Navy Docs are Movie Heroes

Yeah, right, you say. Well, I just saw a movie making Navy doctors heroes, and then I thought, how many others are there?

Tonight’s fare, Dive Bomber, also covered here and here, is a barely pre-Pearl Harbor story of flight surgeons discovering pressure suits for naval aviators. (That the pressure suits look like those worn with diving helmets is amusing, and possibly accurate).

Mister Roberts is special to me, and their Ships’ Surgeon (William Powell) is quotable in my house (“have an aspirin; here, I’ll have one with you”). Although the movie is inexplicably about a Lt.jg, the best acting is definitely the scene stealing Navy doc.

Purple Hearts is the last I can think of, and it’s one of those movies that everyone ought to know, but doesn’t (Cherly Ladd and Ken Wahl never made the A list, but it’s the best work they did). It’s also the first movie I recall R. Lee Ermey in(and he was great), but that’s another post.

OK, what other movies are there that glorify the Navy Doctor? Corpsman movies are gladly accepted, also (I’m dense, none come immediately to mind).


  1. Purple Hearts is one of the best movies no one ever saw. Ermey stole every scene he was in and he has played the same role ever since. Talk about typecast!

  2. Not a doc, but “Operation Petticoat” features some lovely Navy nurses!

    And I think that Dick Sargent played a Navy dentist, or possibly a corpsman.

  3. Another one, from 1936, featuring Ralph Bellamy: “Navy Wife”,7286,VID-V+++103693,00.html

    Haven’t seen it, though…

  4. I LOVE “Mr. Roberts.” You’re right, William Powell definitely blows everybody else off the screen. Including Henry Fonda, who spends the entire movie looking like he’s got a poker up his butt.

    Remember the scene where they’re trying to make fake Scotch out of grain alcohol (supplied by Doc?)Absolutely classic.

  5. The 1935 Navy wife

    is just the ticket. I can’t find it on tape or DVD, so I’ll keep and eye out for it.

    There’s also another movie titled Navy Wife, from 1956, which is not about Navy docs.

    Thanks for the tip!

  6. The following is an excerp from my diary I kept during Desert Storm. It is, in its way, a small tribute to naval Physicians! I was assigned to a base in Bahrain at the time and the gulf war had just begun.

    ?Went to the dr. this AM re: my shoulder. He sent me to the Navy hospital. A field hospital located about 10 miles away. Here’s a hint. Never go to a hospital that has fewer patients than staff! They tend to leap on prospective patients with a vengeance. Each of them equally sure and sincere that your pains, regardless of location, are directly attributable to their own specialty. Fortunately for me, there wasn’t a OB/GYN man present.

    The Ortho Doc examined me for about 2 mins. and said he’d give me a shot of cortisone. A daunting event at best. Had I not just seen him give another fellow a similar shot in the elbow after an equally exhaustive and intense exam, I might (just barely, mind you) have been more receptive to the idea. It looked painful and I didn’t think the Doc had explored other reasonable avenues of treatment i.e. “Voodoo” and “Faith healing” are two of the more non-invasive treatments that immediately came to mind.

    Of course the whole scenario was spoiled by my normal reaction to the sight of a needle being shoved into this poor fellow’s elbow. I started to feel clammy, sick, and embarrassed. They made me lie down, took my pulse, BP, etc. and then the Doc mentioned Motrin as a possible treatment at the exact same time he noticed my history of ulcers and at the exact same time a news report on the radio mentioned some new medical link to the high incident of Motrin as the cause of ulcers.

    All this time I’m surround by 2 nurses, 3 corpsman (real corpsman, the navy kind who all think they’re doctors). While under better conditions and matrimonial status I might have been tempted to play “doctor” with one of the corpsman (corpswoman?), at this time I felt I was being more than gallant and debonair just by not tossing my cookies into her lap.

    Now the ortho doc, a medical sherlock if there ever was one, starts slyly inquiring as to the color of my most recent stool. I told him “olive drab and it sits by my bed.”

    “We” finally started to feel better and I told him I’d rather not have the shot. He muttered but eventually turned me over to the Physical Therapy branch.

    The lady PT doc, a Lt. Col. (Commander?) spent about an hour doing all kinds of painful but reasonable things to my shoulder, neck and arm. She also examined the kid with the elbow since the ortho doc had dumped both of us on her. I could see that she did not believe the cortisone was an appropriate treatment for the kid. Anyway she suggested all kinds of exercises and muscles stretching “thingies”. I’m supposed to go back ever 3 or 4 days for more PT. She thinks my shoulder might hurt as a result of my neck rather than from the bursitis. We’ll see.?

    I never found an entry that follow up on this but the lady navy doc was right and to this day, if I start having pains there I start using the same regime that she gave me then and within a few days the pain is gone.

    I love non-invasive Naval doctors!!!

    Jim H. CMSgt, USAF ret.

  7. Jim,
    Great comment, thanks. I was going to email you, but your email address doesn’t work.


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