Esteemed Navy Medicine Shipmates:
National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day is a time to give pause and reflect on the attack that – to this day – still represents the greatest tragedy and loss of life ever to befall the Navy.
Seventy-nine years ago, the battleships that had so magnificently represented the might and prestige of the Navy’s Pacific Fleet were destroyed or left too crippled to be of any immediate use. And onboard those ships were young and dedicated Sailors and Marines who would fall victim in that surprise attack.
As we reflect and remember our heroes of the past, there is a connection to what we do today – Navy Medicine steams to assist, serving admirably on the frontlines while projecting Medical Power.
The attack on Pearl Harbor left 2,403 military personnel and civilians dead. The loss of life was greatest aboard the battleship USS Arizona. Forty-nine percent of those killed in the attack (1,177) were crewmembers of this ship. This included a physician, a dentist and 15 hospital corpsmen. The battleship Oklahoma lost 429 crewmembers in the attack including a dentist and five hospital corpsmen.
On the day of the attack, Navy Medicine was represented by active-duty physicians, nurses, dentists, hospital corpsmen, pharmacy-warrant officers, and medical administrators ably assisted by Red Cross nurses.
Naval Hospital Pearl Harbor was one of the best equipped and staffed of the 21 Navy MTFs in operation in 1941. Due to the concentration of naval personnel in Hawaii, additional medical support was provided by USS Solace (AH-5), which lay anchor off “Battleship Row” at Ford Island and Naval Mobile Hospital #2, which was under construction at the time of the attack. The USS Argonne was used as a clearing station to take care of casualties evacuated from ships or rescued from the water. Other platforms like the Naval Air Station and the repair ship USS Vestal operated as casualty receiving stations.
At 0815 that morning, hospital corpsmen-led rescue parties loaded onto small boats to locate survivors from the damaged ships.
Corpsmen from the Solace boarded small boats and steamed into the wreckage of the Arizona. They braved an inferno as they retrieved several wounded sailors. In the days after the attack, many of these same corpsmen had the grim task of searching for and retrieving the remains of service personnel in the harbor.
Within the first three hours after the attack, Naval Hospital Pearl Harbor received 546 casualties and 313 dead. By the end of the day, the hospital had a patient census of 960 casualties.
The hospital ship Solace received 132 patients (over 70 percent of casualties were burn cases), and Mobile Hospital# 2 received 110 casualties.
Medical personnel aboard all of our platforms worked around the clock treating 2nd and 3rd-degree burns, shock as well as shrapnel and machinegun wounds, lacerations, and compound fractures.
At the naval hospital, a team comprised of a pharmacy-warrant officer, a dentist, and pathologist were tasked with identifying the seemingly unending flow of bodies, most without identification tags and many unable to be identified through fingerprints.
Despite the enormity of the challenges they faced, Navy Medicine personnel performed superbly at Pearl Harbor. Several were later awarded Navy Crosses, Silver Stars and commendations for their efforts. Among them was:
Pharmacist Mate Second Class Ned Curtis of USS Nevada (BB-36) who braved the enemy bombing and strafing attacks to attend to a wounded officer. Curtis transported the officer to safety while incurring severe burns that required extended hospitalization. For his efforts Curtis later received the Navy Cross.
LCDR Hugh Alexander, the senior dentist aboard the USS Oklahoma. As a result of damage caused in the attack, the Oklahoma capsized entrapping Alexander and others in a compartment where portholes provided the only possible means of escape. Despite his knowledge of the desperate situation in which he was placed and with complete disregard for his own safety, Alexander heroically went about the crowded compartment and deliberately selected the more slender of those entrapped and aided them in their escape through these narrow openings. Continuing his intrepid action until the end, Lieutenant Commander Alexander gallantly laid down his life in order that his shipmates might live. Alexander was posthumously awarded the Silver Star in 2018.
I encourage you to take time today to remember our fellow medical warriors who served with honor and distinction at Pearl Harbor. Reflect upon their sacrifices and their contribution to Navy Medicine’s hard won heritage of excellence. A heritage YOU contribute to every day by virtue of your selfless dedication and commitment to high reliability healthcare. Just as we salute our predecessors, those who follow us will salute OUR resolve and success in the face of the present adversity. We are the ONE NAVY MEDICINE team, linked not only arm in arm to overcome our current challenges, but across time with those whose inspiring example has shown us the way ahead.
Bruce L. Gillingham, MD, CPE, FAOA
RADM, MC, USN
Surgeon General, U.S. Navy
Chief, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery