U.S. Air Force Medical Corps Boot Camp

Major Moore

Major John H. Moore 1969

During the years of my medical training in the 1960’s the United States was involved in very serious foreign engagements which could have escalated into global nuclear conflicts. The Cuban Missile Crisis occurred in 1962 when I was a sophomore in medical school, and for thirteen days the nation was on the brink of all-out war with Russia. We had advisory troops already in Viet Nam and the situation there escalated into a full military engagement before the end of that decade. The consequences those engagements had on the medical profession was all able-bodied doctors just out of training were subject to drafting into active military duty. It was much better for us to enlist in the military and complete our service requirement early on rather than begin a medical practice and wait to be drafted.

I enlisted in the US Air Force in 1960 when I was a freshman student in medical school with the understanding I would go on active duty when my medical training was completed. I was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant, and the further I progressed in training the Air Force promoted me in rank. At the completion of surgical training I had been promoted to Captain, and when I finally received my orders to serve in 1969, I was promoted to the rank of Major.

The promotions were made quickly in the medical corps so the salaries offered by the military would be somewhat comparable to a physician entering private practice with that level of training. The photo above was taken during my week of orientation upon reporting for active duty. The serious and almost sinister look on my face should have been enough to scare all enemies of the state to surrender unconditionally! Perhaps through a military error the Vietnamese never saw this particular photograph.

My initial military experience began at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas where I began a temporary assignment of three weeks training at the Medical Services School. Cathy was unable to accompany me, because she was four months pregnant with our second child Mary Kay. She spent the three weeks with her family in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. There were three hundred other doctors in my class, and the majority of them had no military experience. I had two years of ROTC in college, so at least I knew how to put the insignias on the uniform and knew the proper protocol for saluting a superior officer and returning the salute of a soldier with inferior rank.

Our training consisted of mostly classroom lectures on military history, military protocol and our particular medical responsibilities both in the US and in the war zone. Every morning before classes we were taken to a practice ground and taught how to align and take marching orders. We practiced marching for at least an hour each day.  My ROTC experience was most valuable for this part of our training. These 3 weeks were during the month of August, and the Texas sun made for a very hot hour of marching even though we began at 8 AM. The culmination of all of this training on the practice grounds was to occur on our last day there. There was to be a grand march around the formal base parade grounds past an official reviewing stand of high-ranking officers of the base.

The parade and review was to begin at 9 AM, and we were ordered to gather at 8:45 in order to get properly aligned and prepared. We were to align behind the official marching band of the base, which consisted of approximately one hundred band members. It was going to be an impressive show for the dignitaries of the base watching the band of one hundred followed by three hundred marching doctors! The commander for our marching group was selected not for his marching skills, but because he was the tallest doctor among the Majors. There were approximately seventy-five Majors and the remainder were Captains. There was one Major taller than I, and I was greatly relieved he was one inch taller. He had no experience in commanding marching men except for one practice run the previous day.

Our commander was told when the band struck up their marching tune he was to give the order “Forward march,” and we were to follow the band around the parade ground and past the reviewing stand. Sounded pretty simple and straight-forward. The officers present on the reviewing stand included the Wing Commander who was a Brigadier General, the Base Commander who was a Colonel and a group of at least 4 other officers who were either Colonels or Lieutenant Colonels. They all seemed proud this was the largest class of physicians to graduate from the Medical Services School at Sheppard AFB.

The program began promptly at 9 AM with the raising of the flag in the center of the field and playing the National Anthem while we all saluted. That was enough to make this a memorable service. But the best was yet to come! A Master Sergeant who had been assisting us with our marching training alerted our commander to “remember to follow the band.” With his eyes on his troops and listening to the band’s prompt, he waited for the music to begin. What he was not aware because he was not watching the band was the band had an introductory phrase to their marching tune and at the end of that phrase, the band was to begin marching. When our commander heard that introductory phrase he loudly gave the order to the medical corps, “Forward March!” With this order, approximately one half of the marching doctors marched right up into the midst of the band who had not yet moved. I was in the one half of the group within the band, so I saw what took place next. The trombone player’s slide caught the hat of the man ahead of me and knocked it off spinning between the legs of the band members. The astonished trombonist stopped playing while the hat-less doctor scrambled between legs to retrieve his hat which was rolling by this time. The band stopped playing and our commander screamed, “Stop,”  thus losing all sense of military protocol.  The commander then gave the order, “About face,” at the urging of the Master Sergeant. I was well-aware of the principle when an order is given, it is to be obeyed whether it is the correct order or not. I am convinced the right thing was for the band to begin marching forward to untangle this mess. Approximately one half the doctors thought the same, and they didn’t move when the about-face order was given, but the other half obeyed the order. Now there is a situation where about one hundred doctors are facing each other. The commander tried again and gave the order, “About Face,” which everyone then obeyed, and there are still doctors facing doctors. In total exasperation, the commander screamed out, “Get the h–l back where you are supposed to be!” We quickly walked back to our original position and held still. I took a quick glance at the reviewing stand and saw all of the general officers either laughing or with their head bowed down into cupped hands. I feel certain they had never seen anything like this fiasco. The remainder of the marching review went without incident and was really very impressive and awe-inspiring.

At a reception in the evening for the graduates hosted by the general staff all of the generals and colonels were having a good time laughing and recounting the morning’s review. I overheard one of them remark, “Well, what more could you expect from three hundred  intelligent doctors without a lick of military sense!” I was just grateful our training was over, and I got to be part of a “Gomer Pyle” event.

Dr. John


Remembrance of “Slow Drag”

Acide "Slow Drag" Pavageau

Acide “Slow Drag” Pavageau

For over one hundred and seventy-five years Charity Hospital of New Orleans was one of the premier hospitals in the country. Free medical care was provided there for any resident in the New Orleans area who couldn’t afford care in a private hospital. In addition Charity Hospital was the primary teaching hospital for LSU  and Tulane Medical Schools. Pop took his post-graduate training there in the mid 1930’s, and because he told me so many stories of his experiences I set my sights on also training at Charity Hospital.

I began my surgical residency in 1965 the month before Cathy and I were married, and we spent the next four years living in New Orleans. I was thrilled to have been accepted into the LSU Surgical program, and although we are both loyal Razorback fans, the LSU program was much better suited to me than Tulane. We had to tolerate a considerable amount of ribbing from loyal LSU fans, but I suppose we dispensed about as much competitive guff as we received!

In any residency training the younger surgeons are given progressively more authority and opportunities as their judgement and surgical experience increases. By the time one enters the third year of training he becomes the primary surgeon on a surgical ward which consisted of about twenty-five patients. As a senior resident (third and fourth year) he does the more complicated procedures such as gall bladder and cancer surgery and delegates the less complicated procedures such as hernia repairs and amputations to the junior residents (first and second year). Because Charity Hospital served both the LSU and Tulane Medical schools patients who were designated as emergency admissions were admitted to the LSU service every other night. This system of emergency admissions worked well most of the time, but there were a few instances when the system broke down. If a patient had an undesirable problem, or if he was a particularly undesirable person the emergency physician on the Tulane service might give that individual some medications to temporarily help and say to him, “Be sure to return tomorrow so we can see if you are making progress.” I always considered the LSU admitting doctors to be more compassionate and did not “slough patients” as this practice was called.

When I was in the middle of my third year a particular patient with a tumor in his stomach was admitted to my ward. His name caught my attention because he had a distinct Cajun name, Alcide Pavageau. Because Mr. Pavageau had suffered a twenty-five pound weight loss over the previous several months the diagnosis was likely cancer of the stomach. Following appropriate pre-operative testing he needed an operation as soon as it was safe.

He was a kindly looking Black American with gray hair and had a quiet and humble personality. His conversation was well-seasoned with “yas sir, naw sir, please and thank you” which attracted me greatly to his sweet spirit. He was scheduled for an operation within a week of admission, and as the operating surgeon I indeed found a large cancer in his stomach which I successfully removed and reconnected his alimentary tract.

On the afternoon of his operation I received a page from the hospital operator, and she had a physician from Minneapolis on the phone who wanted to speak with me. I knew no doctors in Minneapolis and was curious why he specifically asked for me so I took the call. After he identified himself he asked if I was the surgeon who operated on “Slow Drag” and just how was he doing. I told him I was not aware of any patient named Slow Drag. He said this was the nickname everyone called Alcide Pavageau. I said I was indeed the correct surgeon, and I gave him the information he desired thinking he was a friend of Slow Drag. He said he only knew him by reputation and had heard him play on just a few occasions. He told me Slow Drag was one of the most famous bass players of Dixieland music, and was so great he was in the Dixieland Music Hall of Fame. Alcide had never told me about his musical expertise, nor did he say his nickname was Slow Drag.

Slow Drag had played with some of the most famous Dixieland bands in the country and in his latter years played in the Preservation Hall in the French Quarters. I loved going there, and on several occasions Cathy and I would sit and listen because it was free and the atmosphere was like a large jam session. On one occasion I was challenged to join the band on a number and briefly played the banjo for my one and only Dixieland gig. I don’t believe Slow Drag was there that evening, at least I didn’t remember him.

When Slow Drag began recovering from his operation we had many opportunities to discuss his music and career which was fascinating. He had a family member bring some photos of his playing and several of the bands with which he had played through the years. I should have gotten his autograph but wasn’t thinking about that sort of thing then. I lost contact with Alcide but read he had lived about one more year before dying with advanced metastatic cancer. I regret I never inquired about his spiritual condition and where he believed he would spend eternity. I was not a believer and such things were not important to me then. As kind and sweet as he was I believe he must have known Jesus Christ as his Savior.

Fifteen years later after Cathy and I had moved to El Dorado the Preservation Hall Band from New Orleans was on tour and played a one night concert there which we attended at the Municipal auditorium. I didn’t recognize any of the names on the program but several faces looked familiar. When the concert was over I decided to go back stage and inquire if any of them remembered Slow Drag. The trombone player who was called “Frog” approached me and asked, “May I help you?” I said, “I want to thank you all for such a good concert. Do you remember Slow Drag because I was his doctor who operated on him fifteen years ago?” He hollered to all the band members, ” Come meet this man. He was Slow Drag’s doctor!” For at least ten minutes I reminisced with them what a wonderful man and musician ole’ Slow Drag had been. It was a sweet time, and I was thankful to the Lord I had known him. Since those days in New Orleans both Cathy and I have become Christians, and  I believe I will see Slow Drag again in heaven. Perhaps I’ll get to play in another Dixieland gig with him!

Dr. John


Huey Long’s Final Operation


Huey P. Long

Huey P. Long

Huey P. Long was a well-known political figure in Louisiana during the 1920’s and 1930’s. A gifted attorney from Winnfield in Northern Louisiana, he rose to power as governor for 2 terms and built such a support base he was elected to the United States Senate. Huey who was called “The Kingfish,” made himself known as champion of the common man and had such an impact on the lives of so many Louisianans he is still well-remembered. He became so popular nationally many considered him a serious rival of Franklin D. Roosevelt for the presidency.

When Cathy and I moved to New Orleans in 1965 to begin my training at Charity Hospital, I became more familiar with the extent of Huey’s influence. Charity Hospital with its’ 3000 beds was arguably the largest hospital in the country comparing it to Cook County Hospital in Chicago and Los Angeles County General Hospital. Huey’s political influence during his reign as governor reached deep into the fabric of this state-funded hospital and into medical training in the state. Charity was flanked on either side by Tulane University Medical School and LSU Medical School, and was the major teaching hospital for both schools. When LSU Medical School was funded and built in 1931 under the leadership of Huey, the first Dean of the school appointed was Dr. Arthur Vidrine who was formerly the Superintendent of Charity, and he happened to be Huey’s personal physician. Huey also named Dr. Urban Maes, a prominent New Orleans surgeon as Chief of Surgery at LSU with the stipulation and understanding by Huey that he would exert no more political interference in the school.

Throughout my 4 years of training I was tutored by some outstanding surgeons on the faculty and also a few men who were in private practice in New Orleans.One of those men was Dr. James D. Rives who had retired as Chairman of the LSU Surgical Department in 1962, three years prior to my arrival. He was immediately named Professor Emeritus and was always present at our weekly resident’s conference held in Miles amphitheater at Charity Hospital. This conference was called “The Bull Pen,” and could be an intimidating experience for young junior residents. Dr. Rives had a quiet and calming demeanor which was in sharp contrast to some of the professors, whose icy stares and impossible questions kept the resident’s anxiety level near 10 (on a scale of 1-10)! For some reason Dr. Rives was especially kind to me and took extra time engaging me in private conversations which greatly encouraged me. He knew I was planning to return to Arkansas to have a private practice in a rural setting. He said that his goal in training surgeons when he was the Chairman was to produce more surgeons in private practice rather than the more academic surgeons who would remain in the large medical centers.

Some of my most memorable experiences in New Orleans occurred as I became a senior resident and was privileged to assist some of the attending surgeons with their private practice cases. At that point, I had developed greater confidence and skills which were beneficial to those surgeons in their more difficult cases. Since it was forbidden for us to receive remuneration for work outside of Charity Hospital, it was also cost-effective for the surgeons to have us assist them. Dr. Rives was in his 70’s in age at the time, but was still doing a few surgical cases, mostly hernia repairs. Whenever he operated at Touro Infirmary, he would contact me to assist him during those 2 years. I couldn’t wait to help him because he was an excellent teacher and I loved hearing all his stories from the past.

One of his best stories concerned the operation done on Huey Long when he was wounded in an attempted assassination in 1935. Senator Long was confronted at the state capitol in Baton Rouge by a disgruntled physician, who after some heated words pulled a small-caliber pistol and fired 2 shots, one of which struck the senator in the abdomen. He was immediately transported by auto to Our Lady of the Lake Hospital and his physicians were called. Dr. Vidrine happened to be in Baton Rouge and assumed primary care of the wounded senator. A call was made to New Orleans to summon Dr. Maes to come quickly when it was determined that an abdominal operation was needed. Dr. Rives accompanied Dr. Maes to assist him with the procedure. Initially they were scheduled to fly in a chartered plane, but decided that they could make the 80 mile trip faster by driving. Unfortunately, they had a flat tire which delayed their arrival by about 3 hours.

Unaware of the causes for the delay of the surgeons, Dr. Vidrine made the medical decision to proceed with the operation without their assistance. At operation, he found 2 small holes in the large intestine which he quickly repaired, and some additional bleeding in the region of the kidney which had seemingly stopped, so no other repair was done. Just as he closed the abdominal incision, the surgeons arrived and inquired of the findings and the procedure. Dr. Vidrine had failed to place a urinary catheter and later when that was done, blood was found in the urine indicating a kidney injury. By this time it was unsafe to re-operate, but instead to give him blood transfusions and hope for stabilization. Since the surgeons were no longer needed and the time was about 2 am, both Dr. Maes and Rives returned to New Orleans. Huey’s condition deteriorated slowly throughout the next day and despite all medical efforts he died in the early morning, 31 hours after the injury.

I heard Dr. Rives tell this story on several occasions and he usually stated, “I always wondered what the political outcome for Louisiana and the country would have been had we not experienced that flat tire on the Old River Road, and Dr. Maes were able to operate on Huey to repair the fairly simple kidney injury.” This was surely a case in which history was altered by the lack of integrity of a rubber tire. One must never forget the sovereignty of God who could have prevented that tire from ever going flat. The ever-present question of “Why?” will one day be answered when God makes known His eternal purposes which are always perfect.

Dr. John