Travel Story

Jun 20, 1954

Panama, Panama


I guess one of the most significant things that we haven't even touched on is our honeymoon. Our honeymoon was on the Fruit Boat out of New Orleans, and it was an American fruit company going to South America to pick up bananas, but they had about 50 passengers. The second day out, I started to have stomach cramps, and I went to the doctor, and he thought I needed a laxative. It was just something to do with the excitement of being on my honeymoon - the new bride and the new groom and all that. Well this got worse and worse, and the doctor did give me a laxative. It turned out that I had appendicitis. The odd thing about it was the doctor turned out to be a drunk. That was the only reason he was on the boat, because he couldn't hold down another job. I had been fresh out of the Army Medical Corps, and I said, "It sounds like an appendix to me," and he said, "No. you're just excited. Don't worry about it. It'll pass." Well things got worse. We were headed toward Panama, the Panama Canal Zone, and the captain came down, and said, "I'm sorry this is all happening. We're running full speed, and I've never run this craft full speed, and I've got a heart condition. We're trying to get a helicopter out for you, but it's too rough for the helicopter to land on the boat, so we're trying to get you to Panama."

Well, they got me to the isthmus of Panama to a government hospital there. Our ship room was in a cramped area, and they couldn't get the stretcher around the corner. I had to get up and walk off the boat. I got to the hospital, and it was a Sunday morning, and my appendix had ruptured. So they had called the chief surgeon in to do it on Sunday morning and he operated, and they were afraid to knock me clear out, so it was just a local epidural. So then I talked to the nurse during the entire operation, and it turned out that she was stationed in the 97th general hospital in Munich and I was at the 96th General Hospital in Frankfurt. So we chatted about the Army hospital. And things went all right, and after I recovered from that, that same day, the doctor came back in to see how I'm doing and patted me on the head and said, "Welcome back! We didn't expect you to make it." Which was a little bit of a shock. This is a war type situation for a lot of other patients, and there was a gentleman, older gentleman, in the bed next to me that he was an engineer with the canal company, and his wife came to visit him regularly, and she took Sylvia under her wing, and Sylvia moved into her private home, and they came together to see each of their husbands. Then when I got out of hospital, he was still in the hospital. So I moved into their home for a couple days of recovery, and he was a cryptologist, and he was the second best in the world. The first best was a German from World War II, and he would brief the agents we were sending in to South America. He would brief agents. He said, "You could use any codes you want, and I'll break it, so that we will not be using regular code." That was interesting.

He was ham radio operator. He had a telephone connection, so Sylvia could talk to his telephone patch on the ham radio, so Sylvia could talk to my parents over the phone to ensure them everything was all right.

Just recently I was in hospital for a week, and after appendicitis operation and the total bill for the week and the operation was $125. Yes, that's kind of what I thought too. You can't even get in front door for $125 today. So those experiences started off our married life. She commented the other day that she has had to put a lot of bandages on me over the years, which is true.