During the West Pac of 1972-73, we had a Chief HM (Hospital Corpsman) on board by the name of “Doc” Whitaker. Doc was a moderately large black man about 6’2” or so, weighing in at about 230 pounds and was the only corpsman on the boat. The two biggest problems that Doc had to deal with while stationed on the Sailfish (especially while on deployment to the Orient) were gonorrhea and syphilis. No matter how many times Doc showed the crew all those gonorrhea and syphilis (VD) movies before pulling into port, it never failed,…. once the boat would leave port there was always a line of guys, pants at half-mast just waiting their turn to get a dose or two of penicillin in the back-side through an extremely dull 12” long hypodermic needle.
I believed Doc enjoyed using the dullest needles in his “Doc” kit while poking us all in the back side – kinda his way of trying to punish everyone for not heeding to the visual messages of the movies he’d show in the crews mess before the evening meal – not to mention his warnings to refrain from the so called social activities on the beach that could eventually land any one of us a starring role in one of his upcoming VD movie sequels.
The one thing however that Doc just couldn’t understand was why so many of the crew were needing VD shots when his on board supply of condoms were continually being diminished, but that’s another story.
There was this one time in particular after Doc finished showing his VD movies that made Sailfish history……..
About half way through our ’72-’73 West Pac cruise, the boat was due to pull into Pusan Korea and according to the Doc, the VD rate there was one of the highest in the Orient. (I’m not sure why, but Doc always said that same thing no matter what port we pulled into.) Anyway, he shows all of us his movies again in the After Battery Crews Mess and stressed the fact that when going ashore that we should NOT: 1) Drink the water, 2) Eat anything off ‘carts’, or 3) Have sex with anyone while on liberty. (The water part wasn’t a problem since no one drank water anyway). He would then go on to mention how many crew members had to have vaccinations after leaving the various ports throughout the West Pac cruise thus far, and it was most important that we heed his advice or else we too would develop symptoms as graphic as the ones seen in his movies.
As Ronnie Slack, Russ “Bogie” Bogar, and I were sitting together at one of the four small tables in the crews mess watching (we swore for the billionth time) these stupid VD movies that Doc always made everyone watch just before the evening meal on the night before pulling into port, Ronnie says something like “We gotta do something about this VD movie sh*t! Doc’s always showing these friggin’ movies right before the evening meal!”
That evening, it just so happened that Ben “Smitty” Smith was chopping up chickens for an evening meal of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, biscuits and gravy. Bogie says, “Yep, one of Doc’s favorite meals tonight – Fried Chicken! He’s probably tryin’ to get everyone sick so he’ll have more to eat himself! Hey, I got an idea…..” A plan was then ‘hatched’ so to speak………
When the movies were finished, Ronnie goes into the galley and has Smitty give him a freshly cut chicken leg which he stuffs down into his button up dungarees. Ronnie then goes up to the Doc holding his crotch and says something like “Doc, I think I might need to show you something.”
“OK Ron, I’ll see you in the after battery head area in just a few minutes. Just wait for me back there.” Said the Doc.
Ronnie then heads back to the after battery head area, goes into one of the sh*tter stalls, shuts the stainless steel privacy door and waits……..
Waiting for the crews mess area to clear out a little, Bogie and I approach Doc and pull him aside and whisper something like “Doc, we think your movies may have helped Ronnie realize that he might need to see you. He’s been suffering for a few weeks now and is a bit ashamed, embarrassed, and afraid. We’re the only two on board that knows what’s going on with him, and we’re afraid he’s developed something pretty bad. We’ve tried telling Ronnie early on that he needed to come see you but we think he’s a bit embarrassed.” Bogie and I could immediately see the concern building in Doc Whitakers eyes.
“I told him that I’d meet him aft in the head area once I got things cleaned up here. Come to mention it, he wasn’t looking too good when he spoke to me a few minutes ago.” He said.
So Bogie and I head back with the Doc to the sh*tter stall that Ronnie’s got occupied. About this time a small group of onlookers start to conjugate around the head area because they pretty much know that something’s going on……. especially when they hear the Doc say something like “Ronnie, you in there son? Come on now, answer me. You got nothing to be ashamed of.” Upon saying this, the small head area of the after battery becomes ‘Standing Room Only’ as the Doc continues to coerce Ronnie into opening the sh*tter stall door. Doc continues on with “Everybody stand back! Ain’t nothin’ goin on here! Go on, git away now! Ronnie, open the door now….. Everything’s OK..”
As Ronnie opens the metal door to the sh*tter stall, all Doc saw was poor Ronnie standing there, three of the buttons on his dungaree bottoms undone and his right hand down inside his britches apparently trying to hide his embarrassment. Ronnie looks up, and with a sad and embarrassed tone of voice says “Damn you two guys. I thought you were my friends!”
Doc immediately piped in and said something like “Ronnie, we’re all shipmates here, don’t go getting upset with Lanny or Bogie! They’re just concerned and worried about you!” He went on saying “Come on now Ronnie, don’t be embarrassed to show me. Remember, I’m a Doc and I’ve seen much worse and I’m here to help. Come on now son, show me,… let me see…”
You could see the wheels spinning in Ronnie’s head – just waiting for the ‘right’ instant…… And…… When that instant hit, Ronnie slowly pushes the chopped off “fat and meaty” end of that chicken leg that had little specks of blood on the bone and was partially covered with a few chards of white chicken skin hanging down around it through the opening in his dungarees. As he continued to push a little more of that chicken leg out, you could see the whites of ‘ol Doc Whitakers eyes get as big as silver dollars! With his jaw dropped down just below the shiny brass belt buckle that held up his tan kakis, all he kept muttering was “A duh… a duh…. A duh….” Within seconds, Ronnie then pushes the chicken leg out of his dungarees and it falls to the deck with a ‘thump’. The Doc then,…… realizing what had just taken place stands there and says, “Whah,……… Whah,……… That’s a Gah-Damn Chicken Leg!!” He then got really pissed and stomped off through the After Battery berthing area muttering something about “VD, a chicken leg, torpedomen, enginemen, disease, and a$$-holes”. Don’t think I remember seeing Doc at the evening meal that night. Surprising – especially knowing that “Fried Chicken” was one of his favorite meals…….
Needless to say, Doc Whitaker never showed his VD movies again for the remainder of that cruise. Once we got back to the states, I believe he transferred to another duty station. My guess, to one somewhere far, far away where terms like “Torpedomen, Engineman, VD, and Chicken Legs” were never used together in the same sentence.