I was excited to serve our country in the U.S. Air Force during the Viet Nam War. All physicians in those days under the age of thirty years were mandated to serve for at least two years on active duty unless they were physically unfit. I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant during medical school and was gradually promoted to the rank of Captain upon graduation from medical school and completion of a one year internship. Most young doctors went on active duty with the rank of Captain, so the pay and benefits were higher than most other commissioned officers with no active duty experience. I was accepted into the Berry Plan which deferred me for an additional four years to allow me to complete my surgical training. When I entered active duty in August 1969, I had been promoted to Major.
At this stage in our life Cathy and I had a son, John Aaron, and she was pregnant with our first daughter Mary Kay. Our permanent duty station was Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Georgia, and we made plans to move there into a home off-base which her brother George had found for us. I had to first report to Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas for a three weeks temporary duty assignment prior to our move to Georgia. Cathy was in the first trimester of her pregnancy, and the base which was in Wichita Falls would have been hot and very uncomfortable for her and for John. We decided it best for them to spend the time with her parents in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The three weeks assignment was a Basic Training Duty for doctors to prepare all of us for military service and some for their permanent assignment in Viet Nam. I was shocked I was not sent to Viet Nam, because I was a fully trained battle field surgeon based on my four years of training at the famous New Orleans Charity Hospital.
Upon arranging for the Air Force to move our furniture and belongings from our duplex apartment in New Orleans to our new address in Valdosta, Georgia, I put Cathy and John Aaron on a flight to Fort Lauderdale, and I began my new adventure in the military. I drove my Fiat Spyder convertible from Valdosta to Wichita Falls, Texas. They had very nice accommodations for all the doctors in our class, and I was assigned one of the better rooms in the Officer’s Quarters since I was a major amongst mostly captains!
One of our first jobs was to go to the Quartermaster Office to receive our uniforms with our brass, 2 pair of shoes and one very good pair of combat boots. Not many of the new medical officers knew how to properly place the brass on their uniforms and had to sheepishly ask one of the enlisted men to help. Fortunately for me I had taken ROTC in college and knew where to place them, but checked with the Master Sergeant just to be sure I had them correctly positioned. We were told when the boots were issued, we should wear them each morning during marching drill in order to break them in for the three day field bivouac which was scheduled near the end of our training period. We were scheduled for one hour of close order marching each morning at 8 AM before our class room assignments began.
The majority of our basic training was spent in the class room learning military protocol and all the new and somewhat strange military language. Classes began at 9 AM and lasted until 4 PM with a two hour break for lunch at the Officer’s Mess (dining hall). The early morning drill exercise was quite an experience with the three hundred physicians, most of whom had never been taught how to march in close order. I posted an earlier blog on our drill experience entitled, “The US Air Force Medical Corps Boot Camp.”
In the first few days of our class room work I met Bob Parkhurst from Michigan who was assigned to Moody AFB as the base pediatrician. We were excited to get to know each other so soon, because we were to spend the next two years working very closely together providing medical care at our base hospital. Bob was the only pediatrician, and I was the only surgeon on the base.
I noticed an interesting thing at the drill each morning; not all of the men wore their boots for the one hour marching exercise. The weather was very hot in Texas in August, and the boots made the marching more uncomfortable. Many of those who didn’t comply with the Master Sergeant’s recommendation to break in the boots later had regrets.
In the latter part of the last week we were ordered to be on the bus at 8 AM for transport to the field training area which was a one hour bus ride away. Upon getting on the bus Bob Parkhurst sat next to me and said, “These boots are killing my feet!” He said he was one of those who didn’t break in his boots, but they were too tight anyway. He also said, “If I have to wear these for three days, I think I’ll be crippled for life.” It was too late to go back and get a new pair. I told him I thought I could help if he would allow me. He pulled off both boots and gladly handed them to me. I said I had seen patients in New Orleans who were very poor, and the only shoes they owned were too small. They used their pocket knives to make some extra room. I had a very sharp knife, and I made very long cuts down the side of each boot. When he put the boots back on, there was a distinct look of relief on his face and he said, “That makes a huge difference, and I believe I can make it now!” I said I called those cuts “Arkansas Relaxing Incisions.” His feet did look funny with his pinkie toes protruding out the side of his brand new combat boot, but at least he could walk without pain.
A problem concerning the boots occurred very shortly when we had our first and only inspection of the men in our six man tent. The Inspecting Officer Colonel Johnson came to each one of us who were standing at attention and made sure we were dressed properly for the bivouac. He saw Parkhurst’s boots and asked, “Captain Parkhurst, what in the world is going on with your boots?” He told the Colonel, “Sir, when I got on the bus this morning and discovered my boots were way too tight Major Moore graciously put Arkansas relaxing incisions in them, and I can now walk without pain.” The Colonel turned to me and asked, “Major Moore, have you ever done that before?” My reply was, “No sir, This was my first case, and I believe he will live.” The colonel smiled, shook his head and said, “Carry on!” Captain Parkhurst did survive but on returning to the base, he threw those boots with my relaxing incisions into the trash. I should have kept them as a souvenir, because I have never since seen a funnier looking pair of combat boots. I am happy to report Captain Parkhurst sustained no damage to his feet from his bivouac experience, and completed his Air Force duty assignment with no permanent disability.
Not to mention any names because I don’t tattle (not any more) but I recall someone else in our family having that skill as well. I think I might have witnessed *name* making similar cuts in order to get a new pair of tennis shoes. He really loved a new pair of shoes!! 😉
(It’s ok Bubba-I don’t think we can get grounded anymore!)
I too have a funny boot story from the Vietnam War era. I was an enlisted man sent to Fort Gordon Georgia for Basic Training in the U.S. Army. At the induction center my bunkmate was another soldier from Arkansas by the name of Muldrew. After our G.I. haircuts the next thing we did was receive our military clothing issue which includes two sets of black army boots. We were instructed to change boots each day to get them broken in. They put a dab of white paint on the heels of one set of boots so they could make sure we were changing boots each day. We also had to paint our names in the boots in case we stepped on a landmine and blew off a leg they could match up the body parts. Right away I notice my boots hurt my feet but I was told not to worry about it in a few days they would be broken in and all would be right with the world. Muldrew and I were sent to different units for basic training. One day our unit was getting out of a training class when I saw Muldrew coming in with his unit for the next class. When Muldrew saw me he came running up to me and shouted, “You have one of my boots”. It seems we had mixed our boots up under our bunk at the induction center. I had one of his 10 1/2s and he had one of my number 11s. No wonder foot hurt. That night we exchanged boots and had a big laugh about the mix up. We had another laugh when we thought what if one of us had lost a leg and when they tried to match the body parts when we had on one the wrong boots. Muldrew was black and I’m white.
The rest of the story: Muldrew was afraid of flying. He was sent to Vietnam as a machine gunner in a helicopter. He survived the war took a bus back from California when he was discharged. He said he would never get in another airplane.
Great story Vance. Wouldn’t you love to know where Muldrew lives now if he is still alive. I would love to sit and listen to you two exchanging tales from those days. Blessings to you and thanks for reading the blog.