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 30 years were mandated to serve for at least 2 years on active duty unless they were physically unfit. I was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant during medical school and was gradually promoted to the rank of Captain upon graduation from medical school and then completion of a 1 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 4 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 3 week 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 uncomfortable for her and for John. We decided it best for them to spend that time with her parents in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The 3 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 4 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 3 day field bivouac which was scheduled near the end of our training period. We were scheduled for 1 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 2 hour break for lunch at the Officer’s Mess (dining hall). The early morning drill exercise was quite an experience with the 300 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 2 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 1 hour marching exercise. The weather was 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 1 hour bus ride away. Upon getting on the bus Bob Parkhurst sat next to me and said this, “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 3 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 let me. He pulled off both boots and 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 from his brand new combat boot, but at least he could walk with no pain.
A problem concerning the boots occurred very shortly when we had our first and only inspection of the men in our 6 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.