Thou Shalt Not Kill

By Walter Mow

This tenant lies at the heart of the “Conscientious Objector”; the Old Testament has three direct references to this tenant.

Exodus 20:13… “Thou shalt not kill”; repeated word for word in Deuteronomy 5:17. KJV

Genesis 9:6… “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be spilled: for in the image of God made He man”. KJV

The term “Conscientious Objector” since the Second World War conjures up images of brave medics and daring ambulance drivers. Before WW2, they were widely abused and a few even executed. The Quakers were the first religious exemption to bearing arms followed by the Amish and Mennonites in the First World War and would include 7th Day Adventists as the draft began to recruit for the growing conflict known as World War Two.
A number of these draftees would be incarcerated in military prisons with many being discharged under less than honorable conditions. Others would become valuable members of the Armed Forces and be accorded the honor their service deserved.

This is the story of one such draftee, in order to protect his identity we will call him Arnold throughout this article.

In December 1940, 21 year old Arnold registered for the draft; a life-long affiliation with the 7th Day Adventists and the result of his religious beliefs cast him as a Conscientious Objector with a draft classification of 1AO.

He was drafted February 2, 1943 and entered boot camp at Farragut, Idaho February 27, 1943. Arnold related one of his boot camp experiences. “After standing in formation for over an hour we were hurried to the firing range, told to lay on our belies, handed a .22 rifle with peep sights, instructed to load one bullet, followed by the commands of, Ready! Aim! Fire! I so badly missed the target that they pulled me from the firing line after one shot saying ‘save the other two bullets’”.

After completing Basic Training he was sent to Astoria, Oregon to an assignment center to await further orders.

Roll Call some two weeks later would be pivotal in his military service. A call for volunteers to be strikers for Hospital Corpsmen opened new avenues for Conscience Objectors to serve. Arnold volunteered and was assigned general duties at Pier #2 Navy Dispensary Astoria, Oregon with additional training specific to his rating, assisting in minor surgeries plus sterilization and bandaging techniques. Night duty a few months later would bring about another unexpected and even more fortuitous happening; here is some of it in his words.

Late spring to early summer 1943?

Two Navy Shore Patrol entered the dispensary with a very drunk sailor in tow. He was bloody but seemed to not care that his ear had nearly been removed and was dangling, the ear lobe was missing. One of the Shore Patrol dropped the ear lobe in my hand and helped me put him on a gurney. They said he had been involved in a knife fight in the bakers and cooks barracks. When I queried as what I was supposed to do with him, they looked at one another and said, as he needs medical attention, “he is yours now” as they vanished into the night.

The procedure was for the corpsman to call for the duty medical officer. The doctor, a Navy Lt. Commander had been sleeping and was not amused when advised of the situation. He said for me to “take care of it”, I tried to tell him I was not qualified to attend this kind of wound, but was informed that an order had been issued and he expected it to be carried out. I said “Aye, Aye Sir”, did an about face and left the Commander to his sleep.
“I went back to my patient”, who was out cold and snoring heavily. As thoughts rolled through my head, wondering what I need to do for this man; I began to remember working on a turkey farm that when young turkeys ate too much grass they get crop bound. The farmer taught me to slit the craw, remove the grass stems and suture the craw back up. Well, it worked for turkeys, why not drunk sailors. Besides orders were orders and you do to the best of your abilities.

Ability involves responsibility; power, to its last particle, is duty”. Alexander Maclaren (1826 – 1910)

I firmly “secured” my patient to the gurney and began to clean the ear and scalp area, glad that I had “secured” my patient. After a lot of loud noises and some thrashing about I was able to thoroughly clean the area. The cleaning solution (a Navy concoction called “The Pink Lady”) was more alcohol than anything else, but I managed to clean the area to my satisfaction and thought about how to suture the ear back on.

As I fumbled trying to find a way to get a firm grip on the ear skin, I remembered being too broke to buy a softball so my brother and I made a soft ball and stitched it together using a base ball stitch. It was the baseball stitch that I found worked in suturing the ear back on. Not knowing how to tie a surgeon’s knot I secured my work with a square knot.
I then attached the ear lobe but was not satisfied with the results, but felt it would have to do. Using Vaseline coated gauze pads between the ear and scalp and covering the sutures to keep them moist, I began to wrap his head in gauze, the result making my patient appear more mummy than sailor.

“Natural abilities can almost compensate for the want of every kind of cultivation, but no cultivation of the mind can make up for the want of natural abilities”. Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860)

I wrote my activity report and tried to stay out of sight with the third day slated to change the dressing on his ear. On the third day, not knowing what to expect and a stomach full of butterflies, I reported for duty in the dispensary when I heard my name called followed by “Front and Center”. I gulped to swallow my heart and entered the Captain’s office, I noticed the Commander in the room as well. The Captain looked me over and said “at ease”.

The Captain looked at me and said, “I see you signed the report, but who wrote the report”? “I did sir” was my reply. “But where did you get this experience”? “From you sir”. “From me, where and when”? I replied, “Since I have been here in this dispensary sir”.
The Captain turned to the Commander and said, “It is the third day, and due a bandage change”. The Captain then said “Bring in your patient for bandage change corpsman”. Still not knowing my fate I returned with my heavily swathed patient. As he looked up to see my patient a faint grin crossed the Captain’s face as he said, “the report says the patient has trouble with just one ear”.

After unwinding my bandage job the two doctors went into consultation, making comments that I did not quite understand. They began by telling me that re-attaching the ear lobe was of no value that it would not reattach; but that the upper part of the ear was well done and mending nicely needing only that they teach me surgical knot procedures.
I was dismissed with my patient, I re-bandaged the ear and my patient returned to his unit. A couple of weeks later he returned for final review of his progress, he was judged to be ready to be released and that he would have a serviceable although short ear. I was commended by the Captain and returned to my duties in the dispensary feeling both a sense of elation and relief.

At a veterans memorial service, Arnold told this story, saying with all the hoots, laughter and recollections of encounters with the “Pink Lady” the recitation consumed a half hour in telling.

Approximately a month after my encounter with the sailor and his ear, I was summoned into the Captain’s office, he put me at ease and asked if I would be interested in going to hospital corp school. I replied, “I would be very pleased sir”. He said “Good, for I have made plans for you to take training at San Diego, California; to take a four year nurse training course. This is war you will have three months to complete the course.”

I sputtered “but… me sir?” He replied, “yes, you sailor. Do not fret, you will do what is needed, this is war time”. I went home to my wife and baby daughter, made my goodbyes and two weeks later began the nurse course in San Diego.

Then began one of the most intensive three month training sessions of my life; a brain torture I shall never forget, but with God’s help, I did it!! Thank you Captain.

No man’s abilities are so remarkably shining as not stand in need of a proper opportunity, a patron, and even the praises of a friend to recommend them to the notice of the world”. Pliny the Elder (23 – 79)

Late 1943 – early 1944?

After my training I was assigned duty at Shoemaker Naval Hospital near Pleasanton, California. Eighteen months of additional training at Shoemaker in physical therapy, rehabilitating injured Marines, some were so badly wounded they did not survive, a duty I tended through the end of the war.

At the end of the war I was re-assigned, this time to the Fifth Fleet and sent to Sasebo, Japan (late August/ early September 1945?) as part of the Mop Up operations. These operations were a safeguard against caches of military supplies to facilitate a guerilla war. Part of the duties as a Pharmacist Mate was to aid in treating the often diseased and near starved American POWs as part of getting them ready to repatriate to the United States. One of the last events was a visit to Nagasaki my lasting memory will be that everything was flat. Upon returning to the United States, I was discharged at Bremerton, Washington January 3, 1946.

Arnold’s military service covered 34 ½ months, his determination and natural abilities enabled him to attain the rate of Pharmacists Mate 2nd Class. Well done Arnold, well done…