March 31, 1968.

LBJ announced on national TV and radio that he would not run for President in 1968.

I heard the news with 31 other sailors and marines in the orthopedic ward of Newport Naval Hospital.  I was one of two patients who had not been wounded in combat.  The other was a sailor who had fallen from the mast in a storm.  I had reinjured a herniated disc that I first crushed working in a factory in high school.

The Army had rejected me as 1Y but I thought my back was cured and I passed my somewhat less rigorous Navy OCS physical, for which I volunteered.  Unfortunately I only made it about ten days through OCS when a 4 AM calisthenics workout completely buckled my back sometime between sit-up 72 and 75.  My squad leader, a Stanford PhD, gently kicked me in the ribs and told me to get moving.  I told him I couldn’t even get up.  I was carried to the hospital.

Doctors made rounds in the orthopedic ward on Wednesdays.  Our daily contact was (Nurse) Commander Jensen.  She ordered me to strict bed rest and gave me pain killers.  I couldn’t actually walk.  Had to yell for an orderly to get a bedpan.  One night, maybe the third or fourth, I had to piss at midnight.  I yelled for a bedpan.  The giant Marine sergeant across from me who had one leg blown off  growled “Pipe down, OC.”

I climbed out of bed and crawled on fours to the head, pulled myself semi-erect on the porcelain, and pissed.  I crawled back to my bed.  Commander Jensen was waiting for me.  I don’t know why.  She reminded me brusquely that I had been ordered to strict bedrest.  When I started to respond she pointedly told me that she had not asked me a question.  Then she had an orderly pump me full of something that knocked me out for 30 hours.

The stay at NNH was the closest thing to living in Yossarian’s world I could have imagined.  Second Wednesday on rounds, the Marine sergeant reported a seaman for uncontrollable farting [true] even in the face of having been ordered by the big Marine to control himself.  The seaman was moved out on doctor’s orders and we were told he was moved to Section 8 [psych ward] for evaluation.

Third Wednesday on rounds  a USN Regular doc suggested fusion surgery, but I asked him if traction were available as an alternative because it had worked nine years before.  He told me the surgery was no big deal and moved on.  A trailing doc came over to me and whispered that he was a Reservist and a surgeon.  He whispered “Did that monkey say he wanted to operate?” I nodded.  He said “Don’t let those monkeys touch you.”

When I told Commander Jensen that I refused surgery she came back with forms for me to sign.  Waiver of Vet bennies.  My thought was that because I had passed the OCS physical the Navy could not rely on pre-existing condition.  Well, we all know the Navy wins that one and I had no ability to get to a law book from strict bed rest, anyway.  So eventually I signed the waiver.

On my last Wednesday the docs gave me the going away present of 400+ horse pill sized Darvons in a gallon jug.

Lady Madonna was the most played song on the radio.  Nobody in the ward wanted LBJ to quit.  And that’s how it was 50 years ago this weekend.




6 Responses

  1. George, I retold my Newport Naval Adventure in honor of its fiftieth anniversary.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So your back healed on it’s own?


    • When I got back to Austin I devised my own traction rig and spent lots of time in it. I wore a back brace and got addicted to the Darvon. When I ran out of the Darvon, about a year later, I hurt all over, but I took my doctor’s advice and went cold turkey without even an aspirin for three days and VOILA! I was fine until the next time I hurt my back, which was on December 16, 1973. I drank my way through that one.

      Lots of stretching, exercise, and carefulness and keeping weight off have kept me functional without surgery. Since the 1973 incident I do not recall another crippling, as in cannot stand or walk, reinjury. I played City League softball and hoops until 1985, but I never could get the courage to jump as strongly as I would have liked for fear of rupturing a disc, again.

      As you might well assume, while I do squats 3 times a week, I never use more than 30# of extra weight and often just do body weight alone. I do lots of leg raises for the lower abdomen, but I limit situps. I do no standing free weight lifts ever. But I do bench presses and leg presses. I believe Lulu has 100# on me on the leg press IIRC. The object is to keep core in tact to take stress off the otherwise unsupported lower back.


  3. So why did nobody want LBJ to quit?


    • We mainly still believed in the war effort despite the Tet offensive. We had just completed holding Khe Sanh, a military victory. In any case, LBJ was supportive of the troops. Public opinion started to turn soon after, however.


  4. When I hurt my back in HS, summer of 1959, it was from trying to carry 2 heavy bags of marble chips over my shoulders in the terrazzo factory where I worked. So while I was in the hospital – Joint Diseases in Harlem – I was in traction, unable to walk, and realizing that my baseball pitching dreams were kaput.

    My mother, bless her soul, brought me three books to read. And Quiet Flows the Don , which was too long to read for starters, and the year’s best seller, Bonjour Tristesse, plus the ever infamous Lady Chatterly’s Lover, in its first American paperback edition. I read these latter two.

    Apparently my mother had not. They were both about crippled guys whose wives took on lovers. Being crippled at the time, I contemplated suicide for the only time in my life after reading them. Talking to my dad got me over it.

    The two weeks of traction worked. My two best friends, both football players, came to see me twice, claiming it was scary on the walk from the subway to the hospital each time. Those guys remain two of my oldest friends and we are in regular touch.


Be kind, show respect, and all will be right with the world.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: