A World War II Navy hospital once existed on the Pacific Ocean coast line. This a story about what went on in the hospital.
THE ALAMEDA NAVAL AIR FORCE HOSPITAL
(A SHORT STORY)
The Sixth United States Army Headquarter’s Terminal located in Alameda, California was on the Eastside of the Oakland Bay Bridge with an exit to the United States Navy Treasure Island Navy Base, as it connects the Emerald City (San Francisco) to the East Bay Cities of Richmond, Oakland, Berkeley, Piedmont, and Alameda. The Sixth U.S. Army Headquarters Company was located at the South end of the Terminal. And it was just North of the United States Navy Air Force Alameda Fighter Interceptor and Support Base.
I was a 22 year old private first class (PFC) assigned to the Sixth U. S. Army Food Testing Laboratory located on the first floor in Headquarter’s Building #1 in the Terminal. My favorite place in the Terminal was a huge flat expanse of grass and concrete which made an empty field that was the final remains of shipping docks which once supplied the World War II Pacific War Machine. The field was now an abandoned, forgotten site, passed over by time and lost, except in the memories of a few old veterans, who once in a while came by to look out over the bay across the horizon into the waters of the vast Pacific Ocean. Waters which lapped at the pillars where ports once harbored ships laden with cargoes of men and materials. Cargoes of men and materials destined to never again come home. This old port area was a soft warm breeze blown place of beauty, where I would sometimes sit underneath a tree, and watch the exquisite metallic blue United States Air Force fighter planes take off with dazzling gravity defying speed, from the runways of the Alameda Navy Air Force Base; bank almost at ninety degrees before they reached the horizon of the sea; race into, or away from the Sun, and vanish in the distant sky. And I would wonder, how could this so peaceful place, lovingly enshrined in grass and trees, gently caressed by soft tender ocean breezes, be the burial grounds of so many dreams?
I was one of the last wave of those unfortunate youths drafted into the U.S. Army just before the United States officially declared war against North Vietnam. ...Vietnam, which quickly became one of the most unpopular wars in history! Having just graduated from college, I had envisioned getting a well paying job with some Fortune Five Hundred food, chemical or pharmaceutical company, buying a new fire engine red Chevy Corvette, dating as many pretty girls as I could lure into my lair, and wasting away until I reached middle age. But, Oh My! ....That was not to be! Three months before I received my college degree, the dreaded Army greeting’s papers came; announcing that I had been drafted into the Army to serve and protect my country! After suffering through a physically challenging wintertime basic training at Ft. Leonard Woods, the Army infantry training base located about 80 miles South of St. Louis, Missouri, I was handed a plane ticket and orders to report to the Sixth United States Army Medical Laboratory at Ft. Bakers, California. You really had to see Ft. Bakers! It was a breathtakingly beautiful, lovely, little, picture postcard pretty Army Base, located at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge on the North Shore of San Francisco Bay. After reporting for duty at Ft. Bakers, I was offered the choice of staying there and working in the Medical Laboratory, or working in the Food Testing Laboratory in Oakland. I decided to go to the Food Testing Laboratory in Oakland. I made the decision to go to Oakland simply because there were no girls at Ft. Bakers. And you needed a weekend pass in order to take the Greyhound Bus across the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco.
I arrived at the Food Lab in Oakland with two other Privates. All of us were college graduates who had elected not to go to officers candidates school after completing our basic training, because it would have meant staying in the Army an additional two years. Originally, we had been assigned to the Army Chemical Corp, but our orders were changed, and we were re-assigned to the Sixth Army Medical Laboratory.
My first assignment at the Food Lab was picking up samples arriving at San Francisco International Airport, and Oakland International Airport, then transporting them to the Lab for testing. Actually no one wanted the job, but I was the last one to sign in at Ft. Bakers, therefore, the choice was not mine to make. For me it turned out to be terrific duty! I mean, I drove all over the place. I drove all over the city of San Francisco, exploring Fisherman Wharf, Nob Hill, Coit Tower, Telegraph Hill, the Cable Car routes, North Beach, Marina, Chinatown, Haight-Ashbury, The Presidio, Golden Gate Park, The Embarcadero, Union Square, The Golden Gate Bridge, etc., and the scenic San Francisco Bay area cities and towns of Sausalito, Mill Valley, San Rafael, El Cerrito, Vallejo, Alameda, Berkeley, Piedmont, Oakland, Richmond, San Leandro, etc.. in a like new stick shift, six cylinder, four door, Army olive green Chevy (not a red V-8, two door Corvette convertible). With a full tank of gas, every day I got to know and experience all of the roads, expressways, highways, back roads, bridges, bays, rivers, streams, mountains and valleys of Northern California. And in addition, because I was on call 24 hours, seven days a week, I had my own private room in the Non-Commissioned Officers Barrack. I mean, .....It was a great assignment!
At high noon, on a quiet Tuesday morning the Civilian Secretary for the Lab told me that a high priority sample had to be picked up immediately at the San Francisco International Airport. I shut down the moisture test I was doing on a sugar sample from the Marine Corp base at Twenty Nine Palms, California, double timed out of the building, checked out my make believe red Corvette from the motor pool, saluted the guard at the base guard house entrance, drove about a half mile North, made a high speed left turn onto the Oakland Bay Bridge, exited in San Francisco onto the Bayshore Freeway, and headed due South to the airport. After speeding like a bat out of hell, I arrived at the airport only to learn that the sample would arrive two hours later. It did not make sense to go back to the Lab only to turn around and come back to the airport. I called the Secretary and told her what had happened I then requested permission to wait at the airport until the sample arrived. She said that she would tell John Merritt. John Merritt was the civilian manager who was in charge of all of the Lab’s civilian personnel, and Fred Brown. Fred Brown was the civilian supervisor of the Food Chemistry Lab section where I was assigned. And First Sergeant Nathan Palmalou, who was in charge of the overall operation of Lab and all Army personnel assigned to the Lab. The Food Testing Lab was divided into four sections: Administrative; Biological; Food Chemistry; and Dairy. Each section was headed by a civilian, and the Army personnel assigned to the each section worked under the civilian’s direct supervision.
Fred Brown was the civilian supervisor of the Food Chemistry Lab. Fred was a very quiet self-confident, arrogant, bi-spectacle, typical white lab coat wearing chemist. Fred possessed a superior intelligence, and he used his dry humor to let people know that his idea of consciousness encompassed more than just the Lab. Fred loved his job, knew his job, and did his job well. He had been in the Army and saw combat in Korea but he never talked about it. John Merritt was the almost extreme opposite of Fred. John Merritt was not a scientist. He was an administrator and did not appear to understand any of the testing that was performed in the Lab. John and Fred did not like each other; mainly because John felt it to be his calling in life to try and out think Fred. Fred knew that John did not understand what was going on in the Lab, and used his dry humor to keep John in check. Fred and I got along right away, because I quickly recognized and appreciated Fred’s sense of humor. By the way, did I mention that I was a chemist and very, very arrogant! Well, anyway it was not hard to understand why John took an instant dislike to me. But with Fred as my mentor I was able to survived John’s wrath. First Sergeant Nathan Palmalou was a different story. He did not understand what was going on in the Lab, and he did not give a damn, as long as everything went right! ....During my tour of duty at the Lab there were no major mishaps and we got along well. First Sgt. Palmalou had joined the Army at about sixteen years of age. He had fought in the Korean War. He had also saw combat in North Vietnam, fighting as an American Advisor with the French Army at Dien Bien Phu, before it fell to the Armies of the Viet Cong. First Sarge never talked about his combat role or how he got to be in the Medical Corp and assigned to the Food Lab. He was a native Californian born in the San Francisco East Bay area. And he made it very to all of us that he intended to stay at the Lab until he retired! .....Therefore, he did not want any trouble by us, in the Lab, or on, or off the base! There were other civilian and Army personnel working in the Lab, but I will have to tell their stories at another time, because this is the strange, almost unbelievable, story of the United States Navy’s Alameda Naval Air Force Hospital.
After the Secretary told me that I had approval to wait at the airport for the sample to come in, I decided to drive over to the famed California Highway 1. Highway 1 ran along the extreme outer edge (ledge) and length of the California coastline from the South most point at Los Angeles to North most point at Cape Mendocino. I wanted to drive a short stretch on Highway 1 to be able to brag to everyone I knew that I had driven on the famous, California Highway 1! And believe you me, just as anyone who has ever driven on Highway 1 knows.....It is an awe inspiring and thrilling adventure. There are no words to really describe the beauty of Highway 1, or the euphoria of the experience of driving on it. I drove North on El Camino Real (Highway 82) to Route 47 and turned left onto Highway 1. I was heading South and just North of the city of Pacifica when I noticed hundreds of what appeared to be large rectangular caves in an outcropping of coastal hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I pulled over to the side of the highway to get a better look, but I still could not figure out what they were. There appeared to be about ten stories of cave openings. They were evenly spaced layers carved directly into the solid rock sides of the coastal hills. As far as I could see, there was no signs of human activity, and the entire site seemed be abandoned. I got back into the car and continued my adventure until it was time to pick up the sample shipment and take it back to the Lab.
I delivered the sample to the Secretary, let Fred know that I was back, and re-started the sugar moisture test. I asked Fred if he had ever seen the caves in the hills along Highway 1. Fred said that he had seen them but he never knew what they were, and could never find out any information about them. It was getting near quitting time and I decided to ask First Sergeant Palmalou if he knew about the caves and what they were. For those of you who have never been in the Army let me tell you a little bit about First Sergeants. At the time I was in the Army, First Sergeants were the unseen wheels that kept the Army operational. They were a small select fraternity of men who had the power of life and death over men, materials, and the Army itself. They had absolute control over troops and materials. The Army moves on orders! And all orders from, or for, general, or privates had to pass through the command of a First Sergeant. If you made a mistake and mistakenly, intentionally, or unintentionally disrespected the command or the person of a First Sergeant, you would have hell to pay! And you would quickly, painfully discover, that roasting in Hell would be a picnic, that is, if you were lucky enough to survive his retribution. If a general did not have the respect of his First Sergeants; that general would never get promoted because every order he issued would suffer a foul up! First Sergeants also had an unyielding loyalty and respect for all other First Sergeants. And once you became a First Sergeant, you never lost your rank. You might be busted or court marshaled down to the rank of private, but once you satisfied the terms of your punishment for whatever infraction, in six months time or sooner, you would be a First Sergeant again. And by the way, First Sergeants were autocratic and very, very, temperamental!
First Sergeant Palmalou was a typical First Sergeant, but he allowed us to call him Sarge and we did not have to salute him inside the Lab. I saw that he was still in his office, knocked and waited for him to tell me to come in. He looked up and motioned for me to enter. I told him about the caves on the sides of the hills on Highway 1. He turned his back to me and said ....“What you saw were not caves. What you saw were large windows. They were the large windows to the wards of the Alameda Naval Air Force Hospital! A World War II Mental Hospital that once was located there. The windows were made extra large on purpose. They were lit up at night so that if any enemy planes got through the coastal defense lines, the Japanese pilots would think that they were seeing the lights from San Francisco and drop their bombs on the hospital instead of the City. But no Japanese planes got through and the hospital was never bombed.” He turned back to facing me and said in a stern low voice, “Soldier, this is an order! ....I am ordering you to never ask me or anyone else about the hospital..... I am ordering you to never tell anyone else what I have just told you! ....Soldier Dismiss!” I said ...Yes Sarge! .... Saluted, quickly turned around, and left.
Of course the Hospital continued to fascinate me, and from time to time, when I picked up samples at the San Francisco International Airport, I would go to Pacifica and stare up at the distant vacant windows of the wards. I just could not imagine how the men who had given so much for their country could have been treated so badly. I could not imagine the minds of men who would treat wounded Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Coast Guard fighting men with such disrespect! Men who had given all the had to give for their country. Men, no longer able to protect themselves were placed directly in harms way where ...... they would surely die!
It was about seven months later after I had picked up some samples at the Oakland International Airport from the Army base at Ft. Hauchuca, California, and was enjoying a brown bag lunch in the rest area just north of the airport, when a big black four door Cadillac limousine with New York license plates pulled into the rest area and parked directly behind my car. I immediately thought that the driver probably wanted directions. Oh! I forgot to say that all of the military personnel assigned to the Lab (except First Sergeants and Officers) wore white uniforms while on duty. A medium height man with silver grey hair wearing what appeared to be a five hundred dollar dark blue pin stripped suit got out of the driver side and walked toward me. He apologized for interrupting my lunch, introduce himself as Stanley Ross and asked if I was familiar with the area. I told him I knew the area pretty well. He said the he was looking for the Alameda Naval Air Force Hospital. I told him I had been told that there was once such a hospital located on Highway 1, near Pacifica. He asked if I knew anything about the hospital and I told him that I did, but I was under orders not to discuss the hospital with anyone. His face lit up! He said that he had once been there many years ago and would like to tell me his story. I reminded him again that I could not discuss the hospital. He asked me if I could listens to his story. I said that I could listen to his story but I could not comment or discuss the hospital in any way.
Mr. Ross began his story:.... “I was a captain in the Navy in WWII and assigned to an ammunition depot in Manila at the end of the war. We had just dropped the bombs on Japan and they surrendered. My replacement had arrived and my orders were to report to the Pacific Fleet’s Treasure Island Navy Base for discharge from active duty. I packed my duffel bag and made arrangements to take a Navy Air Force flight from Manila to the Alameda Navy Air Force Base, go to the Treasure Island Navy Base, receive my discharge papers, and go home. However, my medical records were misplaced, and by the time they were found, my flight had left. I was given the choice of waiting for about three weeks to be placed on another flight, or taking passage on the USS Mercy, a Navy Hospital Ship headed for a Pacific Fleet Carrier Base located at Alameda, California, which was not too far from Treasure island. After thinking it over and seeing that there was only about a one day difference in the time it would take me to reach Treasure Island if I waited for the flight, I decided to take passage on the Hospital Ship. .....It was a very good trip. I had a private room in the officers quarters on the upper deck with room service, and the food was good. The weather was beautiful, the water calm, and it was smooth sailing from port to port. Being in the Officers Quarters on the upper deck I did not have any contact with hospital personnel or the hospitalized men in the wards below. And, I had no idea that this hospital ship was for men who suffered from combat fatigue, shell shock, and mentally broken men who had been prisoners of war. I don’t think it would have mattered if I had known, because I probably would have taken the ship anyway. But it was a shock to overhear some of the crew members laughing and calling it the looney tunes ship.
Like I said, it had been a delightful voyage. That is until we docked at the Alameda Navy Base and I attempted to leave the ship. I got my orders together, packed my duffel bag, put on my dress uniform, took the elevator down to the main deck, and headed to the departure ramp. A Corporal Marine Guard Corporal at the gate of the ramp with Smith on his name tag saluted me, I returned his salute and showed him my orders. He turned the Marine Guard sitting behind him and called out “Captain Stanley Ross!”. The other guard began thumbing through a thick pile of papers on his desk and with a faint wisp of a smile on his face said “Captain Stanley Ross’s name is not on the ship’s manifest! He cannot leave the ship until he has been cleared by the Ship’s Personnel Officer or the Hospital’s Medical Officer, and given orders allowing him to leave the ship.” I spoke to the Marine Guard searching the list when Corporal Smith said “Sir you cannot speak directly to Corporal Brown. He has orders to respond only to me. What is it you wish to ask him.” I said; can you tell him that I should be listed as a passenger who boarded the ship in Manila. Corporal Smith then told Corporal Brown to check the passenger list for the name Captain Stanley Ross who boarded the ship in Manila. Corporal Brown responded; “There is no passenger list!” I asked Corporal Smith if I could speak to the ship’s Captain or the Ship’s Personnel Officer. Corporal Smith responded that both the Captain and the Ship’s Personnel Officer had left for the day and the only other officer who could give me orders allowing me to leave the ship was the Hospital’s Medical Officer. I felt a sudden bolt of anxiety shoot directly into my heart! And as the stark reality of the situation set in, I realized that I had made a very, very, big mistake.
I asked Corporal Smith to call the Hospital’s Medical Officer. Corporal Smith then ordered Corporal Brown to call the Hospital’s Medical Officer. I could hear Corporal Brown explaining the situation to the person on the other end of the phone. After a few minutes Corporal Brown told Corporal Smith, the Hospital’s Medical Officer said that he could only allow me to leave the ship as a person assigned to the Alameda Naval Air Force Hospital. And once I had been roistered into the Hospital, I could be released from there. Corporal Smith then informed me that I could not remain on the ship because it was going into dry dock. He continued on to say that if I did not leave the ship they would have to put me in a straight jacket and transport me to the hospital as a patient. Needless to say; I was between a rock .....and a very hard place. I asked Corporal Smith if he could direct me to Hospital’s Medical Officer. He told me to go to the stern of the ship where I would see a long line of men waiting to leave the ship. I picked up my duffel bag and started walking. After I had walked about half the length of the ship I saw a winding line of about five hundred men with their left arms ringed to a rope as they slowly inched forward. Not a single one of them turned his head, or seem to notice me, as I joined the end of the line. After nearly two hours of standing, waiting, and screaming, many of the men had soiled themselves. I was not cuffed to the rope and was able to go over to the rail and relieve myself, but I could not get any relief from the screaming, and screaming, and screaming. Not all of the men were screaming, and the screams of the men screaming were not screams of panic or fear. Their screams were like the empty, empty, sound you hear when you beat on a hollow log. Their screams were hollow, endlessly hollow, empty and without end. Their screams were like the sounds of the thousand yard stare! Staring and staring at nothing and into nothing! Screaming and screaming at nothing and into nothing! When I finally reached the processing desk there was no one there and the ledgers were gone. About fifty of us who were at the end of the line were loaded into open top Navy trucks, strapped into the sitting position on hard wooden benches and taken to the hospital. I felt extremely lucky because there were no screaming men on the truck I was on. It was now completely dark, and the trucks had blackout lights, but I could tell by the road feel, the sounds of the trucks engines, and the grinding shifting gears, that we were traveling up and down hills and or mountains.
I saw the bright lights of the hospital long before the trucks pulled into the entrance yard and we unloaded. We waited for another two or more hours until the hospital doors opened onto a huge elevator which took us to our yet to be assigned floors, wards, and beds. I caught a faint glimpse of the elevator operator and I could not believe my eyes; he was Japanese! Now it was beginning to make sense why the men who loaded us on the trucks never spoke! They pointed and pushed but they never spoke. They never spoke because they were Japanese. The elevator finally stopped and the doors opened onto the ward where we would be housed. The ward was huge! Spotlessly clean, at least a half a mile long, with two rows of stainless steel beds separated by a twenty foot wide aisle. It had red dairy brick floors, lily white walls, and overhead lights so bright that you could not look directly into them. I knew I was here for at least the night. In reality, I was very hungry and so tired I did not care where I was, as long as I could get some food and sleep. The Japanese orderlies divided us into two groups with one orderly at the head of the line and one at the rear. We were taken to a large shower area. I dropped my duffel bag, took off my cloths and showered. While showering I noticed that none of the men had dog tags around their necks. I knew that this was highly unusual because when I entered the Navy the Government Issue (G. I. Issue) was a duffel bag, three work uniforms, two dress uniforms with two dark blue ties, two dress caps, two work caps, a raincoat, two “P” coats, two set of boots, two set shoes, and a pair of dog tags. We was ordered right away to put on our dog tags; and that it was a court marshal offense to take them off as long as we were on active duty. Because, the first thing they do when you die is collect your dog tags. The horrible thought then crossed my mind that these men were all considered to be dead. And the only things that would be returned to their families would be their dog tags! I touched the dog tags on my neck and I realized that I still had a chance of getting out of this alive. After showering we were given knee length light green hospital robes. I packed my dress shoes, cap and uniform back into my duffel bag and tossed it over my shoulder. We were marched to a large cafeteria, given “C” and “K” rations, and hot coffee, allowed about fifteen minutes to eat, and marched to our beds. By this time I had decided that I was dreaming. I consoled myself that no matter how horrible this dream, I would endure it until I woke up! .....I would endure it; and this nightmare would end.
But I was wrong, .....the nightmare was just beginning! My bed was between two already occupied beds. And as soon as I had sat my duffel bag down, a loud whistle blew and the orderlies started screaming bed! .... bed! .... bed! I jumped onto the bed and before I could realize what was happening, I had been strapped down! The only parts of my body free to move were my head, hands, and feet. A loud, penetrating gong sounded and all of the orderlies ran out of the ward! The ward’s bright overhead ceiling lights were dimmed so low that I could only see vague shadows of the beds next to mine. And I could not see any of the beds on the other side of the room or the floor of the large aisle leading to the distant doors. Then, there was a loud hissing sound which had a hypnotizing effect on my mind and eyes. I turned my head to the left side of the bed toward the direction of the sound and saw between the steel double doors which were now completely wide open, two fire red eyes about eight feet high. The hissing sound had stopped but I could hear the sound of the doors being scraped against by the massive body of the apparition or beast entering the ward. Some of the men nearest to the doors began screaming. But again, their screams were not screams of fear, .....perhaps because they had seen and experienced horrors so unimaginable that their screams were only to acknowledge a frightening recall of a terror they could not bear, .....and so they screamed, and screamed, and screamed into the vacant space of madness. In any case it did not matter because their screams were slowly muffled out! The eyes came closer and closer toward me and I began searching for a way to escape. I began trying to twist my body. I began to try and turn myself in such a way to break the straps holding me onto the bed. But I could not move my body, legs or arms. I could only move my head, hands, and feet. I could not break the straps holding me down! Instantly, I began to reflect the Navy combat training that had taught me; the first thing to do was not to panic! But what I was seeing or what I thought I was seeing were men being swallowed whole by this incredible beast! My lungs began to fills to the bursting point with anxiety, ..... and I knew I was about to panic! .....I was about to scream! Then, the man next to me turned his head toward me and said “Don’t scream! .....Don’t look into it’s eyes .....and you will live.” I gathered my strength and held my nerves together until I regained control of my body. After I had composed my nerves, I thanked him, turned my head toward the ceiling, and closed my eyes. I could hear the body of the beast going past my bed and it seemed to take forever to pass. From the sounds I could hear, and it’s presence which I could feel, it must have been at least fifty feet long. From the sounds I could hear, and it’s presence which I could feel, ..... it must have been huge.....gigantic! Even after I could feel that it had passed by me, I was afraid to open my eyes or speak. .....It was only after I smelled the hint of chloroform did I opened my eyes to see a soft mist drifting down from the ceiling. .....Then I closed my eyes again and went to sleep.
Captain Ross .......Captain Stanley Ross ....wake up! Captain Stanley Ross ....Captain Ross ... wake up! I could hear someone repeating my name and imploring me to wake up, over and over, a way off in the distance. I could hear voices chanting and calling in a soft Japanese accent. And slowly, very slowly I began to feel a consciousness come into focus. I could feel again an awareness .....t hey were calling me. .....I began to understand that I was Captain Stanley Ross. There was a cold, ice packed towel on my forehead, and I turned my head from side to side slowly, forcing myself back to reality. The orderlies took the straps off of my chest, arms and legs and I sat up. My mind then fast forwarded suddenly and the images of my surroundings came into view. I was awake! I knew that I was awake because I was reaching to feel if my dog tags were still on my neck. They were still there and I knew that I was still alive. I looked around the room as the two orderlies told me to get up. There was no one else in the ward. All of the beds were empty! All of the men were gone! The orderlies then said shower, shower, bring your bag with you. I got out of the bed which I could now feel was completely wet as was my hospital gown, picked up my duffel bag and followed them to the large shower area where I had showered before, but this time I was the only one there. The orderlies did not rush me as I took my time showering and trying to make some sense of what was happening to me. After, I finished showering, changed my underwear, put on clean socks, shoes, and a clean dress uniform, I followed the orderlies to the mess hall(cafeteria) where I had eaten before, but now I was the only one there. None of the other men who had eaten there with me before were there. I was served a hot meal of bacon and eggs, toast with butter, jelly, coffee, and cream. I ate slowly and I ate well. After finishing my meal I motioned to the orderlies that I wanted to brush my teeth. One of them said in very precise English ... Sure, we will take you back to shower where you can brush your teeth. We went back to the shower area where I brushed my teeth and used the toilet.
The orderlies then led me to a small elevator and we went down to what appeared to be the main floor and into a large spacious medical office waiting room. The orderlies told me to take a seat and wait there until I was called, then they left. After what seemed to be an hour a voice came over the loud speaker and said .....Captain Stanley Ross, please use the door to your left and proceed down the hall to Room 1225, .....and don’t forget to take everything with you. I walked and walked and walked and walked! When I finally saw a room number I realized that the room number 1225 was not Room 25 on Floor 12, it was really room one thousand two hundred and twenty five! I really needed the exercise to help clear my mind and body and so I walked and walked until I finally reached Room 1225. It was another large clean medical office waiting room except there was a young looking Japanese Orderly behind the reception desk. .....Captain Stanley Ross? I answered yes! Do you have all of your property with you? I said yes. .....Do you have your dog tags on? I answered yes. Sit down Captain Ross, you will begin your exit interview with Major Steel in a few minutes. I sat down and dozed off before I knew it. I woke up at the sound of the orderly’s voice saying “Captain Ross you may go in now, please take all of your property with you”. I stood up, adjusted my tie, adjusted my pants, took my dress cap off, and went into Major Steel’s office. The Major was sitting behind a small desk with absolutely nothing on it. He seemed too young to be a medical doctor or a major. .....The office and the Major were both impeccably clean. His light blond hair was pressed close to his head and you could see the blue pupils of his eyes radiating through the thin lens of his aviator glasses. I started to salute and he waved his hand for me to sit down. .....Captain Stanley Ross? I answered; yes Sir!. .....Captain Ross, do you have all of your belongings with you? I answered; yes Sir! .....Captain Ross, do you have your dog tags on? I answered; yes Sir! His voice was very softly moderated, .....his diction and pronunciation was short and precise. He seemed to be measuring and evaluating my response to his questions! .....Captain Ross this is your exit interview. You are about to leave the Alameda Navy Air Force Hospital and it is my responsibility to conduct this exit interview with you. Do you fully understand the purpose of this exit interview? I answered; Sir! I do not understand the purpose of this exit interview because I am not a patient of the hospital! .....Captain Ross! Major Steel said very precisely and slowly rose to his feet. He was very tall, almost reed thin, and his Air Force uniform appeared to have been tailor made. .....Captain Ross, that is not the reply I expected. Captain Ross Do you fully understand the purpose of this exit interview? I answered; Yes Sir! .....Captain Ross there is no reason to shout. Please keep your voice down, and we will get through this difficult task as quickly as possible. .....Did you have a good voyage from Manila? I answered; yes, Sir. .....Did you enjoy your stay at the hospital? I answered; yes, Sir. .....Captain Ross, did you see anything during your stay here at the hospital that you did not understand? I answered; yes, Sir.
Major Steel put his right hand to his head, slowly brushed his hair, adjusted his glasses and sat back down at his desk. .....Captain Ross that is not the answer I expected! .....Captain Ross did you see anything during your stay here at the hospital that you did not understand? I answered; no, Sir! Major Steel leaned forward with both elbows on the small desk and said ....Captain Ross, you are a very lucky man....you still have your dog tags. Captain Ross you are the only man in this hospital who still has his dog tags. .....And because you still have your dog tags you will be allowed to leave the hospital as soon as we finish your exit interview, and I sign your orders allowing you to clear post, do you understand me? I answered; yes, Sir! .....Captain Ross, this is a mental hospital...... It is also a research hospital. Have you ever heard the name Annaboa? I answered; no Sir. Well Annaboa was a top secret atomic radiation research project that is said to have gone terribly wrong. But we were able to salvage some of it’s discoveries and employ them here! .....Captain Ross, I want you to listen very carefully to what I am about to tell you! .....You are an officer in the Navy of the United States of America. You will be leaving here very shortly and travel to Treasure Island where you will receive your discharge from active duty orders. However, under the terms of your enlistment, you will be in the active reserves for seven years, after that you will be in the standby reserves for four years! Only after you have received orders discharging you from the standby reserves, will you have legally completed your obligations to the United States Navy and your country! Only then will you receive your final discharge from the Navy! Major Steel leaned back, reached into one of the desk drawers and placed some papers on the top of the desk. .....Captain Stanley Ross I have before me three sets of orders. I am going to give you a set of orders which will allow you to leave the USS Mercy with no mention of you having being here at the hospital. However, if you ever discuss with anyone what happened or did not happen, .....what you saw or did not see, .....what you imagined or did not imagine while you were here, ..... the other two orders will allow the military police to arrest you as an escaped patient, and you will be returned to the hospital. .....Captain Ross, if you are ever returned here as an escaped patient your dog tags will be taken from you! .....And you will never leave the hospital again! Captain Ross, a driver will take you to Treasure Island where you can continue your journey home. The door opened and the orderly came in and shouted Atten.....tion! I sprang to my feet and held my salute as the orderly took my set of orders from the Major Steel’s desk and handed them to me. .....Captain Ross, make sure you carry all of your belongings with you. ....I answered; yes Sir! .....Captain Ross, do you still have your dog tags on? I answered; yes Sir! .....Captain Stanley Ross ...Dismiss! Major Steel never looked up as I finished my salute, turned smartly, and followed the orderly out of the room.
There was another orderly in the waiting room who told me to follow him. We walked down the hallway to one of the rooms, opened the door and went up a short flight of stairs which led directly into an elevator. We took the elevator which seemed to go up for about five minutes. When the elevator stopped and the door opened we walked down another hallway for god knows how long turning left and right and right and left until I had no idea of the direction we had come, or in which direction were going. Finally we went through a double set of steel doors, and out of a third set of doors where a Navy four door Ford sedan was waiting with a driver. The orderly opened the back passenger door, I threw my duffel bag on the seat and got in. The orderly handed me a set of dark goggles and told me to put them on, and leave them on until I was told to take them off. He then warned that if I took them off before I was told, I would have to be brought back to the hospital for another exit interview. I put the goggles on. The orderly checked them to make sure they covered my eyes and closed the door. The driver got in, started the car, and we were on our way. Captain Ross ....I answered yes.... Do not try to count the miles or memorize the directions. I have orders that if you appear to be counting the miles or memorizing the directions I will have to take you back to the hospital for another exit interview.... do you understand? I answered, yes. We cleared about five security check points and at each one I was reminded not to remove the goggles. At the fifth check point a guard reminded me to keep my goggles on, get out of the car, and show him my dog tags. I got out of the car, reached inside my shirt and pulled the dog tags out for him to inspect. He then ordered me to get back into the car and we proceeded through twists and turns ups and downs and around and around at what appeared to be breakneck speed until I decided the safest thing I could do was to take a nap, or at least try to take one. Finally, I recognized by the sound of the tires that we were on a bridge. The driver told me I could take the goggles off. I took them off and saw that it was night. I had no idea of where we were, what time it was, or what day it was, until we exited off of the bridge and stopped at a security check point where a sign on the guard house said Treasure Island Navy Base.
After we cleared a second security check point, a Marine Guard directed the driver to building R32N. At Building R32N the driver got out of the car, opened the door, asked me to give him the goggles, get out of the car, and take all of my belongings with me. I handed him the goggles, put on my cap, grabbed my duffel bag and got out. A second Marine Guard came up, saluted and said that I was to follow him. I returned his salute and was about to leave when the driver said .....Captain Ross! Goodbye Captain Stanley Ross, do not forget your dog tags and do not forget your orders! I said thank you! Picked up my duffel bag and followed my Marine Escort inside the building until we arrived at Room R32. We went inside the large barracks like room and checked in with a sailor who was the company clerk. Captain Stanley Ross? I answered yes. The sailor stood up and saluted me, I returned his salute, and he asked me for my medical records. He suggested that I should sit down until the personnel officer arrived to conduct my exit interview. The Marine Guard who had escorted me to the room saluted me and said goodbye. I returned his salute and wished him the best of luck. After paging through my medical records the clerk stood up and asked me to follow him. We proceeded to another room where he announced: Sir! Captain Stanley Ross is here for his exit interview. I have checked his papers and they appear to be in order. He saluted and held his salute until a man wearing combat boots and a white quarter length doctor’s coat, came out of a door which was directly behind a small desk. He saluted both of us and sat down at the desk. He never introduced himself and the coat prevented me from seeing his name tag or determining his rank. The clerk turned and left the room.
Captain Stanley Ross? I answered ...yes Sir! Please sit down. .....You are here for your exit from active service interview and this should take only a few minutes. I am going to ask you a few questions. Please answer the questions with the shortest possible answer, and do not ask me to repeat any question. Do you understand? I answered; yes Sir! Captain Ross....How was the weather in Manila? Hot Sir. ...Did you enjoy your voyage from Manila? Yes sir! Did you have any difficulties after you arrived at Alameda? ....No Sir! Captain Ross is there anything you wish to tell me? ...No Sir! Captain Ross I have reserved a seat for you on the Admiral’s plane which flies from the Alameda Navy Air Force Base to Washington, D.C. ....Your discharge from active duty papers will be given to you in Washington. Captain Ross I have here on my desk three sets of orders, I am going to give you one set of orders which will allow you to board the plane. Captain Ross, do not speak or engage in a conversation with anyone while you are on the plane. A driver will take you to the Alameda Navy Air Force Base. Captain Stanley Ross, I do not expect you to be on the plane when it return. The Clerk came back in and shouted Atten...tion! I jumped to attention, saluted and held my salute. The Clerk took my orders from the desk and handed them to me. The Interview Officer returned my salute and said: Captain Ross ....make sure you take everything with you! I said, yes Sir. .....Captain Ross? I answered; Yes Sir! ...Do you have your dog tags on? I answered; yes Sir! Captain Ross do not take your dog tags off and do not lose your orders! .....Dismiss! I finished my salute and followed the Clerk out of the room. The Clerk led me back outside where a Navy Ford sedan with a Marine Corporal driver was waiting for me. The driver saluted, I returned his salute and he opened the back passenger side door for me to get in. I threw my duffel bag on the seat and got in. He closed the door and the Clerk shouted “Goodbye Captain Ross...Have a safe trip home!” I saluted him and we pulled away. We arrived at the Alameda Navy Air Force Base and cleared all of the security check points. My driver pulled up to the small passenger terminal, got out of the car and opened my door. I got my duffel bag, got out and saluted him. He held his salute and said “Sir, you have been through Hell, and you survived, have a safe voyage home!” .....He finished his salute. I said thank you, and good luck! It was a nice flight to Washington where I picked up my discharge papers, called my wife and kids in Maryland, sat down in the airport waiting room, and waited for them to come pick me up and take me home.”
Mr. Ross thanked me for listening to his story. I asked if he was going over to look at the hospital and he said that he had found out all he needed to know. He said that for many years he had been afraid to search for the hospital because he did not really know if the story he had just told me was real. And now that he knew there really was a hospital, that was all he needed to know. He said that he was going to drive back to the hotel, pick up his wife and chauffeur, and return home. I asked him was he afraid to go to the hospital after all of these years and he said, yes! ......”And there are some realities in life you should not challenge ...they are too real. .....To challenge them may not be in your best interest... because, you may not survive the challenge! Sometime it is not wise to look danger straight in the eye.....sometime it is better to turn and walk away!” As Stanley Ross turned to walk away, I asked him if he ever finished the scream? He said “Oh no! .....That might take me over the edge of the thin line between reality and what lay on the other side. If I cross that thin line, I might never be able to return!” .....I asked him if he still had his orders? He said yes! .....I asked him if had ever taken his dog tags off? He reached inside his shirt and showed them to me. Stanley Ross thanked me again for listening to his story and I watched him drive away!
I did not let on that for me his story had been completely mind boggling, and quite unsettling. It had indeed clouded up my bright beautiful California day! I drove back to the Lab, checked the sample in with the Secretary, and let Fred know that I had returned. Fred looked up and said that he had bad news. I asked him what happened? He told me that John Merritt had finally convinced Sgt. Palmalou to split us up. The other soldiers had become jealous that he was teaching me how to run all of the best and most important food tests. They wanted the opportunity to work with him in the Food Chemistry Lab. And, they also wanted to rotate picking up the samples. Fred and I stayed good friends and wrote to each other until he died unexpectedly of a sudden heart attack about five years after I was discharged from the Army. Stanley Ross had given me his address and telephone number but I never wrote or called. I never drove up to Pacifica again. And, yes, .....I still have my dog tags!