DVIDS – News – Coral Sea battle to stop COVID – Navy medicine continues


It was an old photo album, filled with sepia images, depicting a world at war that completely fascinated the mind’s eye.

The Faded Photographs Album belonged to an uncle, who helped me raise myself and vividly illustrated his time as a member of the United States Navy Hospital Corps during World War II.

To sum up his career in naval medicine, he went from pan to fire, involved in two pivotal campaigns that each helped turn the tide at the Pacific Theater. Meanwhile – nearly 80 years ago – there is a correlation with naval medicine today in preparation for tomorrow.

It was just months after Imperial Japanese forces launched a devastating attack on Pearl Harbor, defeated American troops in the Philippines, invaded the Dutch in the East Indies, and overwhelmed the British in Hong Kong and Singapore in Malaysia and Burma. . The whole of the South Pacific was owned by the Imperial Japanese Navy and they were in breach. A Japanese task force, assembled by three aircraft carriers, advanced in force to claim the Allied air base at Port Mosby, New Guinea, in order to strengthen their air, sea and land superiority over the ‘Australia.

US Task Force 17, which included the aircraft carriers USS Lexington and USS Yorktown, did everything to prevent them from taking such an advantage. My uncle – Paul Burgner – was on the “Lady Lex”, as the old flattop was affectionately called by the crew. It also became a frying pan.

Unbeknownst to them, they were set to be part of a naval premiere – the first major sea battle between fleets completely out of sight of each other as well as the initial clash of one aircraft carrier against another.

While the Battle of Midway that followed a month later could arguably be considered one of the most decisive naval engagements in history, for this to happen the Battle of the Coral Sea had to take place from May 4 to 8, 1942.

There was a loss. The Lexington was a fatal victim. After being struck by torpedoes, the ship’s crew were still in combat until the gasoline vapors ignited, causing massive explosions and enormous damage, enough to abandon the ship.

Still, there was no panic. Duty and discipline ran deep. The shoes were lined up on the deck, as if the owners were coming back. Some of the crew even took the time to collect the ice cream left over from the ship’s store …

The sailors set off in the most orderly manner possible. Ropes tied to the side allowed the crew to get off the ship and direct the injured to a waiting destroyer. The corps members were busy treating the wounded by smoke inhalation, burns, shrapnel.

In all, 2,735 crew members who went overboard to abandon ship were rescued without anyone drowning. Even the captain’s cocker spaniel, Wags, did it. However, 216 crewmen were lost in the battle.

Yorktown was also affected. But Task Force 17 gave as well as it got. The light aircraft carrier Shoho fell after an American plane attack and the other two Japanese aircraft carriers, Shokaku and Zaikaku, suffered enough damage to force them to retreat to the mainland for lengthy repairs, unable to take go to the next Battle of Midway.

The Battle of the Coral Sea interrupted – another first – the expansion of Imperial Japanese forces.

It is no exaggeration to say that the perseverance of the United States Navy at the time has historical relevance to current operations.

The four priorities of naval medicine – people, platforms, performance and power – were all exemplified then as they are now.

It was a well-trained crew (People) who fought for their ship (Platform) until the end. The opponent in the Battle of the Coral Sea was on the horizon and invisible. It was Performance responding to the injured crew and demonstrating power projection in saving many in need.

Those who were on deck at the time may not have had much time to dwell on such notions. They have been trained to respond to the emergency and the crisis all around them. The wounded were protected. The crew were rescued to continue to support operational efficiency and mission readiness.

The men of the hospital corps were needed both at sea and on land. My uncle was torn from the sea and placed on land. He ended up in the Solomon Islands chain on an island called Guadalcanal, the aforementioned “fire”.

The old photos in my uncle’s book showed faces of the jungle, quaint native villages, as well as various snapshots of sailors and marines in various states of haste and expectation.

It was all very exotic, mysterious and daring. Here are the tropics during the war. Never mind the constant threat of danger, disease and destruction. If the Lexington was the epitome of the ongoing gray haze, then Guadalcanal was the epitome of a tropical setting with swaying palm trees, azure seas, and equatorial sun.

But what looked appealing on the outside was a grim reality for those who had to endure life – and fighting – on this contested island.

The Imperial Japanese soldier was not the only opponent. There were crocodiles in the streams and backwaters; giant lizards that barked like dogs; leeches, scorpions and too many other insects to count. Even the jungle rain seemed to add to the base black and green color scheme with a unique rusty tint all its own. There was malaria, dengue fever and a host of other ailments that the body’s men had to deal with, including those injured in battle.

The Marines and their marine counterparts endured. Many of the Devil Dogs had undergone basic training in Parris Island, SC which proved to be an ideal training platform for Guadalcanal and jungle fights.

They faced an enemy hitherto considered invincible. They fought them in the mud, the heat, the humidity. They have adapted. They survived. They have defeated a difficult enemy.

This resilience is apparent again today, against another determined adversary. Just as there is reduced visibility in jungle fighting, there is limited discernability in eradicating a pandemic.

Navy Medicine continues to answer the call for those in need, on the front lines of this current fight against COVID, as it did decades ago in the Pacific Theater of WWII.

Footnote: My uncle survived both pan and fire… to become a doctor and practice medicine for many years in Portland, Oregon. Paul R. Burgner, MD, Clinical Associate in Medicine (1956). BS (1948), MD (1952), Oregon.

Date taken: 05.04.2021
Date posted: 05.05.2021 13:12
Story ID: 395662
Location: BREMERTON, WA, United States

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