If It Isn’t Fun.” – Key West Naval Hospital

On completion of pre-medical credit requirements at the University of Miami, I was reassigned, happily, to medical training from deck officer status and transferred to active duty at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Key West to await an opening in one of the schools of my choice, Emory, Duke, or Tulane. The transfer order from Tulane had arrived in a timely fashion but I was not informed of it until some months later in Key West. On that sweating, teeming island, my colleagues and I were threatened daily by our Regular Navy superiors with being shipped out to the South Pacific if we accumulated an ill-defined number of demerits for minor infractions. They somehow found our small group of V-12 trainees an anathema, on hold as we were for officer training and medical school.

Eventually, the physical and emotional stress of the threats and of our menial jobs began to wear us down. Promotion to hospital corpsman responsibilities was out of the question. We mopped “heads” endlessly, cleaned up after autopsies, carried hundred-pound flour or sugar sacks from the commissary, and ran morning call at the VD clinic. The tension seeped into my letters home.

Relief came for me when the fateful acceptance letter from Tulane University School of Medicine was at long last delivered, an event recorded in my Navy journal:

November 2, 1944 Journal

I have to write down in detail what has just happened here in Key West. By 10:00 hours this morning, the sickening sick call at VD clinic and my slide preps were completed. I managed to get down some breakfast in the mess hall and returned to the hospital lab. There I was preoccupied with boiling a rack of urines in routine tests for protein when a buddy from the mail room walks in. He looks me squarely in the eye, smiling weirdly, and, without a word, drops a letter on my lab. bench. I see that the letter is addressed to me at the University of Miami V-12 Unit, from whence I had been transferred weeks before. Then I note the printed return address: Dean of Admissions, School of Medicine, Tulane University, 1530 Tulane Ave., New Orleans, Louisiana. The envelope was already neatly slit open.

*Insert foto OTT/48: Withheld Letter of Acceptance to Tulane Medical School

I unfolded the form letter and read: “We are happy to inform you that you are accepted to Tulane University School of Medicine, academic class of 1944. Please report for duty on November 4th, for your preliminary medical examination, at 3212 Tulane Ave., New Orleans La.,” and so on, with a list of Navy personnel order numbers and travel instructions.

I threw down the whole rack of urine tubes and grabbed the WAVE technician and waltzed her around the lab. In a blind, giddy, unbelieving  madness, I ran to the officer-of-the-day to find out how soon he could cut my orders and get me on a transport plane for Miami and New Orleans. Within an hour my duffel was packed and I was at the Key West Naval Air Base, calling my father in Miami from a coin phone.

There were few formalities getting on the Navy transport plane in Key West. The executive officer had already prepared my orders; I was on the way. On boarding, I wondered how he could have made up my travel orders in so short a time. Then I took out the letter from Tulane and saw that it was dated June 3rd. It had been opened, months before, by the executive officer himself!

At that moment, I couldn’t even be angry at those petty folks who had, for whatever reason, withheld my admission letter from medical school, my ticket out of the inferno, my passport to a rosy future.

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