Choking Incident

Sunday, March 17, 1968

The corned beef hash was met with scattered reviews.  Sumo was starting to take the mediocre response personally until Reverend Starling (Navy Lieutenant/Chaplain) showed up.  Starling was a big man whose stature was matched with a charismatic personality and a shock of bright red hair.  He asked Sumo to put two scrambled eggs on the hash, and his face lit up as he went to the officers mess.

Brunch was served over a three hour period, and the pressure to serve everyone quickly wasn’t an issue.  Father Starling finished his first helping and came back for seconds . . . “This is better than the ladies make at the church kitchen.”  Sumo blushed and said, “Thank you Sir.”  We all got a big laugh, but I could tell it made Sumo’s day.

After brunch Major Catoe, from Headquarters, came in with Top Culverhouse.  His investigation of our food allotments proved we were not being supplied properly, and he wanted to resolve the issue.  His plan involved presenting evidence to the Adjutant at 3/7 Marines and force the issue on their Mess Sergeant.  My body language gave away the negative attitude I had for this plan, and he could tell I wasn’t on board with his idea.  He demanded, “How would you resolve this?”  I replied, “Sir, we should break away from this arrangement.”  I explained we could go to FLC every day and pick up “OUR” allotment, plus India Company’s.

Top Culverhouse argued it would require an extra truck, and I countered that we were already sending a truck to pick up mail.  My final argument was, “We need to be self-sufficient and not depend on others.”

Major Catoe was furiously writing in his spiral pad and said, “We will consider your input Sergeant.”  One way or the other, we would be at the mercy of Catoe’s decision.

The BBQ was rowdy as ever, but some of the troops opted for the St. Patty’s corned beef and cabbage.  Chaplain Starling was eating a big portion of corned beef when one of the Grunts started choking.  He jumped out of the officers mess to assist the Marine and slapped him hard on the back.  It didn’t have any effect.  There was an obstruction, and the situation turned more serious as the Marine became unconscious . . . he was turning blue.  I went out the back door and yelled, “CORPSMAN TO THE MESS HALL!”

Both Docs Furman and Driscoll showed up, and Furman took over.  After inspecting the Marine’s wind passage, he ordered, “Get me some tongs.”  Driscoll headed off to Sick Bay to retrieve some forceps.  Leggs showed up with a set of cooking tongs, and Doc Furman reached into the Marine’s throat with them.  WHOOSH!  The plug shot out of the Marine’s mouth like a mortar coming out of the tube.  The mess hall was silent, and we could hear the air sucking back into his lungs and see the color return to the Marine’s face.

The obstruction was a piece of steak the size of a pack of cigarettes.  Furman sat the Marine up; his first words were, “It must have been something I ate.”  Within a minute he was fully recovered.

Chaplain Starling raised his hands – I thought he was going to pray.  He started singing to the tune of Row, Row, Row Your Boat:

Chew, chew, chew your food

Gently through the meal

The more you chew, the more you eat,

The better you will feel.

More than half of the corned beef went into the garbage barrels.  It would be burned off at the dump on Monday morning.

Next Edition:  Water Truck Approved

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