________________________ St Albans Naval Hospital, February 5, 1973 ___________________________
St Albans, Naval Hospital, February 5, 1973
Remembrances of HM2 Steve Milligan
1st Helicopter – 3 crewmen arrived
2nd Helicopter – 1 crewman arrived
3 Killed 120 miles SE of NYC
I was a corpsman at the Naval Hospital, St Albans, NY on Feb 5, 1973. The hospital was mobilized to receive 4 sailors from the USS Basilone, victims of a boiler explosion at sea.
The anticipation of waiting for the casualties put us all on edge. The unknown and wondering how we’d be prepared and why this had happened. Why were we getting the casualties? Some of my shipmates ran and hid. I went to the ER to wait for their arrival.
The sights, the smell of the burnt flesh, the moaning still haunts me. Every time I smelled burning flesh during a medical procedure I would be reminded.
My self-esteem was raised as I was assigned as the team leader for one of the men. To do more than I thought I could. We worked for many hours cleaning the wounds, pain control and fluid replacement. We kept them alive till they were flown to Brooke Army Hospital.
I was devastated to learn they all died later. It taught me how little power and control you can have when trying to save a life.
There are some things, a man shouldn’t have to see or experience. You can’t unsee it or forget it. Working as a team helped build trust everyone had a job to do and we all had the same goal to save a life.
I was taught that working in medicine you have to compartmentalize cases like this. Then tuck them away. I was taught not to get intimate or attached to your patients. I have been able to do this for most of my patients, but not all of them. When my patient was taken to the medivac plane there was an eerie silence in the ER.
There was a sigh of relief, but we had to wait for the “the other shoe to drop”. In a day or so we received the message that they all succumbed to the burns, we were devastated. My 21st birthday was a week later on Feb 12. Later in my career, I watched many helicopter medivacs. The quietest sound is when the helicopter is out of earshot and you are left with your comrades, hoping you did your best.
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